Thursday, January 22, 2009


Could I just get one elbow flick? That’s all I want is one – just one! And while you’re at it, how about pointing out the big pothole? Or, maybe if you’re not going to point, you could at least shout out a warning that you’re going to ride within inches of the right side of the series of giant and treacherous rumble strips in the middle of the road that warn of the stop sign coming into Ovid? This was also the year of the long slow pulls. Ugh. If I hear the word “slowing” while riding on gentle rollers one more time, I’m going to scream. To borrow a term used by Peter Harker, we were riding with a bunch of ‘gomers’ this year. I haven’t been this frustrated with my assigned pack of riders since the days of “bow-legged half-wheeler guy” in 2004.

If you want to eat at the Olive Garden on Friday evening, you better be prepared to eat early or wait a long time. Shown here, Bob, Corte, Kristin, Beth holding Lily, Annie, Jack and John

From the get go, I knew this was going to be a different ride from last year. Our start group had only Peter Harker and Corte Haggard riding for team Norda’s. Compared to last year where we had 8 Norda’s riders and similar number of ‘Bountiful Mazda’ riders and a handful of other experienced riders willing to work in our group of Open Cat 5 riders. This year we were back to the old days of Packs defined by age. In 2007 our pack of Norda/Mazda riders immediately went to the front and set a strong, not hard, but steady pace that caught the two groups in front of us – even with an earlier than usual group pee break about 20 miles into the race. This year there was no one to control the pack.

Bill helps John and I get our food and drinks organized early Saturday morning. Then Bill will make the 30 mile drive to Preston to hand out the musette bags.

Disclaimer: For those who haven’t been on a ride with me, let me say, I do have an opinion about how a group ride should go and I’ve been know to be ‘somewhat’ bossy when on a group training ride or in a race like LOTOJA. Back to our story…..

Tait is ready to roll

Peter, Corte and I stayed near the front, but had few opportunities to work at the front because guys like ‘fat guy in the green vest’ would go to the front and stay there pulling a weak 20mph. Then, when the guy finally came off the front, he would drift back and then signal with his arm that he wanted to get back into the pace line about 10 positions back from the front. This when I was about 12 positions back waiting to get to the front and try to rev the pace up a notch or two. It was all I could do not to ride up to the guy in green and yell, “that pull was pathetic, too long and too slow. NO PULL FOR YOU! Back of the line!”

John arrived in Montpelier near the lead and bloodied.

At about state line Peter and I were sitting about 7th and 8th in the line up. The guy in front of me goes directly over a big hole. Bam. I do the same then Peter follows. I can’t believe one of us didn’t pinch flat right there. The hard hit caused Peter’s plastic mount for his Power Tap Computer to break sending his computer flying. It took a moment for Peter to figure out that it was his computer bouncing down the road. He pulled up and u-turned to try to salvage it. If this was 2007, I’m pretty sure the Mazda/Norda’s guys would have all sat up and waited for Peter to chase back on, but this was not 2007. Most of these guys didn’t know how to work in a paceline, let alone any race etiquette -especially during the 30 mile warm up where there is never any attacking. I sat up and slow pedaled hoping to be able to help Peter chase back on once he retrieved his computer. Corte kept going. He figured, correctly, that Peter and I together would have no trouble chasing back on to the group. After a couple of minutes, Peter still was not coming. I could see our group riding away in the distance and the group behind just coming into view about to pass Peter. I figured he could use the next group to chase back so I took off on what was a tough 4 or 5 miles of riding at my limit to chase back on. I was screaming in my microphone for Johan Bruyneel to tell Corte to sit up and help me chase, but alas, I didn’t have a radio or a microphone and Johan was tied up denying rumors that Lance is coming back.

I finally chased back on about a mile outside of Preston and then went to the front as we rolled into Preston which was a good thing because there was a section of gravel road under repair and ‘team Gomer’ was struggling to ride across the gravel. I was first into the feed zone. I threw my vest and full fingered gloves at my brother Bill (aka YPR, super soigneur), grabbed two fresh bottles, told Janet that Peter had lost his computer and was a few minutes behind and then took off.

Corte carried his extra water so he rolled right through the feed zone. I caught him out of town and we discussed where our first comfort stop should be since we missed our chance before Preston. Corte pulled off for a comfort stop on the climb out of Preston just as we were caught by the leaders of the two groups behind us, including my son John who started 6 minutes behind. There was no way I was going to stop when there was a group this strong pulling me up the hill. Like the movie ‘Groundhog Day’, that was the last I saw of Corte for the day. I descended into Riverdale at the front of the group. My extra girth combined with good wheels and a skier’s tuck helped me go by dozens of riders on the downhill, knowing full well most would come by me when the road turned up on the way to Mink Creek.

I hung with John as long as I could. He told me Peter had rolled into Preston with his group so that was good news to hear. He also said he left Casey behind at the feed zone.

Lance Armstrong says you can really only go full out for about an hour in a long race. I had spent way too much time and energy on the chase back into Preston and I was about to pay for it on the climb up Strawberry. In 2007, stomach problems were my down fall and this year, the solo chase into Preston would be cause for concern. I would need to save a little on the Strawberry climb if I was going to survive the day.

Soon I was dropped by the leaders of the 1400, 1500 and 1600’s and even the sole leader of the 1700’s – Nate Pack, the overall winner two years ago and the single fastest rider in the race for the past three years. He must not have an annual racing license because he rides in the Citizen Race category like we do. Each year he does the 30 mile warm up ride into Preston then proceeds to do a 170 mile individual time trial that is amazing to see. Two years ago when he won the overall title, he was in John’s group and the two of them left Preston as the two leaders until he blew John off his wheel after Mink Creek. This year, no one was on his wheel. Note: turns out he finished 10th at 9:15, one minute behind the winning time of 9:14 by nine CAT 3 riders.

I rode by the Diamond R and saw Robin Fife’s mom out front washing windows. I shouted, “Hello Rasmussens” and got a nice wave in return. A ‘Fat Boy’ would have been good right about then.

As I approached the false summit, first Peter, then Casey came by. Peter had his computer taped to his handle bar. I told Peter that I had waited for a couple of minutes after he lost his computer and he replied, “Yeah right”. I don’t think he believed me…… Even though I wanted to sit on their wheels, my legs refused to ride at that pace.

With the false summit in view, I caught Tait (and shortly there after, his brother Trent). Tait started 6 minutes in front of me. I rode along with him and then tried to pace him across the saddle and up the real summit. He was having none of it (turns out his wheel was out of true and was causing his brake to rub – something he didn’t figure out and fix until over 100 miles into the race. I’m sure Tait will send his detailed report on your request). I even stopped for a pee break that I didn’t need and still pulled him back. Even though we had discussed this exact scenario of me catching him on Strawberry and then rolling over the summit together, it wasn’t going to happen. I rode away and left him to suffer. (I’ll need help weaving this part of the story into a church talk).

Grab and Go with Peter and Casey right behind me

I missed hooking up with a fast group going into Montpelier and hooked up with some fairly fast girls and a few knuckleheads. I barely survived the rumble strips in Ovid. In Montpelier, Peter and Casey were standing at the feed zone having a leisurely snack. I grabbed my musette bag and kept on rolling with a “wait for me” and a “here I come” from Peter and Casey. Peter pulled up and I badgered him a little about waiting for me and not trying to win the race. He said his power meter computer was now officially dead and he wanted to ride with me so off we went. They told me that John had crashed and was up the road. I immediately thought he must have crashed in Ovid where I had a scare.

What's for lunch?

Jackie helps Brian with his musette bag while Super Soigneur, Grandma Norda, holds his bike

The stress of the support brought on a severe migraine for Jackie, but she was a trooper and carried on in pain. No stress for the veteran Kristin.

Later I found out that John and three other from his 1600 group were approaching the false summit and John and another guy got dropped. They were chasing the leading two across the saddle with John sitting second wheel when they caught two other riders from another group. John assumed that they would just roll past the two slower riders, but the other guy in his group decided to tuck in and draft. John wasn’t expecting this and rode up on the guy and crashed. His head bounced on the asphalt a couple of times, cracking his helmet and he left skin from both knees, his right hip and thigh. He was able to climb back onto his bike and chase. By the end of the day, he was coming into Jackson, bloodied and in a battle for 3rd and 4th place. The other rider in his group, Jess, was sitting on John’s wheel hoping to come by him in the sprint – which included a handful of riders from other groups. When Jess tried to come around, John revved it up and came back around at the finish to win the sprint and take 3rd by a wheel length, much to the delight of the 1st and 2nd place riders in John’s group, one of whom yelled out, “that was @#*$ awesome! John was very excited about the finish. Congratulations to John for being the only Norda’s riders to make the podium. Next year he’ll need to pack an extra vest to wear on the podium because, like me, he left his team vest behind with Bill in Preston during the race. He still looked good in his older Quiksilver jacket.

Peter’s pace up Geneva was good for me, but too strong for Casey so we left him behind. Casey is normally a much faster climber than me but was suffering just a little. Peter’s new found descending skills were on display as we approached 50 mph on the descent. We worked with a random group of riders in the headwind on the way to Salt Creek. That is one steep climb. This year, with Peter’s fine pacing, we averaged 10.2 mph on Salt Creek, which is much better than my normal 8 mph average.

Peter setting the pace on the way to Salt River.

We grabbed our food in Afton and kept right on chugging. Outside of Afton we caught the main group of Larry H. Miller Lexus riders who had started at 6AM, 1 hour and 16 minutes ahead of us. At first I was excited to catch onto a big double pace line, especially because of the notorious Star Valley headwinds. Soon I figured out that this was no blessing. The pace was too slow – which is great for the Lexus riders that just wanted to finish – but was of no use to Peter and me if we wanted to crack the top 10 and set a personal best. After several miles of sitting in and hearing the word, “slowing” way to many times, we pulled away from them when they decided to take a comfort break.

Last feed zone in Alpine and we were off. Here we hooked up with two pretty strong riders and found ourselves in our first powerful group of the day. One of the guys was a fresh relay rider and we benefited from his fresh legs. For most of the race, I had kept to my strategy of staying out of the wind and taking short pulls when it was my turn up front. Peter, on the other hand, is a hammer head. He had taken dozens and dozens of long hard pulls since we left Montpelier and was running on empty. Once he was sitting third wheel with me behind him and our two friends started to open a gap so I gave him a shove to close it down, but on the next step section we had to let them go - but we were able to chase back on as soon as the incline leveled out a bit.

By the time we rolled into Jackson, Peter was feeling a little stronger. At the new turn off for the new section, we both bridged up to a faster group and left our new found friends behind. As we approached the finish line we were both saying, “you go ahead”, but I ‘out sprinted’ Peter by sitting up and tapping my brake so he crossed just in front of me for 8th place in our group at a time of 10:36. We were both very pleased with our top 10 finishes which were 8 minutes out of 3rd place – which was within reach had we not hit the pothole early in the day.

Photo Finish as Peter and I cross the finish line.

Peter is already plotting strategy for next year. First off, he and I are going to buy an annual license and race Masters 45. This will give us an earlier start time; put us in the company of skilled cyclists that will be both a safer and faster group to ride with. You can’t break 10 hours riding at 20 mph on the flats with team Lexus. This will take away any chance for me to podium since I will get dropped by the leaders somewhere on Strawberry – but there will be other faster and safer riders to hook up with after I get dropped so my chance of improving on my time and getting closer to the sub 10 hour goal increases.

Peter’s also going to start weight training and is encouraging me to get a power meter so I can take my training to a new level. I think Peter should just hire me to be his coach. While I’m grateful that he took a ton of long, hard pulls for my benefit this year, my only advice for him next year is that when he gets to the front, go hard, get off and measure your time in the wind in seconds, not minutes. He is such a strong rider, I think that by staying off the front and saving his legs, he should be able to hang with the Masters 45 leaders all the way to Jackson next year.

Note, along the lines of staying off the front: Brian occasionally listens to his dad and brother who told him at dinner the night before to stay out of the wind. He told me that he was about 120 miles into the race this year before he took his first serious pull. He eventually caught Corte after starting 21 minutes behind and they rode together most of the way with Brian finishing a respectable 11:37 after riding very little this year (three jobs, one marriage and two honeymoons got in the way of training). Proof again, that Brian was only half joking last year when he said something like, “I don’t see what’s so hard about this race?”

Meanwhile, no power meter for me. I don’t doubt that they are an effective training tool, I just prefer to do my training more socially with the morning and Saturday ride group where I can compare notes with Paul about who’s grandkids are cuter, learn about Steve’s trip to D.C., hear Mark’s stories about helicopter rescues on Mt Whitney and all the other good stuff we cover on the rides. I’m staying true to the original club name, ssRcc – semi-serious Recreational cycling club. I think if I ride more and lose a few pounds, I should be able to improve my time next year. It’s worth a shot.

Last. I can’t thank enough those that provide support for this ride. It is a long and very stressful day. My daughter Kristin is the best! My best investment each year is her plane ticket to SLC. This year she supported John and me. She mixes the energy drinks, and is always there ready to go with the musette. This year, Jackie provided support to Brian and Mark Nebeker (that’s a story for another day) and found out first hand how quickly a migraine can set in when you’re not sure where to go, if you have time for a bathroom stop and all of the other unforeseen things that happen. Having Bill in Preston does so much to take the stress of those providing support for the other feed zones. A big thanks to him also. One of my favorite pictures from the race is of my mom, Norda herself, holding Brian’s bike while he grabs his food and sheds his toe warmers in Montpelier. Who else has their 81 year old grandma as a personal soigneur?

Beth and Kristin are all smiles - and who wouldn't be? They're hangin' with Lily

Beth, Lily, Jack and John

Once again, John was back on the Podium with a 3rd place finish. Way to go John!

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