The week before heading up to do the Vlees Huis Ronde Road Race, I was busy finishing up midterms at PCC before the spring break. So unfortunately, I only had the day before the race to squeeze in some leg openers in preparation for an unexpectedly brutal race. It was fun carpooling up to Bakersfield with my teammates Ben and Joel. When we got there, we had plenty of time to prepare and get ready for the race. I brought out the trainer and used it twenty minutes before the race to get the blood flowing and the heart rate up. The race was a total of 30 miles and 2,400 ft. elevation gain. The field was small with only fifteen people. Nonetheless, there were a few tough guys in the field including our very own Ben Marshall, who could be seen driving the pace on almost every incline.
The race started with a small descent and then a false flat section towards the first ascent. The field became single filed and I realized I was near the back. To avoid being slowed down on the climb by the people ahead of me, I took some wind up to 6th position and slotted in right in front of Ben. Usually, you’d be lucky if anyone would open a spot for you, but I guess that’s one of the perks of having teammates! The first ascent in my honest opinion was the most grueling of them all. It was a windy road up at around 5% and the worst part was once you veered around a corner, you could see another thousand meters of suffering. With Ben in the front hammering down some beastly wattage, there were about seven people who were dropped when we reached the turnaround. Luckily, I was able to hang on near the back of the remaining eight man pack. After the turnaround was a long descent which I used to replenish fluids, catch my breath, and lower my heart rate.
When we made the turnoff onto some rolling climbs, the pace slowed a tad. This turnoff consisted of some windy uphill sections and then some steep descents. However, most of the way into the turnoff was descending. When we reached the turnaround point for the turnoff, there were only six of us left including Ben and Joel. The rest of the way up was difficult because at one point, there was a gap of ten meters between three of the lead riders (Ben and two other guys) and between the other three (Joel, me, other guy). Miraculously, we were able to close the gap till we got back to the main road which began the long downhill section to the start/finish line.
At almost every one of these punchy climbs, my body felt like giving up but luckily, the descent section always popped up at the right moment. It was at the long descent back that the race began to get really interesting. With half of the field being PAA guys, we knew that at least one of us (Ben) was going to get at least a podium position. We descended single filed reaching speeds of 40mph. Then all of a sudden, the first two guys who were in the front most of the race decided to breakaway on the descent which was unsuccessful. When we reached the flat section, all of us were antsy and kept the pace relatively easy with everyone taking turns in a rotating pace line. Our six man group seemed to be doing fine with everyone breathing easy and all rested up. As we approached the small climb up to the finish line, we were going 25mph. and then about 1/3 of a mile till the finish line (uphill) Joel sprints away which everyone responds to after five seconds had passed. At this moment, Joel was a good 50ft. ahead. Then Ben passed Joel to take the lead. I soon passed Joel up the climb and at 200 meters to the end, it flattened out. At max heartrate and putting every little bit of energy left, I was able to hold on to 2nd and Ben 1st. Once I crossed the finish, I looked back and saw Joel coming in at 3rd!
Tactically speaking, I think there were two important things that happened in the race that helped us all get on the podium. The first was as the gap that I talked about earlier. There is talk that the two leaders were thinking of dropping the last three but Ben was unwilling to break with them leading them to abandon the idea and ride at the same speed which helped the last three guys including me and Joel to catch up before the descend. The second was Joel’s brilliant move to break away on the incline to the finish. I think this threw everyone off because it seemed a little early but in reality, it was timed perfectly and helped put us all three in the right position.
There were smiles and words of congratulations exchanged between the six riders at the end of the race. All of it felt so surreal. I don’t think any of us expected to all podium but in the end we did it! Out of all the road races I did (SBRR & UCLARR) this was the nicest course to race with beautiful roads and beautiful scenery all around. This will definitely be one of the most memorable races I have ever done and I can’t wait for next year!