This is an annual Omnium road race put on by the Albuquerque Sport Systems team as part of their USACycling licensure. It is a two day, three event race that allows riders to do one, two or all three events that are scored just like a cross country race with the highest placings receiving the lowest points with the goal being the lowest possible score. The Adoption Exchange Classic also supports with the profits an adoption agency called, you guessed it, the Adoption Exchange. Don't ask me about the name.
The first event, on Saturday morning, was the Road Race that takes place in the East Mountains of Albuquerque and centers on a climb that the locals call "Heartbreak Hill". I wasn't too worried because this was in Albuquerque--how hard could it be? Have they suffered up Narbona in a headwind? Have they hit Fat Bastard after a stop at Chu-chu's? Had they ever tried to climb anything while Chuck was alternatively throttling the pace and telling gut busting stories? But then I started to receive emails from the director with messages like "A few things to keep in mind the next time you tackle our own Heartbreak Hill @ the Adoption Exchange Classic:
a) Fear Of Pain Is Worse Than Pain Itself.
b) Embrace the experience and dial in a sustainable pace, and you'll find that it never feels as bad as you expect it to.
c) Go with Friends. You'll climb better in a group. Exercise physiologists call the phenomenon social facilitation--an athlete's ability to produce better efforts when observed by others (Don’t be insecure)."
These messages had the reverse effect as I started to get really excited for this climb. If the race director felt he had to psych people up who had already paid to climb this thing, "Heartbreak Hill" was going to decimate the field. I especially loved the last line about not being insecure...yeah, we're named after feral mutts. I'm pretty sure your exercise physiologists and their social facilitation haven't seen a lot of guys like the guys in this crew. Either way, we don't care too much.
I drive out to the course on Saturday morning and line up for the Cat 5 start. There was nothing but carbon, shaved legs and matching kits around. It was crazy. How did all these guys know what I was riding and wearing? The gun goes off and away we go onto a course that amounted to a lazy rectangle of right turns. The first part of the course was a rolling rural country road with some cross breeze. Early on, maybe a mile or two in, a strong man goes like a gun shot. No one reacts and he dangles off the front perhaps ten to fifteen seconds up the road. We never see him again. Some of the guys start moving forward and pushing the pace but they don't seem all that experienced based on their jerky movements and anxiousness. Some others, who looked more dangerous by their careful and relaxed pedaling, look like they are waiting for something and let the chase up front continue. We pedal this way until the next turn approaches and by now the peloton has shifted from the earnestness to a more focused determination of a few. I find myself at the front with two others, three abreast, as we make the turn and in the distance I see what looks to be a road of some kind but it is both too high and too close to our road...or could it be?
A few blips of hills and now I see the full effect of Heartbreak Hill. About as steep as the first sharp climb of Bread Springs Loop, Heartbreak Hill is approximately four times longer. It is not long but a nasty, punchy climb. Or as one guy put it, "Five minutes of pain". Without intending to, the other two leaders and I form a breakaway on the beginning of the climb with another rider shooting across to make it four. We push on, trying to both inflict pain on others, while avoiding too much ourselves. Two thirds up, the three are winning the pain game and begin to ride away from me as I struggle to hold their pace. They crest together and I follow fifteen or twenty seconds back. I try to catch on and spend myself in pursuit but the three grow smaller and smaller with each turn. I glance behind and see two pursuers and I decide to cut my losses and cast on with them. The two are from the same team, Sport Systems, and are screaming through this section taking massive pulls. I latch on and relax, catch my breath, take a turn, relax, and we catch the weakest of the first group. Now a group of four, we continue to work through the miles, make another turn and catch another member of the break that crashed after he and the last escapee touched wheels. In another mile we catch the third rider and start to really pile on the pressure dropping one and then the second Sport Systems rider.
Back to a group of three we work easily, catching other Categories of riders and shooting past. It's a riot! We make the final turn and continue to work but not as hard, starting to jockey a bit while we size each other up. With about a mile and a half to go I take what I want to be my last pull and look to lock in third wheel for the sprint when I realize our break has been bridged by five riders (including my Sports System friends). Whoops! Now eight strong, the game has changed and we all look to get behind a wheel for the sprint which comes to soon. I take third for the field sprint and finish fourth for the day.
The day starts on the West side with a morning TT of over 12 miles along the I-40 frontage road. Undulating with a false flat the route ends with an abrupt mile descent down the very top of "9 mile hill" and demands riders to turn and repeat it all the way back to the start. Due to my position yesterday, I am placed near the back of the field for my start time and stand out due to my lack of an aero helmet and tt specific bike. My start time arrives, the countdown commences and I am off! I don't particularly like tts and this one was no exception but I decided to gauge my efforts and leave the bulk of my strength for the return trip. Four miles in, the guy who started behind me thirty seconds back comes rocketing by. Just before the turnaround the next guy comes by. Maybe this plan isn't so good...but then, on the climb up from the turnaround I start to gain ground and then pass the guy back. I shout encouragement and he does the same (shout? perhaps pant is a better description). I continue to the top of the climb and start to put more into every pedal stroke gaining ground on the guy who started in front of me. With two miles to go, I pass my "rabbit" just as another rider passes me. Oh well. Such is life. I finish sixth with a decent time.
The crit for the Adoption Exchange was held at the Sandia motorspeedway on a closed course with banked turns, s-curves, straightaways and lots of wind. We started off and stayed together for the first lap and then the three strongest riders just took off. I was boxed in and watched helplessly as these guys had one, two, now three bike lengths and they were gone. We chased and formed the second group but never caught on and finished a half lap back. I took second in the "field sprint" and fifth for the race.
This is a great race and was the fantastic spring racing tune-up I hoped it to be. It also happens to suit the Rez Dog style of riding and racing by allowing the terrain to sort out the field.
P.S. Somebody remind me why we don't have one of these in Gallup?