Apparently the ant gods and the bike racing gods don't talk very much. At the Connecticut Coast Cycling (aka "C3") Criterium things went about as well as they could go. Okay, a few crashes put some pauses in the day, but overall the weather and the racers cooperated to make it a great day out on the bike.
As the person not promoting the race, simply helping out, I got to enjoy things a little more. Okay, my finish line camera work wasn't the best, but this was the first time I ever used our fancy shmancy second generation camera. I did some course set up and then sort of hung out, filling in when I could.
The missus, along for the ride, worked the registration table for virtually the entire day. She had a great time talking with some of the C3 team members, and the warm weather (no heaters in the tent) let her enjoy herself.
I'd mentioned earlier that I forgot my cell phone, watch, and SRM, so I remained relatively stress free, not worrying about plugging in something, misplacing my phone, or being late for the start of my race.
Okay, so I was a bit late for the start of my race. Not really, but the camera acted up (not recording seems to affect the ability to play back what you recorded)... okay, the camera operator messed up, and I had to scramble to get things in operating order before the finish of the race just before mine. I sort of did, with literally 75 meters of the race left, and we got enough visual proof to show that the finishes weren't pulled from thin air.
It got worse with the Cat 3-4 race as the generator cut out, leaving the camera off. That is a big screw up, but with almost half a dozen officials picking racers, we were okay. I, of course, was essentially useless in trying to help out as I just finished a hot (for me) race.
But I get ahead of myself.
One helpful soul Andrew ended up doing two races, the 4s and the 3-4s, volunteering himself for work between the two races. Now, to volunteer once or twice, that's sort of normal, but he's volunteered just about as much as anyone ever has. He avails himself week after week in the Bethel Spring Series, almost without exception. And he always offered to help with no strings attached, just a smile and a reminder that it'll take him a minute or two to change before he can get to his post.
Yeah, if you asked me to help right after I raced, I'd be useless except for checking how cool the water is in the cooler on an 85 degree day. In the Spring Series I'm useful for checking if the heater works in the van. Not much else.
Regardless, today reminded me of just how much Andrew's helped out in the past.
Oh, and he's modest. I don't think anyone else knows that he helps out as much as he does.
Anyway, after screwing up the Masters camera finish, I did a couple laps, one jump (in a lower gear, but man, the tires and wheels sounded so fast going up that hill, it psyched me up), and lined up for the 3-4 race.
It started pretty aggressively, breaks going up the road, getting chased, and then another one launching. A few teams had more than usual depth and could radically up the tempo as needed. After about 45 minutes of hard racing, a break containing these teams went up the road. With a couple strong individuals tagging along for company, that was it, race over.
For a good 3 or 4 laps other strong individuals chased, but when they tired out, the field suddenly went curb to curb and things slowed down hard. Unfortunately our team didn't have any representation in the break, none of our riders up for such an effort, me included.
In fact, I spent more than a few seconds praying the guy in front of me could close a gap, because if he didn't, I'd be done for the day. I ran out of fluids when the break finally established itself and found myself in a good-bad siutation. I felt thankful that the pace slowed because a bunch of guys were gone, but at the same time I felt disappointed that, well, a bunch of guys were gone.
My Hartford Crit debacle fresh in my memory, I focused hard on the lap cards, thinking "5, 5, 5, 5" at five to go, "4, 4, 4, 4" at four to go, and so on. I ended up moving up somewhat accidentally on one lap, raising the hopes of the missus (she was taking a break from registration and watched me race). Then, as I fought with my bottles for any remaining fluids, I dropped to the back of the group, ultimately giving up and tossing both my bottles as I heard the bell ringing.
I didn't have to say to myself, "1, 1, 1, 1" on the last lap. I did have to move up, being at the back of the field. If B-Wolf was next to me, I'd have said "It's miracle time" like I did one day, but he wasn't so I didn't say anything. Instead, in a flagrant waste of hoarded energy, I swept around the outside of the field, pulled even with the lead rider, and moved back inside, towards the field.
I was backing myself into a front position, a risky move that could pay big dividends. It's the Hail Mary move in bike racing, but I needed some shelter.
Guys who end up behind Hail Mary movers tend to let the Hail Mary'ers sit in the wind, eat up any remaining reserves, and then let their wasted bodies drift back into the field, used up and useful only for blocking other riders from moving up.
So, I sat there in the wind. I started doubting my move, even though it brought me from the back to the front in a short 200 meters.
Then I sensed movement from the left. More movers, more Hail Mary'ers. Shelter. But dangerous shelter, because if they back themselves into the front of the group, the cycle repeats and I'll quickly find myself at the back.
That's when one rider looked back, his face a cross between a grin, a smirk, and a grimace.
He moved over just enough so that the rider on his wheel shielded me.
And then he started to go harder. Apparently everyone liked his pace because they let him pull, all the way around Turn Two, most of the way down the backstretch.
At that point a self-admitted non-sprinter (but friendliest guy around) attacked ferociously. Andrew immediately jumped after him, his big pull not fazing him at all. A Dark Blue kitted guy jumped after Andrew, and after a moment's hesitation, I followed Dark Blue.
I was fourth wheel with less than 450 meters to go.
Mister Friendly went for a bit, exploded, and pulled off. Andrew kept the pace up, finally blew, and pulled off too.
Now it was Dark Blue. Maybe 250 meters to go, I needed to get another 75-100 meters before I wanted to jump, and I didn't know if he'd blow (and let a bunch of guys around us), shut the door on me (and box me in), or do some insane jump and leave me hanging.
I wanted to feel the tires hum, the wheels swishing under me, like they did on that warm-up sprint. And Dark Blue, he was chugging away, his legs going furiously, and then...
And then there was that barely perceptible change in rhythm, the sign that makes sprinters salivate.
He was blowing up.
And as he blew, he went left, pulling off, letting the race go by.
I jumped as hard as I could, almost running into Dark Blue, but a hard correction and a slight stutter in my sprint and I was past him, nothing but open pavement in front of me. I went all the way to the line, shifting up, up, up, flying, finally a sprint to the line, finally a good jump, finally some decent speed, and, finally, no one around me.
Okay, so there were eight guys up the road. But let's forget them for just a second, okay? :) I'd finally had a good sprint. But no recorded anything - no speed, no power, no heartrate. No data at all. Just perceived exertion.
Afterwards, a guy whose racing I respect approached me.
"What gear did you use when you jumped?"
"I don't know," I replied, "Maybe a 53x14. Why?"
"Well, when you jumped... the first two pedal strokes took you clear. I couldn't get back to you after that."
I guess I was looking down and thinking about the gearing and such. I looked up and saw him looking at me. He smiled and said something like "Good race" and rode away.
The missus was happy too. A good sprint (on the right lap, no less), and a beautiful day outside, surrounded by a bunch of friendly folks. We had a nice dinner at one of our old haunts near our old house. Talked. Smiled. Asked if the other felt tired. We finally got home as the light started to fade.
It was a long, long day.
But, man, what a day.