I earned an additional 2 Upgrade Points with my 8th place finish against a capacity field of 80 riders.
While the course map may look dull (an L shaped out and back), the profile gives a better impression. The race is held in the rolling plains an hour east of Denver, and the exposed course is always windy. Combine this with the arrow-straight, narrow, shoulderless roads and you have a recipe for a tough race.
Today was no exception with temperatures around 60 and winds 5-10 mph from the NW, creating crosswinds across the entire course. I warmed up for about five minutes, and we rolled out at a slow pace with a lone rider off the front in a suicide move.
The double out-and-back course reverses direction at a traffic cone in the center of the narrow road four times. The race always heats up at these points and you have to be very attentive of your position in the pack to avoid the ‘yo-yo’ effect as the pack slows to a near-stop around the cones.
The pace and speed were high after the first turn around with a cross-tailwind. I was briefly in a breakaway group with three of the four riders from my break at the Sandstone Criterium, but the pack kept the gap small and we were quickly absorbed.
After turning 90 degress, the crosswind increased in severity. I was at the front and we organized a good rotating echelon. This was a very good position to be in. While at the front we were riding at a decent tempo, but when we turned at the second cone we could see the damage we had done behind as many riders had been dropped.
Unfortunately, the organization had dissolved after the cone, and the leg back to the 90 degree corner was more sedate and a few riders were able to chase back to the peloton. As the pace slowed further, a lone rider attacked and nobody thought much of it. 30 seconds later a pair of chasers rolled off the front of the pack. There were no riders I recognized, so I didn’t think much of it.
This was the mistake I made. At the start of the race I looked around the large starting field and noticed three teams well represented with about 10 riders each; Primal, Feedback, and BRC. While I didn’t recognize the riders in the break, I should have taken note of their teams. One rider from each large team had just ridden off the front and was now in the break.
The danger of this did not dawn upon me until the break was out of sight and I started to wonder who might organize a chase. On the final full leg with 12 miles to go I tried to get some riders organized. Unfortunately, BRC was playing hard ball and it was clearly going to be difficult.
Riders must distribute their time riding in the wind to gain time on the leading breakaway. The BRC riders, looking out for the interest of their man in the break, would disrupt the rotation and keep the pace slow. This is called negative racing.
The only solution to this problem is to out-organize the blocking teams or form a chasing breakaway. I have to give credit to BRC and a nod to Feedback for preventing either of these from happening. BRC in particular had a few very strong riders who would shut down any attempt to break away or organize.
As we reached the final turn around, with only about 25 riders remaining in the peloton, we could see the break headed in the opposite direction with a lead of maybe 1-2 minutes. We realized this was insurmountable and the pace slowed for the remaining few miles to the finish.
The final uphill finishing sprint was, fast, aggressive, and very, very hard. I managed to keep a decent spot and finished 5th, for 8th overall on the day. Not bad for my first long road race of the season.