Valley of Fire Stage Race 2014

I’ve returned from the Valley of Fire State Park outside Overton, NV, and my first stage race of the season is now in the books!  The bad news is that my race results are in … like, the very, very back of the book – I raced awfully.  The good news is that even a lousy race still turned into an adventure-packed weekend.

Wide-open vistas in the Valley of Fire

Wide-open vistas in the Valley of Fire

Three friends (Pete, Jeff, and Corey) and I departed south toward Las Vegas from Reno at about 7 PM in my van, after grossly underestimating the amount of time it would take to pack 7 bikes and 4 dudes into a VW Euro-Toaster (aka Eurovan).  Our top speed was also an impressive 64 mph.  This meant we cruised into Vegas at 3 AM – ouch.

A lot of dudes and bikes packed into a small rectangular space

A lot of dudes and bikes packed into a small rectangular space

On the drive down, I started feeling  really exhausted, and this feeling would turn out to be the first indicator of some sort of stomach bug that would plague me all weekend.  Fortunately, my friends Matt and Siho were kind enough to let us sleep on their couches and guest bed, even though they had to work the next day.   We woke up about 6 hours later and rolled out toward Overton, about an hour north of town, to check out the course.

The time trial course was just a few miles outside of town, and we were pretty pleased to see the rain had not hit as the weatherman predicted.  It was a short, out-and-back route with some punchy, rolling hills –  a little over 6 miles.  Corey, our resident Cat 5 new guy, raced first and turned in a pretty good performance.   I started prepping to warm up in earnest, realizing I had only about 40 minutes until my start time.   This was all well and good, except about 10 minutes into my warmup, Pete let me know that my start time was a full hour later than I thought.  Damnit, Scott.  With newfound time to burn, I awkwardly lay around for a while in the van.

We started getting a few sprinkles of rain, and that gradually increased into a steady downpour.  I wasn’t terribly excited about racing in the rain, but it was now a reality.  On top of that, I began to feel my stomach gurgling in a strange fashion, which was the opening salvo from the stomach bug.   I had started to feel a little weak while laying in the van, but I had also convinced myself that it was a good idea to borrow Pete’s sweet time trial bike for the race.  I have only ridden a TT bike a couple of times previously, and never Pete’s bike with elliptical chainrings, so this was a particularly dumb idea.

I zoomed off from the starting line and pedaled down the course.  The rain soaked through my clothing almost instantly, and it made things hard to see at times, but overall I felt really fast.  I weaved around the various potholes and bumps in the asphalt and successfully negotiated the railroad crossings.  While I felt pretty quick on the flat sections, the hills felt awkward and slow on the bike.   My legs burned like crazy from using strange muscles that I wasn’t used to, but I felt like I had done as well as last year or better.  As it would turn out, I was very wrong – I was almost two minutes slower than last year.  The fast guys (like Pete and Jeff, who placed 7th each in 1-2-3 and 3-4 categories) were completing it in 14-odd minutes, and I was somewhere in the mid-16s.  Oh well – I looked *kinda* fast at least.

Me looking the opposite of aerodynamic here - but on the plus side I'm soaking wet

Me looking the opposite of aerodynamic here – but on the plus side I’m soaking wet

Pete setting off on the Valley of Fire Time Trial, taking advantage of a lapse in the rain

Pete setting off on the Valley of Fire Time Trial, taking advantage of a lapse in the rain

That night, whatever stomach bug I had contracted hit me like a brick.  I was falling asleep at the dinner table at Sugar’s Home Plate.  No, that’s not a brothel, that’s the name of the restaurant.   In the morning, I felt a lot worse.  I couldn’t get out of bed for breakfast and just flopped around like a slug with a washcloth over my eyes.   I really wanted to complete the criterium, as that was what I had basically driven down for.  After I forced down some oatmeal and fluids, I slowly began to feel more human and was able to get prepped for the race.  Two more teammates, Glenn and Dave had joined Jeff and I to create a 4-pack team of racers in the same category, so I was pretty excited for that.

Dave and I botched the start and lined up dead last, with Jeff and Glenn in prime position on the starting line.  The whistle blew, and the pack of ~65 riders set off together, and I was pretty surprised how fast the pace was.  Two of the turns were narrow and sharp on the 4-corner course, and the pack was braking hard into them and then sprinting out.  That’s the so-called “rubber band” effect that makes it really difficult to hang out at the tail end of the peloton sometimes.  We were also heading into these turns four racers wide, which meant guys were bumping shoulders and occasionally being forced into the dirt.

I knew it was a matter of time before a crash, so I took efforts to stay on the inside lane to at least have some options available if someone slid out in a turn.  Sure enough, maybe 6 laps in, a rider managed to hit the ground on a straightaway just after the worst turn.  Two guys immediately hit him, and another 3-4 inexplicably failed to steer out of the way.  One guy in particular just held his brakes as he hit the downed rider like a jump, somersaulting through the air.  I braked heavily and wound through the left side of the crash and made it through unscathed.   Another crash happened just a little ways up the road, and I saw another 2-3 guys getting up off the ground, including my amigo Glenn fixing his front wheel.  I yelled “MAN DOWN!” to acknowledge him, but I had bigger problems by that time.

The field effectively split into two groups and I found myself between the two of them in No Man’s Land.  I was tantalizingly close to the leading group, so another guy and I took turns rotating to catch on, but we never quite made it.  We eased up a bit and let another group catch us, and I was disappointed to find myself being spit out the back of that group of 8-10 guys too.  I was out of gas completely, which was pretty lame only 15 minutes into the race.  I knew that I needed to ride as long as possible before getting pulled to make the time cut for the road race, so I completed another 5 laps solo before the race official pulled me.

Jeff and Dave were still with the lead group, and so was Glenn to my surprise.   He had been allowed a free lap due to the crash and he hopped back in.  The race stayed much the same until the finish, with a lead group and a decent sized group of stragglers off the back.  Dave attacked with two laps to go, which at least got him a shout-out from the announcer,  but he was quickly swallowed up.  Glenn seemed to be drifting backwards steadily, especially in the turns, but Jeff was comfortably hanging out in the lead group to keep his top-ten position in the time rankings.

The race finished up with a bunch sprint, and Jeff and Dave came through in decent position.  Glenn had fallen off the pack on the last lap, and he rolled up to say hi.  “Hey dude!  Where’s the medic, my wrist is broken!”  I looked down to see that Glenn had fashioned some kind of wrist brace with electrical tape, which appeared to be very tight, and his hand was turning a purplish hue.   What a madman.   He rolled over to the medics to have them check it out, and they basically confirmed what we already knew: that bad boy was broken.

Glenn and his broken self, looking way too chipper, and Jeff throwing some sort of gang sign to celebrate

Glenn and his broken self, looking way too chipper, and Jeff throwing some sort of gang sign to celebrate

The last race of the day had Pete riding for Clif Bar and Ferg and Tyler riding for Velo Reno, but it was pretty obvious the three of them would work together if they got a chance.   Pete was in good form – he attacked repeatedly, but the group would quickly accelerate to reel him in, and then relax.  It seemed as if the organized teams in the race were content to avoid a breakaway finish, so they shut every move down.  At one point, Tyler and Pete got off the front together, and I was sure they would be able to get away, but they never got more than 5 or so seconds of a lead on the field, and within 2 laps they were brought back.  Pete was with the leaders in the final sprint, coming in for a 4th place finish, with Tyler and Ferg not far behind.

By this point, I had accepted that I was either sick or destined to be slow for this race weekend, so I threw in the towel and offered to help provide water and food at the feed zone in the road race the next day.  The race was an out-and-back ~70 mile course through Valley of Fire State Park with some pretty serious climbing.  I was definitely bummed not to race it, seeing as I had already paid for it and had been feeling really strong in the days leading up to it, but it was just not in the cards.

I took the opportunity to drive through the park and take a few pictures of the racers as they came through.

A random dude winding his way down  the descent in the road race

A random dude winding his way down the descent in the road race

I also took the opportunity to shoot some hardcore #vanlife pornography in the scenic setting.  The van worked hard for the camera, seemingly trying to show off some of her lack of curves and various add-on features (such as bike racks and the Thule box).  Things obviously got a little weird, and I realized I had left Corey back at the turnaround, so I headed back to rescue him from the heat and oppression.  We also picked up a nice lady named Trisha who had called it quits at the turnaround.  Apparently the lure of the van was just too strong for her.

Van porn, if you're into that sort of thing

Van porn, if you’re into that sort of thing

All in all it was a good day of racing.  Jeff held onto his 7th overall position from the time trial, and Pete slipped back to 14th after an early breakaway got away from the field in the road race.  Dave, Ferg, Tyler and Corey all ended up mid-pack, but everyone thought it was a a decent way to kick off the race season.

The brutal drive home was not something I looked forward to, but Tyler convinced the group to stop by Alkali Hot Spring for an intermission, just a few miles outside of Goldfield, NV on Highway 95.  We drove through a couple dozen wild burros who eyed us carefully as we proceeded past, and we found the hot springs to be occupied with just one car.  As we started to unload and head toward the spring, a vehicle pulled quickly in behind us, and it turned out to be an Esmerelda County police officer.  The spring is on private land, and he asked to check all our licenses.  Great, we’d love to help with that, officer…

Luckily, he was just checking for warrants and the like, and he found our string of minor arrests for public urination and downloading copyright material to be harmless.  He let us go, with a warning that “that dude in the hot springs is already naked, you know that right?”  Yeah, whatever, we’ve seen naked dudes before.  The naked dude turned out to be pretty nice, actually.  He was on his way to an interview in Berkeley to be an adventure sports guide, and he offered to pay one of us $50 to help him repair and tune bikes for an hour.  Jeff took the bait and more than doubled his race winnings.

The hot springs was beautiful, and it had a concrete floor and a hot water pipe to easily control the temperature.  It was a bit of a tough fit with 5 of us crammed into the 4-foot diameter basin,  but we already had shaved legs and had been wearing spandex most of the day, so there was no sense of shame to hold us back.  We soaked our tired muscles for a while and finished the long haul home to Reno.  There’s lots of racing on the horizon in March, with Land Park in Sacramento and Chico Stage Race coming up, so I’ll have a chance to redeem myself soon.

Taking a break on the drive home to soak in Alkali Hot Springs

Taking a break on the drive home to soak in Alkali Hot Springs