Monday, May 7, 2012

Calvins Challenge – What is more important than winning?

My family – Trish, Allen and I headed up to Calvins to do some Ultra Racing. I had cut a deal with my 14 year-old son to do the 6 hour TT in exchange for a video game, and I was there to break the course record of 268 miles which was held by David Young and get that nice new trophy that Larry Graham had made.

I had been riding high off of a string of 6 straight wins and course records in ultra events going back to the Texas 12 hour in September and was hoping to do it again. I knew I faced a strong contingent of recumbent riders like John Schlitter, Kent Polk and Larry Ide from Team Bacchetta and some strong diamond frame riders like Wes Wilmer and Stephen Glowacki ,who held age group records, and from Scott Luikart and Peter Oyler whom I’ve raced with before and have great respect for. There were other faces that I recognized at the front of the pack but I couldn’t put a name to all of them.

One of the popular sayings at Calvins is “the weather is always great at Calvins Challenge”. This year they weren’t lying. The race started at 7:30 with overcast skies, low winds, and temps around 60 degrees which is about perfect for an ultra race. They blew the horn and I headed off the front and started a nice rotation going at about 25 mph. This wasn’t fast enough for the men in black.

The men in black – not their real team name - was from all accounts an 8 bike (7 solo and 1 tandem) relay team that went off with two people riding at a time. They were to shape the race for first 100 miles and play a key role in the eventual outcome of the race. Anyway, let’s get back to the story.

The men in black came flying around us, and I could tell they weren’t racing with us because they carried no water bottles. The first 27 miles went on pretty much with them doing about 80%-90% of the work and me and a couple of others jumping in to take a few pulls to keep them fresh and flying. There were maybe a pack of 15 or so that were trying to hang on. At about mile 16 I heard a crash behind me. I didn’t know who was in it or if anyone was hurt, but we continued to race on.

Things mellowed out at the transition point for the team riders and we moved on up the road at a 22-25 pace until we hit the back stretch into the wind and then dropped to 20ish until the team riders, one DF and one Tandem, came flying by and the chase was on. I was out front pulling at the time and didn’t have enough to get on their wheel so I faded back to see what would happen. Only John Schlitter bridged up to them to try to make a break. That lasted for 3 miles or so before the group rode them down.
I think we were down to about a dozen riders at this point: Me, JS, Kent, Wes, Stephen, 3 Guys In White, Peter and a couple other racers. It stayed this way until we finished the 50 miles with the group in around 2:05. From here it broke down rather quickly. Coming out of the 1st transition we were down to 5 riders that were able to jump on the wheels of the team riders when they came around again. Somewhere around mile 35 Wes and Stephen dropped off leaving me, the 2 bents and 2 team riders to spend the rest of my day with.

John, Kent and I rode together for about 10 miles before the last set of team riders caught up with us and we started going again. At about mile 90 I decided that I was going to start riding my own pace and let Kent and John go with the Team Riders pulling them. I think they finished up their 100 at around 4:13 and I finished at around 4:15 so I was about 2 minutes down. The best part of the race was that I never caught up to my son who had started an hour behind us in the 6 hour race. I knew that he made his first 50 in under 3:15 and was well on his way to his goal of 90 miles.

Heading out onto the 3rd big lap alone, I knew I was down a couple of minutes to the bents so I just kept riding my pace and by mile 110 I caught a glimpse of them. By 116 I had closed to about 30 seconds and finally caught them around mile 120. I kept using my Garmin to judge how many seconds in front they were at every turn and, as long as I was gaining, I just kept my speed steady. After catching John and Kent we rode together for the rest of the 3rd lap until about mile 160 on the 4th lap when I had to take a nature break and then we started our little game of chase again. I was able to ride them down by mile 170 or so.
I knew that I was strong enough to ride them both down even working together, but did not have a clue as to how I would ever be able to ride away from them for a win, because both John and Kent can out sprint me on their bents. So we just rode along working together. I kept telling J.S. that we could break the record and kept pushing the pace as much as I could. We finished up the 202 miles in just under 8:55, even faster than John, Bryce and I had done Metamora last year. We had a great pace and we were about to get to the short course which is flatter and faster than the long course.

We were on our third or fourth lap of the short course when the team racers blew by us again. I had been pulling into the wind and wasn’t able to get on, but John was and he made the jump up to them and was able to pull away. I wasn’t going to be able to ride him down with two rested team riders pulling him around the course so Kent and I kept going and we were joined by Wes who had used the team riders to bridge up to us.

We finished that lap together and Kent disappeared. I later found out he got trapped in the mess that was the scoring line. I think that may have been partly my fault because I partially crashed into the divider fence when I couldn’t get unclipped from one pedal. I used a few choice words to describe what I thought of the scoring situation (which Larry Graham came up to me and apologized for), got back on my bike and kept riding.

It was about 10:30 into the 12 hour race and John had gotten away from me, but I wasn’t about to give up. I knew I could catch him again if he didn’t find a consistent riding partner and I still thought that I was going to be able to break the course record based upon my lap times. I left out on the lap with Wes in tow and we work out a deal where I would pull him around the course if he could give me between a ½ and 1 mile pull on the backside into the wind so I could catch a little rest. Wes said he would, but he was helping me break his old record for the 45-49 age group. We did this for the next 5 laps, keeping a good 22 average.

When we came thru the start finish line the last time and I hadn’t seen any sign of John I knew that he had won the race, but I also knew that I was going to be able to at least tie or break the current course record. So I headed out for my prorated lap to make that happen. My friend, and John’s Bacchetta teammate, Larry Ide came out of the pits with me on the last lap. He said that he could ride with me, but not work with me since John was about 2 miles up and if he helped it would be bad for team morale (not exactly what he said but close). Anyway, we rode along and talked and he told me that the Bacchetta team had Larry wait to help work with John for the last two laps around the course.

Some people might have gotten mad about it, but not me. It actually made me happy to know that John respected my ability to ride him down enough to use his team to make sure I didn’t. I may not have earned the Calvin’s record or the cool clock – but I did earn the respect of the John and the rest of the B-Team.

I still set the DF record for the course and to make things sweeter my son, Allen made his goal of 90 miles – he thinks he did 97.5 miles but scoring only had him at 90.5 – either way I think it was great and he set the 6 hour record for 14 and under!

And as always the T-Bear was – in the words of Dessa Parks – “the super support woman” taking care of me, Allen, Stuart, and cheering on all of my ultra race friends and probably lots of people she didn’t even know.

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