I absolutely love this race! It is my hometown favorite and has a lot to offer. The course suits me very well. It is very technical, running down an alley on the back side of the park. The entrance and exit of the alley traverse curb ramps, adding to the difficulty. This is followed by a chicane, and then finally the finish straight has a decent hill. The weather is usually very good this time of year and the fans are out in force.
Two years ago, this race chewed my up and spit me out, literally. Last year I was 5th after going in the early break and being caught by a small chase group. This year I knew I had a chance to improve my result and finally meet the podium girls. The race was a little smaller this year, but there will still a handful of domestic pros on hand.
As expected, the pace was high from the start. I stayed as close to the front as possible, since the accordion effect is severe at the back of the peloton due to slowing in the corners. I was doing well holding my position and was waiting for an opportunity to attack.
20 minutes into the 70 minute race, I saw a group of three dangling off the front: Jorge Espinoza (2012 State Criterium Champ), Sean Sullivan (Former Pro, and active National Racing Calendar racer), and Frank Pipp (Bissell Pro Cycling). Frank was easily the most decorated in the entire race and has been winning domestic pro races for years.
I was racing near the front and trying to be as aware as possible of the situation on the road, so I was able to respond. I set my peak 60 second power of the race as I bridged alone over half a lap. After sitting out a few turns I put myself into the rotation. Similar to Bannock, I knew the chase behind would be furious so we set about establishing our lead.
Our lead grew steadily from the outset. I was feeling a touch of fatigue from my hour in the break the previous day, and I also knew I was outclassed in the move, so I took shorter pulls. I wasn’t slowing the group down at all, but I’ll admit I wasn’t quite doing my fair share. This is a touchy situation to be in. If the group thought I was useless or dragging them down, they might start attacking me to get rid of me. I carefully measured my effort to stay within my ability and also help the group as much as possible.
I also have to give a shout out to Garrett Suydam. He’s been racing a couple NRC races this year and made a heroic solo effort to bridge. Smartly, the fast guys in the group realized we should increase the pace to hold him off.
I was asked the other day if there is much conversation during the race. The truth is there really isn’t. There is often time to chat with friends during a long road race, but during a criterium there isn’t much more than the occasional shout. Ideally, we’re all experienced racers and we all know each others motivations without talking about it explicitly. One of the only things said in the break was “We don’t need a fifth”.
The arrival of a fifth rider was likely to slow us down. He would certainly arrive very tired and would sit out of the rotation for a while. This would greatly increase the ‘dead weight’ ratio of our group. It also may make the peloton more inclined to continue to chase and/or attack if they saw a successful bridge. Despite the fact he had worked incredibly hard to come nearly close enough to reach out and touch us, he dropped back after we increased the pace.
Even with my short pulls, I was feeling the effort. We had over half a lap advantage as the timer showed 25 minutes left to race, but I was becoming increasingly worried about the amount of time remaining, as I was riding at my limit. I committed myself to hanging on as long as possible.
In the closing laps of the race, it became apparent that Frank was playing to his strengths. He is a sprinter, and was pulling hard up the hill every lap. I believe he was trying to keep the pace high to deter the others from attacking, hoping to out sprint us in the finale. It didn’t work forever and at 4 laps to go, Jorge came by just as we crested the hill.
Out of pure reflex (and probably in reaction to not riding aggressively enough at bannock when I didn’t take his wheel), I rode as hard as I could to pin the race back together. In hindsight I might have been more conservative and left it to the other two, stronger riders. A couple laps later, Jorge jumped hard again (He had mis-counted the remaining laps) as we crossed the line with 1 to go, and I was split off from the group. I didn’t have anything left so I rolled in about 10 seconds after them, with the field still trailing far behind.
Overall it was a good race for me. I always want to be just a litter better, but I’ve been showing great consistency the past few weeks. Both my heart rate and wattage (normalized) were equal to my threshold power despite a hard race the day before. This race was effectively the end of my road season, except I have a low priority road race next Sunday. After that I’ll be focusing on pre-cyclocross training for my debut on September 15th.