The relentless pain, muscle fatigue, and cramping you feel at the end of a race is quite often significantly more than you would expect it to be. Surprising? Yes, but all the more surprising is the race – the one we all thought was going to be easy – that inflicted these agonies upon us. This is the account of a race that was exactly that, for myself and others. It is the account of the San Luis Rey Road Race as experienced by one of many unsuspecting, very sore racers.
“A moderately hilly 14.7-mile circuit on well-paved roads,” is how the race flyer described it. True and to the point, but lacking – by no fault of it or its writer – was the small matter of the near 50 racers in the pro 1-2 field going attack-crazy from beginning to end for 103 miles.
Things kicked off immediately following the first descent on lap one of seven. I can’t say who made the first attack or how many followed, but I can say they were fast and hard to chase back. At one point, just after the group reeled in one move, another went; this solo bid for freedom was made by a rider from the Velo Pasadena Team. The group hesitated – that is, they let off the gas ever so slightly – and another rider jumped; he dawned the kit of POC + Ritte. The two formed a deadly duo and went on a four wheel conquest of the road ahead. The group finished the first lap with heavy legs after countless attempts to bridge the relatively small gap, just to be brought back by the charging, half-human-half-bike stampede.
Photos by Frank Sarate / SoCalCycling.com
The second lap was just as aggressive and just as fast (faster actually). Three riders took advantage of an apparent descending prowess, and lack of regard for their own well being, and attacked hard on the descent. On the flats we chased and we attacked, but soon enough the group of three disappeared into the distance on their quest to find the brave and impressively strong riders ahead. In many races “out of sight, out of mind,” has a ring of truth but not today. Many strong moves got free, including one I was lucky enough to get in before that lap ended, but sadly – for those of us left behind by the dangerous duo and the daring three – they were not fated to be. Even the move I joined, five riders strong and headed by a pro from IRT Racing, couldn’t find its way to breakaway salvation. We finished another lap, our legs burned, and the two groups up the road merged, now five strong, pushing their gap near the two minute mark and no lack of motivation in either group.
The third lap continued on much the same for the peloton, attack after attack went, some distancing themselves from the rest for a good while, but only to be pulled back yet again. I put myself in a few moves but eventually opted to sit in for the remainder of the lap with my legs beginning to feel heavier than I would have liked. Sitting in however, did nothing to change the pace; most of the other riders continued their attacks and the powerful field continued its chase. Unsure of how or why, the break – being seen after one of the turn-arounds – had split into two separate groups (later I learned two riders slid out on a corner). The crashed riders chased for awhile and the three went on hammering out an insane pace. Though I don’t know where it came from, it is clear their strength was not in numbers.
Regardless of how it happened, the split seemed to energize the peloton, sparking a round of attacks that teetered on the edge of stupid and heroic. One such move came when a rider from Incycle Cannondale Pro Cycling did a counter attack after a group of five I was in had been caught. No one else followed, so I did and the two of us went full gas and didn’t look back. We pushed hard and paced together best we could. We had what seemed like a good gap going into the final climb, that is until I looked back. My eyes were graced with the menacing sight of the peloton strung single file, out of the saddle, charging fast up the hill behind us. They came by like thunder, and so we jumped like lightning, and by some good graces we hung on for dear life all the way up to the turn-around. From there I could see the damage that had been done, riders both solo and in small groups chased hard after us, their faces said it all.
On the fourth lap some riders made it back to the peloton, some didn’t, but we all hurt just the same. Things toned down a little, but not for long. We caught sight of the break just after the second turn-around, still holding onto roughly the same gap, and our pace quickened. The attacks started again but so too did a good rotation at the front; we hit the hill together, save for the breakaway still holding fast to their gap. The climb was tough, and with how sore the legs were by now, quite a few struggled to stay on as we climbed. After about sixty miles the peloton was no bigger than fifteen. We still attacked each other and some particularly strong riders were showing a great deal of determination to get away, but for the remainder of the lap it was all in vain.
On the next lap four riders attacked what was left of the field, splitting it into two smaller groups, and isolating a few others. I stayed with a group of five as the four ahead made their last-ditched effort to catch the breakaway. The race was now splintered out all over the course and even the largest group was only five riders in size.
The final two laps played out with the remaining groups staying much the same; the breakaway held out to the finish, and what few other riders were left pushed on to the end. It was David Santos (KHS -Maxis-JLVelo) who took the win with his breakaway companions filling out the rest of the podium: Ben Foster (POC + Ritte) and Chris Walker (Velo Pasadena Team) 2nd and 3rd respectively. Twenty one in all finished, less then half of what we started with; I was happy to hold on for 11th.
By Chris Wyman, Pacific Premier Bank Cycling Team (PPBI)