Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Cascade Cycling Classic: Mackenzie Pass Stage

In 2010, I was asked to drive one of the race vehicles in the women's last stage. This year, I'm driving every road stage.

Very cool. My next license plate should read "COM2."  For commissair #2 (referee); my car is the one immediately preceding the peloton. "My" car is slightly inaccurate: I'm driving a rig from a local dealer/sponsor.

The stage begins up in the sticks. A half hour before the start, I'm standing five feet away from the car waiting for something to happen. A woman I don't recognize walks over to the car, opens the driver's door, sits down, and starts rummaging around. Curious, I simply watch. After more fumbling around the dashboard, she pops open the hood latch.

Now I'm really curious. I'm also responsible for the car. So I ask if she needs some help.

"Yes," she says, "I want to put my bag in the trunk."

"Oh," I said while raising the hood and shutting it, "I thought you wanted to check the oil."  Turns out she was another official. I pop the trunk and all is right with the world.

The official assigned to my car cautioned me to stay 30 seconds ahead of the pack. Distance and time are hard to judge when you're going anywhere from 10 to 50 mph. Tonight, I need to break out the slide rule and do some math.

The route goes from Santiam Pass, down 126 toward Eugene, then a tortuous 20 miles up and over Mackenzie Pass. For those who have driven to Mt Bachelor, today's climb averages a third steeper. Gawd.

Up, up, forever up...

Intrepid rider #416 drops off the lead pack when the hammer drops. She is thereby sentenced to climb the last 6 miles all by her lonesome while trying gamely to regain contact. The descent on the other side will be much easier if she pulls herself up to the lead group. But it's next to impossible when you have to bridge a gap alone.

A tough day at the office.

Up at the summit, 11 riders are at the front. Under orders, I bring the car behind them; now it's time for a ripping descent. 50+ mph, tight curves, and white knuckles. On me, that is. The riders look way too happy up there.

I'm really glad it's someone else's car. But I'm taking car of it, Mr. Dealer.

Team cars can hand out water bottles to riders under the watchful eyes of race officials. The riders quickly pass their empties to the car. Then they do a subtle maneuver; they turn their hand thumb-down and palm facing back as the driver hands over a fresh bottle.

And there it stops. The bottle transfer halts mid-stream, the rider stops pedaling, yet miraculously they maintain speed or even accelerate. Yes, they are getting a free pull from the car. Anything more than about 10 seconds earns them an angry honk from the COM2 driver. Some of them also received fines at race end.

You can run, but  you can't hide. Gamesmanship is a subtle art.

At the finish, an 8-year-old boy climbs out of a team car to greet his mom. 20 minutes later, another team member struggles across the line. He sees and runs over to her gasping form.

Innocent Boy: "Why were you so slow?"
Patient Rider: "Because it hurt."

After I stop chuckling to myself and nodding in sympathy, I hear another rider groaning. She says, "The whole way was pain, and not the normal kind."

I'm not sure what that means, and I'm not sure I want to know.

CCC: The Group Ride

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