Race day started out like a typical June day in San Diego. Grey at the coast, sunny and (thankfully) not too warm inland. It was going to get plenty warm soon enough, no need to add insult to injury by having to spend a couple of hours baking in the sun with a few hundred of our closest friends down at the Oceanside Pier.
|Milling around at the start|
Peg and I had loaded Truck 4 as much as we could Fri night after the interminable MANDATORY racer meeting in Oceanside. But with a 12:00 noon start, the Sat AM to-do list was a major distraction. Peg drives over and we meet at my house, load up food, pick up crew member Pat Gillespie, head over to Wildebeest’s place and load his stuff, say hi to Mr. and Mrs. Wildebeest, head to the pier, find parking, yada yada… Doesn’t seem like a big deal, but after almost a year of logging countless training hours, thousands of miles in the saddle, hundreds of repeats, I was ready to chew nails. To say I had a bit of nervous energy would be like saying Sandy was a bit breezy, showery “weather event.” Despite this being my third RAAM, I had never drawn the TT to Old Castle leg. This was going to be a very different start for me compared to those in 2008 and 2010 where I was in Truck 4 and Truck 3 respectively. In 2008 we hadn’t adopted the practice of Truck 4 doing the TT to Old Castle so riders from Truck 1 were on shift right at the start. In 2010, Larry (aka the Godfather) and I drew Truck 3 so we had 10 hours to chill and get out to the desert for our first shift. So in both 2008 and 2010 the start was kind of a don’t care because after riding the bike path parade in both cases I jumped into the Truck and had 10-15 hours to put the distractions from the start behind me and get mentally ready to race. Funny thing, as we were milling about down at the start watching all of the 2-man and 4-man crews head out, the entire race ahead was almost secondary to this next pull. I knew full well what was coming. After the 8-mile parade, Wildebeest and I had a 16-mile long TT that was going to flat out hurt. A lot! Yet, I couldn’t wait! It was go time!
|4 Mil's Wayne Dowd - Getting Ready To TT His Face Off|
So after what seems like an eternity, finally we’re in the queue and ready to roll. Animal and Hammer are going to roll the parade with us and peel off at River Rd. when racing begins. George Thomas is standing out front with a microphone trying to get sound bites from racers as we roll up to the line on our 1 minute spacing. I’m thinking “Dude don’t stick that microphone in my face” as I’m not sure my comments would be appropriate for the audience. Fortunately, Hammer took one for the team and answered some mundane question like “What’s it like to work for a Company like ViaSat?” or “Why do you guys keep coming back every year?” which were both a bit tough for Hammer to give a reply to as he doesn’t work for ViaSat and this was his first RAAM. Nonetheless, he covered for us, we got a chuckle, and the crowd gave us the perfunctory applause as we rolled down the Strand. We get to our first turn at Surf Rider Way which is a short, punchy little climb and immediately Hammer is out of the saddle sprinting for the top. Strava sniffing… there was probably a new little segment created later that week. Very funny and at this point I’m laughing out loud.
As I mentioned in my previous post, the first 8 miles is a parade zone down the San Luis Rey River Trail bike path. No racing, no passing 18 MPH. Our two top competitors Strategic Lions and 4 Mil started 5 minutes and 7 minutes ahead of us respectively. So while the clock at the start would be corrected by the offsets, any gaps that opened or closed on the bike path would count. We pretty quickly caught up with the next two teams ahead of us and settled in for a spin the rest of the way down the bike path. The team that started two places ahead of us was a team of complete studs from the UK named Team Battle Back. All 8 racers were wounded servicemen with 4 of the 8 double amputees who were racing with hand bikes. I can’t even fathom the mental and physical strength it would take to complete RAAM that way. Like I said, studs… One of the two guys parading was on a hand bike so 18 MPH was a pretty good clip for them. But as we were spinning down the bike path, there was no sign of any of the teams ahead of them despite having pretty good and long views down the path. Looks like we were going to be a few minutes back when we hit the race start at College.
As we rolled up to the College Blvd exit, we said our goodbyes to Hammer and Animal as they peeled off into Mance Buchanan Park. As they were Truck 2 and we were Truck 4, the next time we’d see them was Maryland. So as Wildebeest and I navigate the tricky little exit from the bike path to College with a RAAM official standing right in the middle saying “be careful…” (Duh… get out of the road dude…) there was a slight hesitation. We had the two teams of two riders each right in front of us, a RAAM official in the mix, and cars rolling down College towards the intersection at N River Rd. After 1-2 seconds of hesitation, I turned to Wildebeest and simply said… “Go.”
If you’ve ever seen video of a submarine launched ICBM, the Wildebeest did a good impression. The slight hesitation mimics the slight pause when the missile pops out of the water and the rockets fire. The moment I said go, the Beest was off like I’ve never seen before. By the time we made the 2nd right turn onto River Rd and started heading east, Wildebeest was riding away and laying waste to any/all ahead of him.
At this point now I’m in a new situation for me and RAAM. For the first time in all of my countless pulls over more than a dozen of shifts, in all probability my effort will not mean anything. Assuming Adam makes it out to Truck 1 without issue, my time will mean nothing. I’m the insurance policy. Back up for flat/mechanical issues… Do I burn a match knowing full well it might be for nothing? Damn right! My motivations were two-fold. First, I had 7 brothers counting on me. In the small chance that Adam did flat or have a mechanical, my teammates were counting on me for a big effort and to put us in the position to hand the lead off to our flagship, Truck 1. Second, we were out there to make a statement. Team ViaSat was back this year with one objective to win the race. And not only to win, but to crush the competition. I knew there were a bunch of teams out ahead of me that would soon see the Wildebeest flying (and I mean effing flying) by. I wanted nothing more than to roll up a couple minutes behind and come around them again. “Damn, another Team ViaSat racer dropping me??? Who are these guys???”
So as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, next up was Sleeping Indian. A 2.9 mile climb with the last 0.5 miles a bitch of a climb at >15%. So as I’m pushing up the rolling bottom section, I start picking off riders ahead of me. I start to make a game out of it. Get this guy before the telephone pole. Pick these two off before the steep part starts. All the while I’m watching my HR keeping it in the mid-160s (>170 – 172 I think I’m dead.) All-in-all I must’ve gotten 8-10 guys on Sleeping Indian. This while climbing on my TT bike. I can’t tell you how fired up I was when I got over the top and without giving up much time. (I went back after the race and looked at my previous times. I set a PR by >1 minute over the full 2.9 miles and was within seconds of my previous PRs on the steep climbs which I did on my roadie.)
So now, the rest of the course is fast and rolling. I’m feeling pretty good but I still have a ways to go with one more big obstacle… a traffic light at Olive Hill Rd and the 76. At this point I’m flying down Olive Hill Rd with a few more riders ahead and I see the red light up ahead. Damn! Fortunately, I probably only had to wait 30-45 seconds, but it allowed a bit of company to join up behind. Oh well, the good news was I was feeling good and no sign of the Wildebeest which meant he was in good shape to get to Old Castle.
The rest of the segment is a 5-mile stretch on Camino Del Rey that climbs about 200 ft. At this point I was starting to feel a bit gassed but I still was able to maintain a 23 MPH pace out to 395. From there 0.7 miles to Old Castle where Peg would pick me up so we could drive out to Ranchita to pick up the Beest. It was only after I turned onto 395 and saw that the Beest was nowhere in sight that I let myself sit up a little. I was completely gassed but I felt good knowing I had held my own.
|Wildbeest Handing Off To Metal After a Monster TT From Start|
It was only after we finished RAAM that I let myself look back and assess how I did. The Wildebeest had put 6 minutes into me on the race out from College including 2.5 minutes on the Sleeping Indian leg. At first I thought damn… not good. But then I realized that Wildebeest had all but caught the Lions by the light at Old castle and had he not missed the left turn light he may have had them before handing off to Metal. Yet they had a 5 minute head start and who knows how much more they picked up on the parade route. So that meant I made it out there within a minute of the Lions. No telling where 4 Mil was but as they were 20 minutes behind us at TS1 I can’t imagine they were any faster. So all-in-all, I guess mission accomplished. Had the Beest had an issue, I would’ve kept us to within a minute of the lead. And we did send a message that day. They still are asking “Who are those guys???”