Kudos to the folks who put on the beautiful Oak Flat bicycle race in the mountains Saturday.
The race is in the mountains east of towns. The course is all up and down, but gently so, nothing terribly steep. It travels a 12.5-mile (20-km) loop. The beginning winds gently downhill on a narrow, twisting little road through the woods that would be a delightful little ride if one was cruising gently, but it was more than a little nerve-wracking in the midst of a bunch of riders hammering and still getting a feel for the group dynamic. The downhills straighten out, though, before it begins twisting back up a lovely little valley and then into the open, climbing back to the start-finish line.
Because it’s so beautiful – the parking and setup area is in the Oak Flat campground – it’s a big cycling festival, half race and half community gathering. There were more than 150 people racing. It’s enormous. I got there an hour before my race, and spent the time alternating between some warmup laps up and down the road and around the campground and socializing.
The group I raced in, the E’s, did two laps, and we pretty quickly broke up into a peloton of 13 or so at the front. I was able to sit in for most of the first lap, but mostly on the back of the bunch (repeating my usual mistake). When we got to the steepest bit of the climb back to the start-finish line, I got dropped (geez but it’s disheartening when the follow car passes you!), and spent the next few miles trying to chase down a riding partner so I wouldn’t have to do the whole second lap by myself.
I finally caught John Duran, who I’ve raced with before (I don’t think I’ve ever beaten him), and we shared the load for the second lap.
The second time up the finishing climb, John dropped me, but then he missed the turnoff, which meant a cheap 12th-place finish for me. (Remembering the lesson of the crit a couple of weeks ago when I got passed at the line, I kept watching over my shoulder up the whole run-in to the finish. No one.)
It was fun afterwards, hanging around the finish line watching the speedsters come across (the big boys and girls did more than the two laps I did in the E’s) and visiting. Everyone has a story, and “How’d ya do?” triggers them all, each patiently listened to by the others.