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Montesano Butterfinger Race

So what had happened wuz…Tuesday after a normal lunchtime ride chatter back at the locker room drifted to climbing. Alex Clark looked at Johnny and said “I can beat you up Monte Sano” to which Johnny replied “Can you now?” I can tell you that the rest of us listening, all of us essentially 9 years old in our hearts, had heard everything we needed to hear. Words like that are not to be spoken lightly and you had better be ready to back it up. This was essentially a triple dog dare from the Christmas Story movie we watch every year. This would have to be settled on the road.  Mano a mano.

The race was to happen today, Friday. Glorious Friday!  Let me set the stage for you. Alex is a fit guy. Has never raced his bike but does quite well in the Triathlon scene. Johnny has raced his bike before, but not so much this year with the new baby.  In fact he is a good sprinter but I’d probably categorize him more as a Roleur, or a guy suited to the longer hard efforts on rolling terrain.  So what is the big deal?  Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, Alex is 50 pounds lighter than Johnny.  That’s Alex’s 138.5 to Johnny’s 188.  That is a huge delta!  Why would a bigger guy accept a challenge like that?  The cards are certainly dealt more favorably to the lighter guy.  But you gotta know Johnny.  #1 he is very competitive.  Words like “I can beat you up Monte Sano” is just the kind of fuel a guy like that needs to do something special.  #2 Johnny can suffer.

Since none of the rest of us had any skin in the game, it’s only natural that we egg these guys on and build hype for the showdown, doing our part to ensure we get to watch the spectacle.  Besides, what else do we have to ride for?  So Wednesday and Thursday the emails circulated talking about strategy.

Montesano is a 3 mile climb with varying slope.  From the 4 way stop the beginning kicks up but before you can even get into a rhythm there is a short descent.  Then a short section with gradual slope until just before Tollgate Rd.  Once you get to Tollgate it kicks up pretty good and stays that way until Land Trust parking lot.  Once over that part the gradient stays pretty light until you reach the Fern switchback at the barricades.  From the barricades it’s about 3 more minutes to the stop sign at the top where we agreed the finish would be.

Johnny being the bigger of the two, would favor a slower pace.  The popular thinking was that if he could sit in and hold onto Alex’s wheel through Land Trust, then his chances increase.  The gentle slopes would allow him a moment to draft and recover and prepare himself for the 3 minutes at the top.

Alex as a Tri guy and the lighter of the two, would favor a constant but hard pace.  Typically you would expect a guy with 50lbs advantage would want to push all out on the steeper parts and force the breakaway companions to work on the flatter sections.  In this case though, Johnny wouldn’t be inclined to work and any accelerations might play against Alex’s strengths.

So how did it go down?  Right out of the 4-way both guys wisely played to their strengths.  Alex laid down steady power at the bottom as he settled in.  Johnny grabbed his wheel and programmed his mind to never let that wheel go no matter how much it hurt.

starter flange 2

Difficult to see in this picture (can’t figure out how to enlarge) but for the first 10 minutes Alex’s pace had me above my threshold at 305w average.  305w for me.  Alex would have been a little less and Johnny a little more.  Johnny held tough right on Alex’s wheel all the way through Land Trust.  I commented to Rustin that I didn’t think Alex was going hard enough to really hurt Johnny through there.  After that Alex did a great job keeping the effort really high because my wattage didn’t drop on the more shallow slopes (remember I’m sitting in drafting) which was impressive.  We averaged over 15mph through the flatter section and Johnny was still on Alex’s wheel at the bottom of Fern.  No attacks.  Both still looked strong.  I allowed myself to trail off just before Fern and was probably 50 yards back around the corner.  I could still see what was going on.  At this point I’m fancying Johnny’s chances.  I don’t know how much he was hurting at the bottom of Fern, but he can suffer for 3 minutes.  Still together around the second switch back.  Nearly there.  They had to sprint for it at the top and Johnny just couldn’t quite come around – Alex wins by half a bike.  Kudos to both of you guys but I gotta give Johnny some credit: a 50 pound handicap and you still made it a really good fight.  Chapeau!


Johnny trying to recover from a very intense effort, still able to smile!


To the victor go the spoils: a Butterfinger candy bar.  How sweet it is.

Thanks guys for the memory and entertainment.


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Brian Sumners

Brian began cycling and racing while serving in the U.S. Navy in Jacksonville FL. He learned to ride rollers while underway onboard the USS John F. Kennedy somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea. Brian is not a conventional “pure sprinter” but with a keen eye for strategy and an ability to sprint he has achieved many podium placings.

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Comments (1)

  1. Dave Purinton says:

    Great write-up. And great job by Alex and Johnny.

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