I thought about the Team Type One guy that showed up at Bethel this year. I happened to take pictures of the race, captured him attacking at the start, captured him time trialing with one other guy, then him winning solo.
Solo win. Wow.
This led me to think of my glory days of years gone by. One race stood out in particular - the Oyster Bay Crit, I think in 1992. I was on fire that year, just incredibly strong for me. At about 8 to go I launched an arbitrary attack. I don't know why I attacked, I just did - I suppose things must have seemed just right, like we just caught another attempted break or we just crossed the line for a prime or something.
Whatever the reason, I launched myself off the front of the field. Then, in a manner totally foreign to me, I put my head down and started time trialing for a bit.
After two laps I was 20 seconds ahead of a chasing field.
Yeah, you'd never believe it, right?
I had 6 laps to go. I debated whether I should bury myself or not. If I did, and it didn't work, I'd be annihilated in the sprint.
On the other hand I felt pretty good. Slow, but good. I wasn't really digging yet, although I felt frustrated that I could only manage 28 mph on the windy sections (and 30-something on the cross/tailwind ones).
So, with a decade of "sit in and shelter" ingrained in my head, I eased up.
I soft pedaled.
For almost a whole lap.
The field rolled by, I jumped in about fourth wheel, didn't drift back more than about 5 or 10 spots in the next few laps, and went into the final turn 4th wheel. A shorter sprint than I expected and suddenly we crossed the line. I was 4th. First place was a rumored $900. Fourth place was a verified $90.
I never, ever, had a race like that again, where I felt so totally untouchable.
I thought about what changed between then and now. I mean, okay, other than aging 20 years, not riding every day after work for 2 hours, not racing 2 or 3 races every weekend, not racing Tuesdays with the hardcore P123s in NYC, and not spending 3 weeks in Belgium getting my butt kicked from here to tomorrow, nothing much changed.
Since not much changed it meant that I should be able to pull out a ride like that today, Sunday, at the Mystic Velo Crit.
Okay. So I lined up for the Cat 3 race. We had a very small field, with two teammates bagging the day (one fell mountain biking and the other worked until 6 AM that morning). I had just Bryan for company, but, seriously, there wasn't much to do than to mark moves and not end up on the wrong side of a gap. Our pre-race discussion took less words and time than the sentence above.
"Not much to say, right? Just mark moves and watch yourself?"
At some point early on two guys went. Three guys went after them. I knew they'd be a bit tired, having made some efforts. I was near the front ("vigilant") and decided that I'd launch a counter attack, jam the pace lever all the way forward, and try and draw out a portion of the small field. This would put the hurt on those five guys up front and hopefully pare down the field a bit.
What I saw in front when I decided to launch my attack.
Now going. I'd pass all of them before the short straight ended.
Gaps means no shelter means tired legs.
I went pretty hard, zipped around the right turn, and looked down. To my dismay I saw just pavement. I rode a bit (doing a Knickman, but 20 meters, not 20 kilometers), then looked back. The small group had slowed, gathering themselves for the explosion.
When the Missus saw me launch similar attacks she'll tell close friends, "Wait for the explosion."
"The explosion. It should happen right about..... now."
And that's when I detonate.
Fortunately for me, or, perhaps, unfortunately, I'd actually launched a pretty hard move, into the wind, and no one wanted to stay on my wheel. They let me hang myself out there for a lap before they started to pedal hard.
And unusually for me, the explosion came later, like two laps later. At that point I felt totally and completely cooked. The field caught and dropped me in about 20 meters. Okay, 40 meters.
It was terrible.
I decided to try and get my money's worth and time trialed until the field lapped me (and the two man break leading them). I sat up and pulled off the course.
The MC asked me what I was thinking when I went. I tried to mumble something about Jackie Durand and doing a long break. He surprised me by mentioning that I had the fast lap of the day, and if it held, I'd win a beer.
Bryan went from way out and held off a charging Bill.
I watched teammate Bryan get second in the sprint, fourth in the race. I decided I could do another race, the M45+. Registration was quick and easy, I pinned on the new number, rolled around for a bit with Bryan, stopped to dress up a bit (clouds made it cold - I put on knee warmers, the first time I ever raced with them, and a wind vest under the jersey), and rolled to the start.
A bigger field than the 3s but still small. I decided no stupid stuff, just regular run of the mill sprinter tactics - sit in, don't miss big splits, and sprint.
I have to admit, this was one of the best races I'd ever done. I told the Missus after the race that usually in a Cat 3 race there are a good 10 or 15 racers who really, really know their stuff. They're really savvy, really smooth, don't push into bad situations, and generally make racing really fun and safe.
There's even fewer that earn my begrudging admiration for their slick moves in the field, taking me off wheels without me even realizing that they were doing just that.
Well, in this M45+ field, almost everyone was that smooth slick savvy racer. I'm talking virtually every racer took me off a wheel, took a good spot of mine, got into shelter better than me, and basically rode like a seasoned veteran.
Because they were.
I couldn't believe the quality of the racing. No, that's not right. I was astonished at the quality of racing. They were mainly stronger than me, okay, but they were just really good, solid racers.
Because of the extremely high standards set by 50-80% of the field, even minor course changes seemed like major errors.
I loved it.
With my abysmal Cat 3 race already in my legs, and very little riding in the last few weeks, I knew I had to save everything I could for the finish. The Missus noticed me coasting a lot, and I found that I could get shelter on virtually every straight within a few seconds (it'll be a good clip if I ever get it done).
At 5 laps to go I started thinking those hidden, unspoken thoughts.
"Man, I should be able to kill it in this sprint."
I thought about the fast finishes at Bethel (which I really haven't written about). I did a short effort out of the saddle to test myself (because I rarely stood in the M45 race) - my legs felt absolutely phenomenal.
At 2 to go I figured, ah, so good.
Approaching the bell I scooted up the side. Shovel, a non-teammate but a friend, saw me and moved out to see if he could help out. Two or three wide, with me sitting second wheel to Shovel, we rolled into Turn One.
And my left hamstring gave a huge twinge.
Turn Two and I had to ease - I couldn't accelerate with everyone, I had to stay seated. I had no idea if my hamstring would just seize, an agonizing proposition which last time it happened at Ninigret I went veering right off the course. Such a move now would take out riders so I stayed seated.
I fought through turns three and four, but in the "heading away" backstretch I realized that my leg was toast. I tried to coast, to cajole something back into my left hamstring, something to let me regain voluntary control over the muscle.
I came out onto the hidden backstretch, just before the last turn. I saw the front of the field, knew that I could easily roll up into the fifth or sixth spot, knew exactly how I would make the move.
My left hamstring vetoed the idea.
And as I started fading I looked right, saw I was clear, raised my hand, and pulled off.
My "annihilating sprint" dreams ended there. I rolled across the line a bit dejected. I'd ridden the right race, done exactly what I needed to do, but I didn't have the fitness to follow through.
A bummer, right?
Well, yeah, it was a bummer. But what was really cool was discovering just how smooth and fluent and good the M45 racers race. It was like racing against racers that I picked.
A while ago I wrote somewhere that bike racers need to have a big flowchart in their head. If this happens, do that. If that happens do this. Etc. At a 2010 Bethel Bryan (my now teammate) left a gap for me to close, knowing it would kill me to do it. I couldn't close it ("when this happens") so I waved the guys behind me to close the gap ("do that"). They rolled around me, past Bryan, and closed the gap.
I said that a good sign of a poor tactician is when a racers initiates physical contact. Anyone who has to resort to contact has made a tactical error. If you ride well tactically you should only have to react to contact (from those that didn't ride well tactically), not initiate it.
A critical reader asked me if I thought that bike racing should be like a computer game or program, where every move had a given countermove (or two). I told him yes, exactly. If everyone played by the rules, if everyone acted and reacted in a manner that fit within those rules, only major errors and mechanicals could cause crashes.
Well, this M45 race was exactly like what I imagined a perfect bike race would feel like. I made tactical moves. The others respected my moves. They made moves too, and I respected them. I often found myself outsmarted at my own game, over and over, by many different riders. They were as good tactically as I could ever be, and these riders were all over the field!
I was amazed. I'm still amazed. I wish I could race with those guys every time I race, it was that good.
So although I didn't technically do well (off the back and almost dead last), I had a great day racing the bike.
The MC called me over after the M45 race. Apparently my blazing comet-like move resulted in the fastest lap of the Cat 3 race.
I got a beer! It was a nice little prize.
Junior is just happy.
(I actually doubt I had the fastest lap - I think they just took pity on me - but I took the beer anyway. Heh.)
The Missus and I ate at WB Cody's, a standard stop for us before we headed home.
Then, after that long, long day out, a couple feeds, more diaper changes, Junior got a bath.
A great ending to a great day.
Junior, looking at the Missus.