It had been a full year since I last rode in Saratoga at the 24-hour race last July, but the roads were still fresh in my mind. With L-E-L two weeks away, though, I decided that the 12-hour race was more in line with my general training plan. It would provide me with a final long ride, some speed work and a great day of fun out on the road. The other truly exciting part of the plan was that I brought along my first ever crew for support. I may not be cycling in the Tour de France, but with Eli, Izzy and Jessie mixing my drinks and passing me bottles, I felt like a rider on the ProTour (minus the EPO). What a difference a support crew can make. In this case, I was able to stop only twice for a total of maybe 7 minutes off the bike in 12 hours. I also feel like I showed up to the race in good form, having followed UMCA Director John Hughes' advice on tapering to the letter by really keeping the miles down over the past week with a few intense days of intervals to sharpen my speed and keep my legs fresh.
The Saratoga 12/24 is held on a lovely 32-mile course with gentle rolling hills, smooth, well-paved, low-traffic roads, and only one little nasty climb and a few miles of open fields and river which seem to naturally generate headwind. This year, the weather forecast wasn't too promising. It looked pretty definite that rain and thunderstorms would hit by late afternoon. As it turned out, the rain held off until around 6:30, so I only faced a downpour on the final lap. The nasty lightning even held off until the drive home. The headwinds were vicious, though, thoughout the day on the "back 9" side of the course with gusts up to 30 mph.
In all, this was a very successful race for me. I got out in front early and held onto third position for most of the day. Throughout three or four laps, RAAM veteran Rob Morlock and I rode at an acceptable distance away from one another in this non-drafting race, leapfrogging each other from time to time and chatting a little bit as we passed. Rob is an awfully nice guy who rode with the support of a crew that leapfrogged him at various spots along the route. It was a pleasure to watch their well-oiled machine in progress and I definitely learned a few things about racing from the experience. Later in the day, when the rider in first position dropped out, it seemed like I had third place sewn up. It wasn't until the final lap that I was passed in earnest by a rider on his fixed gear bike who went on to take third place overall and first in the fixed gear category.
I always learn something about training and racing with every event. What I learned from this race was:
1. Tapering is very good.
2. Regular speed and hill work are good.
3. Long base miles ridden during the winter seem to pay dividends.
4. Carrying more than two bottles on board the bike should be considered if and when I race without a crew.
5. Racing with a crew that leapfrogs and passes off nutrition and such through pedestrian hand-offs is the next horozon.
6. The race isn't over until its over.
It was such an honor and a pleasure to have my family along for the adventure. I'm sure I enjoyed it much more than they did, but I'm so glad that they have this little window into why I love being an endurance cyclist. I hope to include them in more interesting ways in the future. More immediately, though, I look forward to adding this result to my UMCA UltraCup standings, which have been languishing a bit since my last ultra race in April. With luck, I will finish strong in London and hope to ride at least two of the four laps at the ADK540 in September.
Next year's goal: to qualify for RAAM at one of the 500-mile races with a full crew.