I will spare you a few details of why, but the start line for the Mead Roubaix looked a bit different than usual. The Boulder Roubaix (this year held in Mead), is usually one of the bigger races of the year, and gets a fair bit of media attention. The list of past winners is a list of recognizable domestic PROs. Due to some political tension in the governing bodies of cycling, riders racing for internationally registered PRO teams would risk a one month suspension and a fine of 200 Swiss Francs if they were to start the locally promoted race.
Tom Zirbel, who I mentioned last week, was an exception, as he is a rider of national (and beyond) caliber, but as he isn’t currently riding for a PRO team, he was at the start. As was Team Rio Grande, a locally based Elite Amateur squad who seems to have intentions of something more. They have been traveling nationally to race this year and were the largest team and were set to make the race theirs.
I didn’t get in any warm up, except cruising from the parking lot to the race start. The first leg of the race was into a head wind for about five minutes so I knew I could get a little warmup before the race went ballistic. I was racing on some old 28c tires (clinchers) at 75/80 PSI, with my PowerTap, so I have some as well from this race.
The wind was fierce. The course is completely exposed to the wind, which was blowing at sustained speeds of 20 mph according to a nearby weather station. I’ve talked about crosswinds before, but the basic principle is that it tends to favor the 5-10 riders in the front of the group, leaving everyone else fighting the wind without a draft. Since I started in the front row and made sure to assert myself, I stayed in the front couple riders for the first half of the lap.
The dangerous section of downhill sand began just after the pavement ended, and was quickly approaching. The crosswind was blowing hard from the right side of the road, and I was in good position in the front ten riders. 300m before the pavement ended, Zirbel made his move right along the centerline of the road, so nobody could catch the draft on his left side, over the centerline. This was the first big move of the day, but the conditions were going to be so difficult, I figured it was a good idea to stay at the front of the race so I followed.
The downhill sandy section had clearly deteriorated since a few days ago due to the narrow tires cutting through the soft, sandy dirt road. The gusting crosswind added to the difficulty, as it pushed my bike and my tires skittered downwind. I also mentioned last week the sight of chaos and disorganization in the group, and this is what I saw from my vantage point of the front ten racers. After a sharp riser and a left turn onto pavement and a welcome tailwind, I looked back and saw that the four of us had a decent gap to remnants of the already shrinking peloton.
I feel that I am similarly matched to many of the riders in races at this level, but that doesn’t mean the racing is easy. The Pro/1/2 races are very aggressive, with constant attempts to isolate other riders, splinter the peloton, and create breakaway groups. When I found myself in a small breakaway, we were only 10 miles into a 77 mile race, but I had been putting out 309 watts of Normalized Power, which is 94% of my FTP. (the power I can sustain for one hour). Obviously, few of us could sustain this effort, but I can explain the reasoning for the tactics: When other racers are split off the main group, they are usually gone for good. Those that do manage to catch back on are tired from the effort required to catch back up. This can isolate riders that become separated due to position, despite their strong fitness, so they don’t factor in the later stages of the race.
We worked well together, but the group of maybe 15 riders chasing us was not interested in letting us get away, and we became a larger group of 20-25 as we began the hardest section of the course. The hard climbs also deteriorated and few riders were even able to ride up them, forced to dismount and hike through the sand. I stayed at the front and rode hard, and eventually found myself again in a small group of four at the front of the race.
The four of us were again caught near the start finish as we started the second lap, but this time the composite group was only about a dozen, with one Rio Grande rider fighting the strong headwind alone about 30 seconds ahead. After the feed zone, the Rio guys, who were well represented in the lead group, made it clear they were going to make it hard to organize a chase, or get a small chase group separated to chase. There was a lot of marking, and I spent some time with my head held high to try to see who was in the group to size up my options.
Unfortunately I noticed I didn’t have any options when the increased weight on my front tire alerted me to the fact I was getting a flat! Unlike many other races, there was no follow car and I would have to be self sufficient. Most racers weren’t carrying spares, but I had my seat pack so I went to work. It is very hard to quickly change a tube with gusting winds and race nerves. The two large (~15 riders each) chase groups had both passed after the four minutes it took me to get going again.
I set about chasing as hard as was reasonable. I knew I wouldn’t ever see the lead group again, but I brought my tube with the intention of finishing the race. I was hoping to eventually catch up to a reasonably fast group so I could work my way through the shards of the destroyed race. I passed quite a few groups on the course and eventually caught my teammate Dirk who I made my final goal. After the flat I spent 45 minutes at 300w average, I was too tired to continue aggressive chasing, so I set about fighting the wind alone for my last two laps.
I occasionally came across shelled riders, but all were more tired than I was and we would briefly ride together, but they would eventually lose contact and I would again be alone. My last lap averaged 239 watts, which is about what I can sustain for a 4 hour ride. When I am totally cooked or bonked, I average about 180 watts, so I consider this a strong finish.
I haven’t gotten my placing yet, but I think I placed in the top 20 out of about 50 starters which I am happy with considering how the race played out. Update: I got 12th. I set my first power records for 2011: 120 minute average (286w), and 90 minute average (292w). Next time I’ll either have tubular tires for the race or at least put sealant in my tubes. The flat was a relatively slow leak and would have been easily sealed if I had put Stan’s in my tube.