After a couple disappointing outings in my first two races of the year, my wife and I had a long chat about strategy. I sometimes joke she is my ‘coach’, especially when she tells me what to do and I almost always ignore her. We talked about how I am always ‘over-excited’ and that I’m often in the break, but don’t often win. I countered with my half-dozen top placings last season out of the break, which are admittedly far outnumbered by my failed attempts.
We also discussed having a game plan prior to the race versus reading the race as it is in progress. I’ve found that if I have done a race a few times, I can have a good idea of what I would like to do. In the case of the Fed Center Circuit, I’m pretty sure I raced it as a Cat 4 back in college a decade ago, but that is it. The course was new for 2012: 4 miles, mostly flat, with 17(!) corners. Most of the corners could be taken at full gas, but a few were over 90 degrees with only one lane of width between medians.
I didn’t know what to expect, so I went into the race with an open mind with an eye towards conserving energy in the first part of the race. I didn’t warm up much (I rode a total of 1.5 miles over 8 minutes), but I don’t often warm up a lot, especially for longer races where I don’t expect too much at the beginning. I was right and the first 1/2 lap was pretty sedate.
There was constant attacking starting on the second lap, as everyone was trying to establish the early break. Similar to any other race, the peloton was looking for an acceptable group based on individual strength and team affiliations. As I believe will be the theme this year, Horizon/Panache was the best represented, and also has some strong riders. There were also two strong riders from UCI Continental teams, which were marked men and heavily influenced the pack dynamics.
A few breaks caught some traction, but were quickly reeled in. Some were too big (> 6 riders), some too dangerous (Pro riders or frequent winners). The pack was also hesitant to let anyone from Horizon/Panache go, because there was a serious risk of strong negative racing from their teammates. At this point I was content to follow wheels, stay near the front, and let everyone else do the work.
Even though I knew it was likely that one of the strongmen in the group wouldn’t be let go, I was in perfect position to follow the lone Bissell rider when he attacked on the finish straight 30 minutes into the 90 minute race. I sat in his draft as we accelerated away, and soon saw daylight behind us. I pulled through, but for some reason, he sat up and I was left out alone. I decided I would ride a steady tempo for a bit to see what would transpire.
Two riders bridged. One from Ideal Market/Primal, and another from Primal/1stBank. It turns out we were the selection the peloton was looking for and they were clearly soft pedaling behind us. We were relatively anonymous, small, and from smaller teams in the race. The peloton made it clear they would let us ride, so I was happy to oblige.
At this point we had averaged 27.0 mph for 25 minutes. We set to work taking even pulls. The course was well suited to 1-2 riders sharing the work on each straightaway, depending on the length and wind (which was light from the North). Our lead gradually increased until we were at 55 seconds and the pack was out of sight on the longest straight. We were riding hard, but we were well matched and rolling turns quite smoothly in a single paceline.
We spent our first 35 minutes averaging 27.73 mph in the break. The gap had started to shrink, as Horizon set the pace behind. We had two moto officials and multiple course marshals giving us time gaps, so we knew right away when we needed to pick up the pace. Unfortunately, this was when our third rider from Ideal sat out a pull… not a good sign. It turns out he had flatted and was quickly gone. This is a prime example of the amount of luck needed for success in bike racing. With three riders, we would sit out two pulls, but now our workload increased to every-other, effectively doubling our workload.
With three laps remaining and the chase heating up behind us, the Drew Christopher and I were left to ride with a 30 second gap. I was starting to suffer a bit more, but I knew we still had a decent chance. The fans at the start/finish and the course marshals were getting increasingly excited with each pass.
At one lap to go I knew it would be very close. The gap was about 10 seconds. I hoped that if we made it to the ‘top’ of the course, we just might survive. There were two uphill legs on the course, and I knew the peloton would be flying up them as our legs were screaming for relief. We made the top with our advantage holding and we were riding with everything we had. I dreaded each pull, but put my head down and pedaled for everything I was worth. Our speed had dropped every so slightly since we lost our companion, averaging 27.4 mph on the last 3 laps.
As we rounded the gentle, final bend to the long finishing straight, we were caught. I still ‘sprinted’ for everything I was worth and held on for about 20th place as riders came by.
It is really heartbreaking to lose a race like this. I put everything on the line and came up empty again. The good news is that it is a long season and today’s race is a sign that the fitness is coming along, slowly but surely. This wasn’t a high priority race, so I am happy to have put in some good work and made an impact in the race. One of my teammates remarked afterward that I was the only one on the team that got anything out of the race, and everyone else wasted their time and money hiding out in the cozy draft of the peloton.
Tomorrow is a very difficult road race at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. There is a storm moving in, and with the course tops out at 7,200′, so there is a high probability of snow canceling the race tomorrow. The race is also a couple hours away, so I’ll be checking the forecast and twitter obsessively until then.