» 2013 Fort Hood Challenge: Texas State Championship Road Race

2013 Fort Hood Challenge: Texas State Championship Road Race

Gilbert Ramirez

It’s kind of a joke with my teammates: I hate rain. I don’t ride outside at the hint of mist and I definitely don’t race when it’s raining. In my younger years I logged thousands of rain miles…in my younger years. But, now I’m old. In bad weather, I’d rather ride a trainer or a spin bike. Why? The ground. When you hit the pavement at 22 years old you just pop right back up; at 45 you stay down for a few minutes, and it can take weeks to recover. Enough said. I really wanted to race the Fort Hood Challenge, Texas State Championship Road Race. I’d adjusted my training over the previous 4 weeks just for the race. From about Monday on, I could tell it was going to rain on race day. On Wednesday I decided to race come hell and high water. Ironically, I’d be flying solo–no teammates.

The 66 mile Fort Hood course is challenging, 2 laps on a hilly 33 mile loop with few flat sections. It doesn’t have sustained climbs (15 minutes or longer) but there are enough big hills to naturally select the fittest riders.

Race day offered enough wind to be a factor. And, of course, it was raining and muddy, so nature was in full effect. I usually run about 115 psi in my tires. With the wet roads, I chose to go down to 90 psi. I wanted more traction. I wasn’t worried about any hard turns on the course, I was worried about my ability to quickly maneuver in the pack. From my experience, the Masters field can be less aggressive yet sketchier than the P12 field, which is why I prefer the latter.

About 80 riders pre-registered for the Masters (40-49) race. Some of them chose not to brave the elements on race day. We set off at an easy pace but I was miserable in the rain. I didn’t feel comfortable riding with the others. Ironically, they seemed comfortable and I felt sketchy. I was cautious on the opening descents, deliberately hanging off the back of the pack. I kept anticipating a pile up that I would have to avoid. Nope.

A few miles into the race, immediately after the opening climb, I attacked hard. From my experience, there are three types of Masters racers: 1. breakaway riders (5%) 2. strong riders (5%) 3. “pack and sprint” riders (90%). No disrespect intended–most of us juggle marriage with professional careers and multiple children and maybe even a few health issues. The fact that any of us are out racing at our age is a testament to our drive. But still, most of us are “pack and sprint” riders. Our fitness level can change dramatically from week to week so it’s tough to be confident. So, we are content to follow major moves, sit in the pack and race conservatively, rarely seeing the front of the group until the sprint. I was confident today. I knew I had strong legs, but I didn’t know how strong, so I threw caution to the wind. I didn’t want to get stuck dragging the pack around. I attacked super early.

My solo attack, about five miles in, lasted a couple of miles. There was a short counter attack. My guess was the stronger riders were burning early matches pulling the pack around, chasing down attacks. Good. Once the second attack was brought back, a couple of miles before the second major hill, I solo attacked again. I kept myself on the offensive with the hope the strong chasers would let me go. This time I went clear. I knew the timing. I didn’t want to get caught on the second major hill, so I doubled down thinking that the pack would save themselves for the climb. One rider jumped across, Bret Crosby. This was good and bad.

I was hoping that a group of at least 6 breakaway/strong riders would come up and join me so we could settle into a good rotation. When Bret came up by himself, I was both happy and worried. Why would anyone let him get away by himself? I knew the answer of course. Somebody gave him 2 seconds and he turned it into a 45; once you lose Bret’s wheel, you won’t get it back…not if he doesn’t want you to. I needed a larger group of people to work with if I was going to last another 55 miles.

Prior to the race, I knew at some point I would be in a breakaway situation with Bret where I could test his climbing ability. I already knew Bret could sprint, time trial, descend, corner…I didn’t know if these hills were long enough to truly test him as a climber. As we rotated with each other I could tell he considered this as well. He kept rotating me through just before each small hill, then he’d juuuuust slightly increase power as we began each hill, leaving me little recovery. I was ok with this at first but it wore me down. After a few hills, I just couldn’t recover. And, I realized that these hills weren’t long enough for him, for me. I needed mountains. This situation screwed me.

Bret and I quickly made 45 seconds on the pack. At some point a group of two broke off the main pack and floated between Bret and myself. The lead motorcycle kept giving us time splits. We kept our gap of 45 seconds on the two chasers for at least 20 miles, but the pack kept falling further and further back…1 minute back, 1:30 back, 2 minutes back, 2:30 back, almost 3 minutes back.

I knew I was in trouble when Bret and I rolled through the start/finish area to begin our second 33 mile lap. Bret had already begun to take over most of the pulling. At this point he was doing me a favor by keeping me around. He could have jumped and dumped me but he was gracious. At one point he even waited for me. I pulled through when I could but my rotations were getting few and far between. Bret rode like he was out on a Sunday stroll. The two riders coming up behind us were definitely strong, but I didn’t know who they were. As we made our way up the first major climb on the second lap, Bret decided it was time. I couldn’t match his pace. On this hill, Chris Powers caught me near the top of the hill, then he caught Bret. I was off their wheel by 50 meters or so…and I had Alan Abell on my wheel. I pulled in an attempt to reconnect with Chris and Bret. Alan wasn’t interested in working with me; so he jumped me and got across. I could see the three were a little disorganized. I needed to reconnect before they decided to work efficiently together. I could see that Alan really wanted me gone because he was attacking the other two in an effort to keep me from reconnecting. I dug deeeeep for a couple of miles and managed to join them one last time.

The four of us rode together for a few miles but it wasn’t really a smooth rotation. Chris kept trying to position himself after my pull. My guess is he wanted to put himself in a position to attack my pull later on or just continually put short digs into me after my pulls. I sensed Bret didn’t want to chance a sprint with Chris or Alan. I kept adjusting to Chris’ adjustments. Basically, it wasn’t a smooth break rotation. With about 20 miles to go, Bret decided he’d had enough; he put in a couple of strong surges that required all of us to respond. He broke free, dropping me easily but also putting a gap between himself, Chris and Alan.

I rode about 30 seconds behind Chris and Alan for what seemed like an eternity. I was strong on the flats and downhills but, ironically, I couldn’t muster any power on the hills. After about 50 miles I began to feel a little muscle twitching…the initial “cramp before the cramp.” I had to ride conservatively on the hills to avoid a full-on cramp. I could see Chris and Alan, I just couldn’t find a jump in my legs to make it up to them. Bret was gone. Way gone.

The pack caught me with about 10 or 12 miles to go. I was surprised to see that there were about 35 riders still in the pack. This was good for me. I’d been out in the wind for most of my race. I was content to sit in the pack for the last few miles. I don’t know if the pack knew how close 2nd and 3rd place (Chris and Alan) were. At one point it had to be less than 20 seconds; I thought about pulling the pack up to Chris and Alan just to stick it to them but the effort would have fried me. I decided to sit back. I knew my effort wouldn’t be rewarded by the pack…they would most certainly counter-attack my effort. In typical fashion, riders kept trying to attack the pack. Had there been a concerted effort, I’m certain we would have been racing for 2nd, not 4th. Instead, riders would fly up the road…other riders would respond then we’d all sit up and the cycle would continue. This made for interval work with a slower average speed than Chris and Alan were able to maintain just seconds up the road.

As the pack headed down the final kilometers, I could tell my fast-twitch muscles were not going to help me out. I did a few out of the saddle tests and I cramped on one of them. I was able to ride it out, but I knew that any sprint I had to offer was going to have to be in the saddle in a big gear…the mile-long sprint. The last few kilometers into the finish line were basically flat and straight, perfect for me to get a big windup.

Bret, Chris and Alan managed to finish off the front of the pack, respectively. I missed the battle for second between Chris and Alan, and I’m sure it was a good one. Bret was easily the Texas State Champion. The pack sprint started early, with several teams initiating leadouts for teammates. Neoteric and Bat City had plenty of riders still in the game to pull off a good leadout but someone was going to have to jump on the grenade. In the end, out of the corner of my eye, I could see Neoteric–with at least 3 riders–doing a fantastic job of lining up one rider for a top pack spot. Good train. As most of the field fought for the draft on the left, I chose my own line way off on the right. I was cramping up and I couldn’t stand. I managed 6th place in the pack sprint. So, I finished 9th on the day and 5th in my age group (45-49).

Once again, Andy Hollinger and team managed to partner with the City of Copperas Cove and Fort Hood to create a fantastic race weekend. My hat goes off to the entire team; everyone was extremely upbeat and positive, despite my rainy-day face.

On a side note, racing at Fort Hood is always bittersweet for me. I was stationed at Fort Hood between 1997-1998, the last 2 years of my 6 year commitment with the US ARMY. While I was stationed there, I used to ride my bike out on the roads that are now the Texas State Championship course. Those were lonely rides. At the time I didn’t really like Fort Hood…I was ready to get out. Don’t get me wrong, I’m extremely proud of all soldiers and veterans, myself included. But, being a soldier is incredibly difficult–physically, mentally, spiritually. I think I summoned some of my residual military intestinal fortitude for this year’s Texas State Championship. Like I said, I friggin’ hate riding in the rain. But, duty called.

Big congrats to my teammates: Jimmy Miller (Cat 1, 14th), Eben Kellogg (Cat 2, 14th) and Casey Crosby (for being CNW gutzy).