My preparations for the race on Sunday went pretty poorly, even for me. Okay, I did manage to ride on Tuesday. I didn't race Wednesday. Or ride Thursday. Or Friday. But I planned on riding Saturday.
Well, let's say Saturday was a long day for me, no longer than normal, but somehow I felt much more tired than normal. I came home, lay down, pet one of the grown kittens a bit (Hal usually craves attention, but it may have been Tiger), and...
Woke up TWO HOURS later.
So Sunday, hopefully well rested, I gathered some gear, ate some bacon and eggs, and drove off to the Keith Berger Race with the missus.
I wanted to get a decent warm-up in, but it was hot, I didn't feel too energetic, and I only did a couple laps of the course before the officials lined us up.
The last time I did this race I either got totally shelled or I exploded just before the sprint. Either way I didn't feel too good about the whole thing. Too hard, too fast.
However, this is SOC's team's race, so I decided I'd come race to both support his team as well as support SOC himself in the race. He'd made the trip to Bethel to help me out so I felt it natural to return the favor.
From past experience I knew my help would be limited so I laid out my comprehensive plans.
"Okay, start looking for me at 2 to go. If I'm feeling good, I'll be around at 2 to go. If not, look for me on the backstretch on the last lap. I'll try and launch you so you can jump out of the last turn."
Real optimistic, right?
The flat, four corner course usually meant a strung out field, but with a lot of horsepower turned off, a strong crosswind on the back stretch, and a lot of sprinters looking for a bunch finish, the field mainly stayed together.
To experience the front, the wind, and to get an idea of what I'd have to do on the last lap, I moved up to the front on a prime lap. I saw two guys from Central Wheel at the front, a long time friend(-ly rival) John on their wheel, and decided to slot in just in front of John. I'd lead him out for the prime.
Trouble was that when I stood to go, my legs didn't go.
Feeling totally embarrassed, I buried myself to bring the front of the group back together after the sprint, apologizing to John the whole time.
I really felt bad and slunk back into the field, kicking myself the whole time.
A bit later I saw a four man break take off. Lo and behold, John was in it. Therefore, although I felt some obligation to pull a bit for SOC, I felt I had to give John a chance, so I watched as various riders countered and others blocked.
One of the riders who launched was one Secondo, a guy I actually trained with one day (however briefly) and a really good guy. He's another guy that, if I'm not racing for myself, I'll gladly race for him, even if he doesn't know it. I've done that in the past, and I'm sure I'll do it in the future.
Anyway, after a couple laps of insanely difficult solo chasing, he exploded out there somewhere in no man's land. You could almost see bits and pieces fly everywhere, and he shot backwards like he was shot out of a cannon.
A bit concerned, I kept an eye on him, even asking if he was okay. I had iced Gatorade, water, whatever, but he could barely focus on what I said.
He was in trouble.
After we took a corner, he seemed lethargic accelerating up to speed. I sat up on the windward side, trying to give him shelter, but when the gap grew to 20 or so feet, I knew I had to take some action. I eased a bit, let him pull up next to me, and gently reached out, checking my immediate six to make sure no one was overlapping my wheel.
And shoved him across the gap.
He actually had to brake, I shoved him so hard, and in a couple pedal strokes I rode into his windward side again.
Ends up that the one shove made all the difference and he managed to finish the race.
My good deed for Secondo done for the day, I started looking around for SOC. He'd been diligently sitting on the sheltered side on the back stretch, moving up when necessary, not fighting unecessarily for position. A good, solid ride, saving it for the finish. His team kept making efforts, chasing if necessary, attacking if the opportunity popped up, and generally rode a respectable race.
With two to go I found SOC.
I tried to stay sheltered, trying to stay out of the wind, saving my one match for an acceleration 200-300 meters from the third turn.
We hit the bell, maybe 20 back, SOC on my wheel. I moved up a bit, riding in the middle of the field, and tried to set up to be in the middle on the backstretch. I gambled on finding an opening halfway down the backstretch, even if it was on the left, and then launching SOC for the line.
Two guys immediately filled the gap to my left, maybe three guys sitting to my right. And a lot of guys in front. SOC faithfully followed me. I started getting a bit less optimistic about this "left side gap".
Someone started going pretty early, halfway down the backstretch, and the line strung out a bit. Now I had two guys to my left and two guys to my right.
A slight opening in front, the guys on my left started accelerating, and I found a lane to the outside of the third turn. I took it, trying to find big wide lanes, but guys were automatically closing up behind me.
SOC lost my wheel.
I kept going a bit, too far back for anything, but I had to keep going. Maybe he'd rocket up to me, or maybe I'd see a huge opening, but whatever, I just kept going.
The final turn, faster than normal, and the guys at the front were way up there. I watched as guys fought for the win, watched as all hope of a top 10 for SOC faded to nothing. I did a semi-sprint, half-hearted, disappointed in myself for letting SOC down. It was his race, not mine, and my fear of the wind kept me from finding an advantageous position for SOC at the most critical juncture.
Thinking about it afterwards, I knew I could have done a bunch of things.
First, I could have moved up aggressively before the backstretch. With the race over and my normal post-race mulling, I realized that if I'd made even a brief effort out of the first turn, I could have gained a few spots, maybe tucking into 15th or 20th position. This would have changed my approach to the backstretch, but it may have left me in a different position going into the third turn.
Second, even if it meant that I couldn't actually lead him out, going into the wind just after the second turn, when the wind blew the strongest, would have let me get SOC into perhaps the top 7 or 8 spots. I'd have to depend on his superior aerobic strength for him to hold that position, but it's different fighting to maintain position as opposed to fighting to gain position. Usually it's easier to maintain position, especially with half a lap to go.
Third, as the field flared out when the wind started easing, I should have gone left, even waving SOC to my right, so I could shelter him directly. Then I could move at will, letting him follow in the wind vacuum to my right.
My ultimate mistake was to give up the inside line on the backstretch - I felt it would be too risky, that we'd get totally boxed in. But the field naturally veered left before the third turn, setting up for it, and therefore the inside would have opened up. I should have thought of that.
A hard, aggressive move up the inside could have netted a good 10-12 spots, slotting in to maybe 6th to 8th position. At that point it'd have been a full committed effort to the last turn, across the brief 100 meter third stretch, and cornering just as hard as possible.
I'd have flared out a bit, letting SOC scoot up the inside, and watched as he sprinted for the line.
Whatever he'd have done, it would have been better than losing him with two turns to go.
After the race I cooled down with him, Hob, and a few of SOC's teammates. We had a great talk about the race, coulda-woulda-shoulda kind of talk. It reminded me of the old Carpe Diem Racing squad, the hyper-excitement building until even I was swearing to emphasize points.
Like over and over again.
And I really don't swear that much.
All in all, a decent race. I felt much better during the race. No cramps (I've been drinking Gatorade - back to that, now that I found a place selling mix - Frost flavor???), no undue pressure, no popping off the back. I could even help out some others.
So, next time, a bit more aggressive riding, a bit more sacrifice. It's hard being a helper teammate for me because I'm not used to hammering in the wind. It's unnatural for me to leave openings behind me, for someone to follow. And I have to remember that someone is glued to my wheel and trying to do everything I do. I start second-guessing moves, re-calculating what's possible so that I factor in a second rider, stuff like that.
And it's a lot of fun.