So it was suggested that we post some member ride reports in the blog. Well here is my last race–not a win, but notable for the venue!–by Brian Wood
Pineapple Hill Road Race, July 14, 2013
Our family vacation to Hawai’i provided me with my first opportunity to try a road race outside of Washington State. Bike Factory Hawaii’s Quick Release Racing was hosting its third edition of the Pineapple Hill Road Race, a 14.1 mile loop course in an agricultural belt of Oahu’s North Central region. I was signed up for the 35+ Master’s Category, which was to complete three laps with 900+ feet of gain for each lap.
Google Maps view of the course (via Ride With GPS cycling route maker)
We arrived at the course start, Kaukonahua road, at 6:15 am, fifteen minutes before the scheduled half-hour check-in window and an hour and a half before the race start. I was accompanied by my wife, Rae, and brother-in-law Jarret. We seemed to be among the first to arrive, which was curious with the start time being so close, but I figured that most of the racers were on island time. There were no volunteers or signs to direct us, so we just pulled up on the grassy road siding.
Brother-in-Law Jarret surveying the course.
We were on a road that passed between old pineapple fields that Dole had given up on years ago when they found lots of land and cheaper labor in other countries. The tall, stiff grasses that grew there now formed an unbroken wall of vegetation that rose higher than our SUV and extended beyond the view ahead of us.
I pulled my bike from the car, mounted the front wheel, adjusted the stem alignment and removed the frame pump and wheel reflector it was equipped with. The bike was a rental-the largest available-though not quite big enough for me and far from the top of the line. It was a Specialized Allez equipped with Tiagra shifters and a clunky FSA crankset. The bike looked good, but it felt like it was made from some kind of lead alloy, which was probably due to the wheel set and low-end drivetrain. At least the handling felt natural.
Once the bike was prepped, and I had donned my racing kit, I hopped on my steed and noodled on up to the registration tent where I obtained my race number and timing chip to mount on my front wheel skewer. There, I learned that we would be using Hawaiian port-a-potties for our nature calls, namely the aforementioned tall grass fields that bordered us. I was not excited about pushing through the dense, wide-bladed, eight-foot grass with its rough edges, and even less excited about my reason for doing it.
Eventually my pre-race prep was concluded and I rolled out for a few minutes of warm-up. The day before, I put in about 22 miles of easy spinning to get used to the Allez and I had also been hitting the spin bikes at the Pearl City 24 hour fitness for the last week in an effort to keep my conditioning. Although I wasn’t completely unprepared for this race, the spin bike was a poor substitute for real riding and what was more, I had not counted on coming down with a head cold two days prior to this race. I could also add poor sleep to my list of peak performance detractors, but bike weight, illness and sleep aside, I knew the biggest challenge would be the heat. Even at 7am, the sun was bearing down on us with a vengeance and I hoped two water bottles would be enough.
Then it was time. We all cued up to the start line.
First the CAT 1, 2 and 3 riders at 7:30, followed by the 4/5 Elite group at 7:35 and then my group, the master’s, at 7:40. The females started just after us at 7:45. As I expected, all the fields were small. There were a few riders from the outer islands, but I was the only mainlander. Oahu certainly had the population to support bicycle racing, but my guess was that it just wasn’t on the local list of favorite pastimes. It was hard to compete with surfing and fishing and of course half a million drivers crowded onto a relatively small island didn’t help promote cycling either.
Finally we were off. It wasn’t a neutral start, but neither did anyone seem to want to attack right away either. The first half of the course was a descent, the grade gentle at first, but getting steeper and curvaceous as we made our way down through the old pineapple fields. The view was magnificent with fields on both sides and on the left the land dropped away into a gorge before climbing up the rugged Waianae Mountain range just a few miles away. The turquoise blue of the Pacific was before us in the distance.
The women’s category in, just after the start.
Further down the road, ironwood tees had been planted on either side of the highway, their venerable twisted trunks looking as permanent as the mountain rock. The thick evergreen needles of the trees shaded the road and gave it the feel of an old country lane. It was in the trees that the grade became sharper and the pace, thanks to gravity, began to pick up as we dropped down towards the little town of Waialua. The road surface was good, with a few rough spots to spook the unwary, but some of the curves were a bit daunting at speed. It seemed that five of us, (myself and numbers 103, 110, 112 and 113) were off the front as we came down the hill and into the first marshaled turn; all traces of an introductory pace were gone and I found myself breathing with a purpose as we passed Waialua’s famous Paakaa Kai Bakery. Skinny cyclists must have contrasted well with the bakery’s signature snow puff pastries for anyone looking for irony in the scene.
The course brought us to a round-about just outside of the town of Haleiwa and then our group of five turned onto Kamehameha Highway and its signature climb through the pineapple fields. Our pace was stiff, and we met the four mile climb with vigor. At first I was doing my share of pace making, but I quickly sensed that I may have underestimated the strength of some of these riders and so I backed off. We settled into a rhythm, taking short turns up front, but it was a hard pace and the heat and humidity were getting to me. I hoped that lap two would be less intense and cursed myself for helping to drive up the pace in the beginning. Kamehameha was a busy highway, but it had a good shoulder and the cars could easily see us. Still, there were a lot of cars and struggling as I was, I knew I had to keep my head clear. Our train had reached actual pineapple fields, gardens really, to decorate the famous and touristy Helemano (Dole) Plantation on our right side. We were half-way up the 900 foot ascent when the wind began to blow at us. I was feeling the fatigue and my turns up front grew shorter. Rider 112 was staying out of the rotation altogether, but I couldn’t bring myself to shirk my turn. I was hot and suffering and that, of course, was when the break came.
I had just pulled off the front and I was trying to fall in behind the last rider when someone called out “Glass!” It was not an idle call. There WAS glass on the road, and a lot of it. I looked for a clean line, and saw one to the right-everyone else risked the traffic and went left. Then the 35 year old rider, #103, attacked. The next two in line, 110 and 113, were ready, but rider 112 had to fight hard to get back on the train. I wasn’t so lucky. I was too far to the right and caught out in the wind with four bike lengths separating me. I struggled to close the gap, but it just seemed to get wider. I didn’t try for long. I was too tired already. I had been having my doubts about hanging with the lead group even before the break and part of me just said “it’s for the best, ride your own race, but don’t let go of fifth place.”
Losing ground after the broken glass attack : (
I saw the lead group pass a rider from the CAT 4 elite group that had five minutes on us and shortly thereafter I also passed that same rider. I wondered if the rider we passed had had a mechanical (not the case, he was just getting passed) as I watched the lead group slowly climb out of view.
CAT 4/5 elite rider about to be caught by the old men. I am now off the back of the master’s lead group.
Now, I struggled solo against the sun, wind and grade. Then suddenly I saw a rider to my left, and then another and I pulled myself together and jumped on the second train out of Haleiwa. This time the pace was good, giving me time to recover and even to share the load. My new group consisted of myself and 107, 111, and 124. Finally, the climb ended and as we made our way in to complete the first lap there was time for a few words of camaraderie. This group had planned to pass me before I could respond, I had been a mark, but now I was one of the crew. I could see that everyone was taking the pace down a notch after the hill. We turned onto the short stretch that was Kamananui Road and then turned again, back onto Kaukonahua to complete the first loop. The easier pace was ok with me except that I needed one more acceleration before taking a breather and I gunned it for the line, giving Rae a nice picture of her husband leading the pack (I figured with all the riders and various groups on the course, she probably didn’t realize that I was actually only holding fifth place in my category).
I eased up after my photo op, allowing our four man group to reform and explained to them the purpose of my sudden acceleration to the line, which was understood by all. We were beginning the second descent and I was feeling much improved. I slurped down an energy gel and drank some water (hoping I had enough to last me) and decided it was time to pick up the pace. This time I put some energy into the descent, trading places with 124and wondering if the other two guys were hanging on. We rounded the corner and the group came together again, but damage had been done. As we started the climb again, I accelerated until our strong descender, 124, fell off the back. I hadn’t expected to lose 124, but cramps had found him. (Later, during our post-race chat, rider 124 recounted that a second racer had cramped up right next to him, the cramps coming on the racer so suddenly that he was unable to unclip from his pedals in time and fell over.) It was time for me to take a break and share the climbing load. 50 year old rider 111, seemed strong and though he avoided accelerating, he put in his share of pulls. However, Rider 107, despite a spritely 41 years of age, was more conservative with his pulls, putting in token efforts or skipping them altogether. I resolved to push up the pace on each of my pulls to keep it clear that we were racing and not just out for a vigorous social ride. I could feel the effort, but our climb was considerably tamer than it had been on my first round ( a 43 minute lap versus under 40). As we came to the end of the climb, the rider 111 commented that we had all better grab water in the feed zone. Grab water?
“Are they handing out drinks?” I asked.
“Don’t you have someone waiting to hand water to you?” 111 replied.
I had never thought of staging anything in a feed zone before. I suppose I had thought feed zones were just for the pros and on really long stage races, but now I saw how 43 miles of heavy effort in the hot sun could leave a rider in rather desperate need of water. When I explained my ignorance, 111 said I could take one from his team as I passed. I was amazed. Aloha spirit in the middle of a race? I readily accepted the offer and as I passed his pit crew I latched onto that bidon like a vice. The ice water reward was like a full nights rest in a bottle and suddenly I felt like racing again.
Thanking rider 111 for the ice cold bidon.
We were on the last lap and back on the long descent. Not wanting to offend my ice water benefactor with too early an attack, I just slowly pushed up the pace a tad, figuring that nobody would complain about a bit of modest work on a descent. 111 and 107 were with me, though not passing, so I continued to pedal the descent–flying down one of the prettiest roads on Oahu. At the bottom I made the turn and then eased up into the first rise so our pace line could re-form. I really only wanted to share the work with 111 on the big climb, but 107 was still with us for now. I let 111 take front while I recovered from all the pace making over the last six miles and he led us into the big climb, but he seemed to be taking it easy so I decided to take my pull earlier than I had hoped and kick things up a notch. My plan was to set a stiff pace and thereby drop 107 on this first, long, steep grade. Unfortunately, my pace was too effective and I lost both 107 and 111, the latter having fallen prey to the cramp monster-the cruel nemesis of Pineapple Hill.
Solo ascent on the last lap.
So my last climb was to be a solo one. I could feel the fatigue trying to take hold, but rather than easing up I tried to hold a solid pace when the hurt was on and to accelerate each time the grade eased. I saw a rider stopped on the hill ahead and as I reached him I asked, “flat?”
“Cramps,” the rider replied. I gave him a knowing nod as I chugged past him.
Near the top of hill, where Japanese tourists poured from the busses at Dole Plantation, I caught another rider, and accelerated past him so he couldn’t jump onto my wheel. Then I was at the top, tired, but ready to accelerate towards the last turn onto the final stretch. The turn came quickly, and with it a surprise. The main engine of the lead train, rider 103, who had dropped me on the first climb was just ahead of me. Had he flatted? He seemed to be just plodding along. Could I regain fourth place? 103 did not look back and I wondered if I would be able to take him just before the finish. I figured the wind would cover the sound of my acceleration and if I passed him with enough speed I was sure he would be unable, or unwilling to respond. I was wrong. What I should have done was close the gap steadily before attacking hard in the last 200 meters, but the gentle rise to the finish made the line appear closer than it was. I was tapping my reserves too early. I shot past him and a look back did not seem show that I was in danger of being caught. One look was not enough, however, and while I had dug deep both on the solo climb and here at the end, he had been taking it easy (after a mechanical had wiped out his early lead), and his 35 year old legs had plenty of power to take me down in a 200 meter sprint. I had to accept my 5th place finish.
A fifth place finish out of about 30 riders, if you count the 4/5 elites.
With my deficits accounted for, I was pretty happy with 5th. My time was nearly two minutes better than the top time of the CAT 4/5 Elite riders-a group that may need to consider a name change after losing to seven riders from the master’s class. All the organizers and riders were very congenial and everyone was eager to share their own version of the events while watching for the last riders to come in. Medals were handed out to the top three riders in each category, along with a pineapple to commemorate an excellent course. I took a final pitstop in the tall grass fields and then headed home.
Post-race “talk-story” to use the local vernacular.
Rae was up at 5:00am to help me get set for the race! With my all wife’s support of my cycling hobby, I’m already a winner.
A little gel and I could make this a new look for me.