report filed April 1999, Sacramento, California
The River Ride brings out a certain type of rider, the kind that like to hunker down in the wind and hammer in the gutter six inches from a bunch of other people doing the same thing, fighting for position, fighting to get up to the rotation or to stay just out of it. And all the while you're keeping an eye out for oncoming traffic because you're as likely to be on the left side of the road as the right.
Tuesday was a classic. The Delta Breeze was whipping along at 30 mph, and as soon as we turned off the Freeport Bridge onto River Road the front of the pack was Team Sunchase: John Brady, Chris Bauman, Chucky Hutcheson, Barry Vial as well as Jolt's Russell Hanby and his teammate Tony Martinez (?). Incidentally, Brady, Bauman and Hanby took 1,2 and 3 at the windy Wente P12 crit. If you ride in Sacramento, wind is your friend.
After about 5 minutes of hammerhead action the group was down from 60 to about 10 riders: the above 6, plus yours truly, Jerry Roberts, Chris Dominguez, and Harvey Nitz. This becomes an interesting exercise in echeloning. Only about 6 guys can get real draft if the wind is coming hard from the left and the lead rider is on the centerline. The other 4 hang on for dear life, hoping to get to the next bend in the road where they can get more draft. And at the front the guys aren't just pulling, they're attacking, and often in the right gutter. In this group, taking a hard pull can be the prelude to getting dropped because sometimes there's no draft to get back into.
A 2nd echelon? There is one -- it's called the chase group about a minute back. With the strongest riders at the front and and leaving draft for one teammate, the only option for the gutterbug is to get small and hang tough.
Halfway through, at 6 miles, we jump the angled railroad track, fly through the 1 mile tailwind flat between the two underpasses at 36mph, sprint up to the levee, and then curve around following the river. Now we are echeloning from the far right of the road to the far left gutter. The first time I did this it unnerved me a little bit. All I can say is: You get used to it. Just keep an eye out for the occasional fisherman.
Another turn and we're all back in the right hand gutter. Justin Morgan appears in the group -- he'd been going the other way and had turned around. Oh, oh, I think, a strong guy with fresh legs. Soon someone, maybe Harvey, is forcing the pace along the gravel fringe, 30 mph with a side wind.
Roberts sits up, and then I pull off with Domingues and we start echeloning behind the field. The hammer is down and the field splits in two: it looks like Brady, Chuck, and Russell are away, with Barry bridging up. We stay about 10 seconds down on their chasers, who are coming apart. We fly past Bauman, then Harvey Nitz (he of the big pull). Jerry Roberts, recovered and on his time trial bars, catches us from behind. We catch Justin. The finish is coming up and I pull as hard as I can into the wind until Domingues sprints through for the line. Not too bad: we're only maybe 20 seconds behind the leaders.
That's it: a mere 13 miles of hammering, 25 minutes or so. Everybody rides slowly back through West Sacramento, most of the group catching by the time we get to the Tower Bridge. We cross the Sacramento River on Capitol Street, and the State Capitol building glows in the sunset. The wind dies down immediately, and the city at 7:30 seems languid and beautiful. Guys are joking about last week's race where Brady politely nudged John Durso out of the way with his hand to get by him in the sprint, done of course at full speed. It's a River Ride kind of thing.
BTW, For those who'd like to try it, the River Ride leaves from the Bicycle Business on Freeport (south of downtown about 2 miles) in Sacramento at 6pm sharp and rides at a leisurely pace to the Freeport Bridge before it springs to life.