Race report for the men's 55+ state road race in which I, Leo Longo, participated in. Report written by Richard Pollock of UCC.
Today was the biggie at Bakersfield! But the story began back on Monday. A Youtube video taken by a San Diego rider with a camera mounted on his bike was circulated via email. The video showed the highlights of the course or actually all the horrors of the course. Since this was a new loop, nobody had anything to offer except, "We're all gonna die!" The video showed cracks, holes, several cattle guards(some with huge open gaps), a 5 mile climb with sections at 14% and then the biggie! A super fast, narrow, bumpy, twisty downhill with no center line, giant open chasms into the valley floor and zero runoff from the road's edge into the abyss! I was stoked! This was my kind of course where I would hopefully have the opportunity to make up some time on a scary descent!
Needless to say, the video and all the emails that circulated shortly thereafter haired out lots of people. Admittedly, this was a pretty long drive for almost everybody and the prospect of a dangerous course trimmed the field even of some of the pre-entrants. That said, this is my new favorite course in the whole world! I only wish it was a bit longer. One loop is just over 31 miles and we only did one lap.
Friday afternoon, we (Benji Maciel, our recently recruited teammate, friend Tony Smith, 50+ and myself), arrived early, got settled into our room and went out to ride the course. Or part of it anyway. The start finish area is next to the Bakersfield Speedway, which ironically is a venue where I've raced motorcycles a few times. A blindingly fast, banked 3/8 mile oval with dirt as hard as concrete! Anyway, being smart guys, we did a quick drive of the course to see the lay of the land. The big surprises were, very few holes, only a few cracks and the cattle guards were no better or worse than any place or road I've ever ridden before that has cattle guards. The climb was narrow and really didn't seem that steep. The downhill was a different story. It did seem a bit narrow and just a touch "hairy", but I was on the gas going down the mountain in a big Dodge Hemi pick-up. On a bike, we'd be much narrower in profile and going considerably slower. We circled around, parked at the Speedway and did a half lap, including about 2/3 of the climb and then turned back towards the truck. This was gonna be a good course!
Race Day! The 50+, 55+ and 60+ all registered as the same group with the same series of numbers but would go off separately with 2-3 minutes between each group. We were instructed that there was a centerline rule in effect (which means you can't drift across the centerline to advance your position). DQ if you do and there's a motorcycle following our group to keep those big cheaters honest. The other thing was that on the climb and downhill where there were no lines on the road, we had a "Virtual Centerline". WTF!!! Spankings would be administered to all violators for Virtual infractions as well.
So a few minutes after the 50's we took off. Lots of guys were missing from the field that should have been there. Everybody would have dug this course. But in this age graded stuff, I just worry about racing the guys that actually show up. So, looking at the start list before hand and day of, Benji and I worked out our strategy that ended up not including our two other teammates that unfortunately didn't make it to the event. For us the good news was Kal and Bill Tippetts were the only UCC riders! The usual "UCC Army" had been redeployed somewhere else I guess. Other riders of note, were Steve "Count Zippy" Zamouras, who got 2nd behind Kal at Barrio and San Luis Rey last weekend, Jon Miller whose been focusing on mountain bike racing but is always very strong, his teammate Leo Longo, making for another strong 2 man effort, George Chester, the ever resilient Steve Bernede, Howard Miller who will surprise you with a win anywhere if you don't keep an eye on him and several others that I'm not on a first name basis with yet.
Start- The first 2.5 miles or so are a gradual climb with the first half being not too fast and with a bit of chatter amongst the riders. Soon it picked up with riders responding to every move. Tippetts and Benji took the lead for most of this easy climb with Leo Longo picking up the pace near and over the top. Now a really fast stretched out, curvy downhill. Starting to get a bit of wind, but the temp is still only about 65 degrees! Perfecto! So far, the road has been smooth, wide and fast. At about 15 minutes in, we make a hard right onto an "oil field" road that looked bumpy to the eye, but was remarkably smooth. It was covered in fresh blacktop for the next few miles. Here the pace really started to pick up and there were several mini attacks of no consequence. Remember the centerline rule? Two 60+ riders that started in the group behind us go flying by WAYYY out in the other lane! Wow. They were trying to get away I guess and get over the climb ahead of Rubcic and Fuller. So a few riders at the front join in with them and the pace goes up a couple notches more. Benji and Tippetts are still hovering at the front poised to cover any move by anyone. I'm watching them and Kal is watching me and Zippy is watching everybody.
At about a half hour we hit the climb. You go into a big right sweeper, a short straight and at the end, you see a sign with a 90 degree arrow. Let the games begin! Now I have to interject a mental picture here. Most of us don't live in Bakersfield and probably don't even go there that often, or more to the point even want to, ever! And for those that share that opinion, let me say that the region survives on oil, as in coming out of the ground and those big mechanical duck things are everywhere slowly bobbing their heads to extract the fossil nectar for our SUV's. The other $ource of income is AG, so there are cattle and horses and horse trailers and barns and ranch dogs and all that other cool country stuff everywhere. We were riding in a very nice section of back country!
So we round this 90 degree rt turn and get our first view of this dead looking, California Gold, dry, desolate canyon and uphill road with any flat open space displaying old oil pipes or some type of refining junk. The hills on both sides of the road were very steep and went up several hundred feet, but the road itself wasn't bad at all. We were still cooking along at 17-19mph and Steve Bernede was at the front doing what he does. The point is, it was definitely a Kodak moment that would repeat itself for 10-15 minutes. Did anyone else see this?
About a mile into the climb, Kenny Fuller and John Rubcic come charging up on the left (way over the virtual centerline, resulting in a virtual reprimand), the pace clicks upward again with goal being to match Kenny's speed. Everyone is still here except the two Hot Dogs from the 60+ group that caught us back on the flat section. They're toast and quickly dropped from the group. C-ya! The climb continues and the view up ahead reveals the road winding back and forth up the canyon to the summit. Wherever that is. Kenny continues his attempt to escape, but the group stays tightly together to the summit. I thought. Tippets and Howard Miller are gone as is Rubcic. Rubcic is with the 60's but could affect our group. There was a flat-ish section along the ridge after the summit with a few risers in it. Kenny jumped and was gone. Just like that. Luckily he's with the 60's, not us. Leo Longo was soon at the front and preparing us for the downhill charge.
When the descent began, I attacked. I gradually started to build speed as I tried to read the rhythm of the corners. Surprise! The road was actually in pretty good shape and except for getting into a couple hairpins a little "Hot", this downhill was no big deal at all. Which meant it was the same for everyone else, which meant I wouldn't get a gap and everyone would be together at the bottom. So I relaxed a bit and ZIP, a rider goes by. It's George Chester and he's under the paint with a small gap behind him. I take off again with the sole purpose of just wanting to establish dominance on the descent. I make a couple speedy passes and he does the same. We had fun and before we knew it the fun was over and we were headed into the final third of the course. The roller section. We now also have a headwind and the moves will be to set up for the finish, ten miles away. Many small attacks with a couple semi serious attempts by Benji. The good news was, that he had to be chased down by everyone else except me and that meant 8 riders. So they chased and he attacked and someone else would attack and he chased. Finally, and I'm not sure of the exact distance(maybe 5-6 miles out), Benji takes off and leans on it pretty good. Gets a pretty big gap too. Now it's decision time. Kal is alone, Zippy is alone, Jon and Leo have each other, but don't want to trash themselves so close to the finish, so us 5 are relying on the other 4 riders to do the business. And they really tried hard. Kal, way in the back, tells Steve Bernede to go for it! Why not, what've you got to lose? Steve leaps out into no man's land. Just a couple mph faster than we're going but with enough of a gap that nobody wants to drag everyone up with them in an attempt to catch him. After a while he joins Benji and now there are two together. The group knows this a serious break. At 3 miles to go, I yell out that there are 3 miles left so if we mean to catch them, we (you guys), need to get going! I know Kal and Zippy plan on winning. Zippy and Kal know I plan on winning and I've got a teammate up the road that they will have to chase down without my help. Kal and I know that Zippy wants the big one and he's the odd man out that has to invest some effort. Bam! There goes Zippy! Head down and hellbent for leather. I jump and get on his wheel. He sees me and sits up. I sit up. Kal sits back and is still waiting. The gap has shrunk. Two miles to go. There are two rt turns before the finish and we fly through the first one. The road has about a 2% pitch here and as we all pick up the pace, it gets hard. Benji and Steve are still a ways up there but a big surge by the group and we'll get them. However a short pull by Leo is followed by nothing. Crap! So I say to myself. "We're going to catch these guys, but it will take a bit of effort…by the group". I don't want to hit the sprint with a big group as that just lowers the odds. If I tow everyone for too long, I'll screw myself. If I don't, first and second are already decided and I'm racing for third. I don't think Benji can win the sprint after all the work he's done and besides, he was by himself for a long ways before Steve joined him.
I pick up the pace at the front in hopes that Zippy and Kal realize that first and second place will no longer be an option if we wait any longer. I pull hard and then pull off to right. Kal is on my wheel and instead of pulling through, he says "Oh shit, I'm getting a flat!" I look over and his rear tire is mush, just as Zippy gets on his wheel. I yell to Zippy that Kal has a flat as Kal puts his hand up and pulls off. Zippy and I dive into the last turn and within about 50m, Zippy takes off into his sprint. Oh my God! It's got to be 3/8 of a mile to the line and I guess he thought that this being the last turn, it was time to start the sprint! So I take off after him as did another rider(I don't know his name). This long, long finish straight is also at that 2% grade and this is for sure the longest sprint we've ever done! Zippy was closing fast on Benji and Steve and I'm closing ever so slightly on Zippy. The Zip realizes he has made a huge error and when he is about 15 feet from the front two(and closing fast!), the motor shuts down and it quickly goes back to about 40 feet! I'm closing on Zippy and I sense 2 riders fixin' to zap me before the line. To put it in technical terms, I have long since used up my "Power Chase", my "12 second Animal Sprint", my "Sprint Overrun" and was now digging into my "Super Double secret save my ass Reserves". I held them off to the line and finished 4th. Benji was second to big winner Steve Bernede and Zippy was between us in third. Leo Longo was inches behind me for 5th.
Winner Steve Bernede: "I drank a lot last night and didn't really care about the race. I didn't think I'd do very good!"
2nd Benji: "Where were you? I'm waiting and waiting for you, but you don't come!"
3rd Steve "Count Zippy" Zamouras: "That sprint was so long, my feet were cramping up!"
4th Mule: "The final sprint seemed like a frickin' half mile! Oh, it was a half mile?"
5th Leo Longo: Regarding the long sprint, "I got tunnel vision. All I could see was a bunch of spots!"
10th Kal : Now I know what it feels like to be outnumbered!
State Road Race finishers 55+
1. Steve Bernede
2. Benji Maciel
3. Steve Zamouras
4. Richard Pollock
5. Leo Longo
6. Mike Wagenback
7. Glenn Town
8. Jon Miller
9. George Chester
10. Kal Szkalak
11. Bill Tippets
12. Howard Miller
13. Glenn Baldwin
14. Bob Guglielmeli