It has been a year, but finally the Roller Races are back. It is becoming a start of the year tradition. This would mark my third year participating. In year one I crashed out. Last year, year two, I went in with too much caution, and I did not do well. This year I was hoping to improve. I did not want to crash out, and I wanted to finish higher up on the leader board.
I started doing some high speed efforts on my rollers a few times a week about four weeks out from the event. This helped grow my confidence and get the legs ready for the kind of effort that would be required of them.
On Friday I took a half of day of work off. I went home after lunch, and slowly got myself ready. On New Year’s Day I geared up the bike to a perfect 303 inch roll out. A 51×14 is the magic gear with my 700×23 wheel/tire at 120 psi.
All I had to do was pack the last few essentials since I had already packed the two bikes, the rollers, and my tool bag.
I left with the intent on arriving around five in the evening, with the event scheduled to start at six. I wanted plenty of time to bring my stuff in and get setup. I ended up arriving at a quarter to five. However I got caught up in a parking lot conversation, and thus I lost my favorite warmup spot to the Cuevas kids so I setup behind them in between two rows of bikes.
I brought my road bike so I could warm up and cool down on the rollers with a nice light gear. By the time I was setup, and had many conversations with the crowd gathering, the competition rollers were setup and some of us took turns getting on the big ones in order to get used to them.
Once all the registrants had signed the waver form and such, we picked numbers out of hat to determine the start order for the Seeding Time Trial. I ended up picking the last number: eight.
I did not watch the early participants perform their TT as I wanted to get warmed up. However I did pay attention to Mark Wagner, the current Roller Races Champ (four years in a row?) and my unofficial time put him at just under forty seconds.
It was finally my turn, so I got myself setup on the red rollers, and proceeded to take a minute to spin the legs. Bringing it to a stop with my right foot in the start position, and Bill Riley holding me, the official counted down the start. I immediately stomped hard on the pedals and accelerated as fast as I could. I did not watch the clock. In order to keep my balance I try to focus on a point up ahead of me. I spun hard and tried not to fade in the last two laps. These last two laps last for ever when you are spinning around 160 to 180 rpm, while your heart wants to fall out of your mouth.
After I got off rollers and feeling all shaky, the officials laid out the times and I was told I got the second fastest behind Mark. Wow! I was not expecting that. This good news was most welcomed because I would not have to face Mark right away like last year. The order was:
1. Mark Wagner 39.62*
2. Andrew Johnson 42.72
3. Paul Colluccio 44.75
4. DJ Tobback 44.76
5. Bill Liffiord 45.45
6. Yorell Pachon 48.07
7. Roman Grinnell 51.50
8. Ray Garcia 53.56
* Fastest time in the event history and 1st rider to set a time of under 40 seconds for the 6 laps.
In the first race Mark defeated Ray Garcia, which meant that I was next. I went up against Roman Grinnell. Since I was the highest seeded, I got to pick the rollers. The legend is that the red rollers are the faster ones. So I picked red. When the official said go, I pushed hard to get the pedals up to speed as fast as I could. I wanted to open a gap on Ray and just try to manage it from there. Two laps in I had a decent five second gap or so on him.
With three to go, I noticed him closing in on me, so I decided I needed another kick before the end, and so I kicked. I think by now I had about a ten second gap going into my last two laps, so I just concentrated on maintaining that and not falling off. In the end it payed off as I was able to take the win.
Next, Yorell Pachon defeated my friend Paul Coluccio, whom can be a force to be reckoned with on the rollers. This had me worried as I knew I would have to then face Yorell if I wanted to advance. Last, DJ Toback defeated Bill Lifford. Bill is a racer from back in the day, who came out of exile to participate in the roller races despite his lack of fitness. He has been a name and a commentator on my race reports whom I have not had the pleasure to meet, and I must say he is a standup guy.
In the Semifinals, Mark defeated DJ Toback. Next it was my turn against Yorell. I picked red again. I was unsure how this was going to go. I decided on my usual tactic hard off the line. I did as I planned and after spinning for what felt like an eternity, I had a large gap on Yorell with two laps to go. So much that I actually backed off and brought it home safely, preserving something in the tank for the finals. Yorell complimented me saying I was fast. My legs were fading, and at this point I did not feel particularly fast, but I stuffed my lungs back into my mouth and shook his hand.
The next two races were for the lower leaderboard positions, Paul versus Ray, winner being Paul, and Roman defeated Bill. There was also another race, Paul vs Bill, I do not remember how that played out.
It was now time for the final, Mark vs me. Mark, being higher seeded, opted for the red rollers so I would have my first race on the blue rollers. After spinning our legs for a minute or so, we lined up for the start. Going into this race, I actually believed that I might have a chance to finally defeat Mark. In all my limited racing against him on the track and rollers, he has always easily dispatched me. But for some reason I was feeling confident.
With the start signaled, I pushed hard on my tired legs to get the rollers up to speed. Within ten pedal strokes it was obvious that Mark had already opened a sizable lead, and my hopes were fading fast. I tried to go as hard as I could to close the gap but nothing was helping. I emptied it all on the rollers to the point I was getting very squirrely and I had to think very hard with severe oxygen depravation to do all I could to not loose it and fall off.
In the end, Mark beat me fair and square. There is a reason he is the now five time (?) champion. The thing with the rollers is that if we are both identically geared, which I think we were, the one who can spin up the rollers faster and can then maintain that, will cause the chaser to never be able to catch up unless they can really spin much much faster. As it is, my computer indicated I had hit a maximum cadence of 205 rpm. We were also told that we both bested our time trial time. So, as long as Mark did not slow up, my chances of catching him were going to be very slim. What I am trying to say is that I basically lost the race in the first few pedal strokes.
I will not complain however. I feel that I got a well deserved second place finish and a first place in the Masters division. This definitely served as a moral boost, and hopefully an indication of a great season to come.
My teammate and friend, or is it nemesis, Rob Peras and his wife and kids came out to watch the shenanigans of roller racing. It was good to see, and hang out with, the bunch of people I only get to see at bike races or riding events.
Following the races and packing up, Paul, his wife Carol-Lynn, Rodrigo, Paul’s daughter and myself went to our usual dinner location, the diner right next door to the shop for a deserved dinner.
The final leader board for 2020:
1st Mark Wagner
2nd Andrew Johnson (1st 40+)
3rd DJ Toback (1st Jr.)
4th Yorall Pachon
5th Bill Lifford
6th Paul Coluccio (1st 50+)
7th Roman Grinnell
8th Ray Garcia