Anyone that's been following my posts or seen me at the races knows that this year my fitness is pretty low, even for me, and that I struggle simply to finish races. I had a few reasonable races in the spring, at Bethel, but that almost doesn't count - it's my home turf, so to speak, and the course is about as optimal for me as it can get.
Last week was about as bad as it gets. In less than 5 miles I warmed up, started the race, got shelled, let the group lap me twice, jumped back in, sat up, and rode to the car.
That's a lot of nothing in 5 miles.
It's only natural that I felt a bit leery about this Sunday's race, the New England Masters Criterium Championships. Granted I had a reasonable race here back in May or something, but that was May or something. It was also an M45 race, not an M40. Back then I was still okay on the bike. Now I'm worse than I was back then.
Nonetheless we headed out. The Missus has some good friends that come to the races, everyone likes Junior, and I'm okay with getting shelled if that's what I'm meant to do.
I drove to the race this time, skipping sitting in the back seat. I didn't want to spend a couple hours back there, get to the race really queasy, and not be able to race (I think that was a huge part of last Tuesday's debacle, along with incredible fatigue). A good night's rest on Friday, a pretty tame Saturday, and a good night's sleep on Saturday helped tilt the odds in my favor.
Of course I didn't ride at all since Tuesday so my legs would be very, very, very fresh.
That's how I describe it anyway.
Before the race.
I brought a bike bag for Shovel so he could bring his bike to Nationals. He returned some loaner wheels. Normally I don't bring so many wheels.
(It's also nice because the promoter can count on pre-reg and day-of becomes a bonus.)
I guess that surprised them. For most races this holds true. I'm lucky that my fields don't fill; I sometimes pre-reg to assure myself a spot in the field.
They offered pins. I declined. It's a small thing, promoters paying for pins. It's $15 for 1440 pins, but it's still $15. I try to bring my own (this year I've been really good about it). I figure I got pins from 3 races. They get rusty so I have to unpin right away. I toss any rusty pins because they ruin your jersey at the very least, give you strange diseases at worst.
Number in hand I returned to the car. The Missus knew I needed to actually warm up a bit. With no ride since Tuesday's paltry race I'd need to ease my legs back into racing efforts. A leisurely warmup would help me immensely.
She made me promise to actually warm up, not to talk too much with the inevitable friends and people I see. After pinning my number, getting my race wheels up to pressure, and my electronics all straightened out (Sportsiiiis on but no HR strap - missed it somewhere), I rolled out.
And of course started talking with random riders warming up or cooling down.
I managed about 30 minutes of easy spinning, one minor jump to test the legs (they felt very, very, very fresh to put it politely), and a minute or two with SOC who wanted to make sure his rear tire was okay (it was).
With that we lined up for a smallish field, maybe 40 riders or so. M40+ so kind of appropriate. Some riders had just finished the 50+ so there would be some tired legs, but like the Leg Breakers at the Rent, these guys weren't too put off with the prior race. Me, I'd be thinking about rolling to the car. They were just getting warmed up.
Everyone looking down. Clipping in.
I discretely motioned to SOC, straddling his bike to my left. I wanted to point out some danger riders.
"That guy there (I point to my right) just won solo."
"That guy up there is one of the brothers."
Our plan went from "let's see what happens" to if the move goes and he felt okay, he should go. If not then we'd focus on the field sprint for whatever place.
I already met my goal of riding more than 5 miles, even if it was while I chatted with others. More honestly I wanted to not get too embarrassed, make it at least for a bit. If I could finish the race that would be great.
Anything more would be a bonus.
We started off and the field immediately strung out. The wind, so prevalent at Ninigret (a seaside former airfield), felt almost absent. That meant a reasonable tailwind on the finish stretch but the cross vectors worked out so that there wasn't really a massive crosswind anywhere.
The field, single file. Literally.
A few times a break would get a bit up the road but the reaction would pull everyone elastic-like back together. Finally, about halfway into the race, the proverbial break seemed to have gone up the road. I saw some good riders up there.
The gap, though, held steady at about 20 or so seconds. If I could get up to SOC and launch him off the front, I might be able to close half the gap before he'd see the wind. If that was the case he might be able to bridge.
I looked for an ally too, hedging on our move. I went up to Shovel, a good 55+ racer. Unfortunately he'd just done a huge turn at the front and he seemed a bit out of sorts. He didn't hear me and I really didn't hear him.
I asked him, "Do you want to bridge?"
Water from his bottle streamed out of his mouth, his face looked red from effort, and he wasn't looking very enthusiastic about making another huge effort.
I took that to mean "no" so I moved on.
After the race he asked me what I asked him. Apparently this is what he heard:
I roll up to him, turn my head to him.
"Grubumpiorhispts?" I ask.
"What did you say?" he replies.
By then I'd rolled away.
I got to the front two laps later than I should have, but my tactical wants and my legs' power didn't match each other. The tactics had to wait for two laps while I first gathered my breath to move up, then move up, and finally get near the front.
I saw SOC and called out his name. Apparently when I want to be discrete I'm yelling in my head but whispering out loud. I'm not sure he heard me because he basically ignored me.
I slapped my hip, the universal sign for "get on my wheel".
That he saw. He pulled out of the line of riders at the front and moved over to my wheel.
My view when SOC got on my wheel.
I gunned it.
Normally I don't like moving from very far back because I use half my attack just getting to the front. In this case it wasn't as critical - I wasn't going to be doing the actual bridging. More importantly the break had a couple more laps of freedom than I thought prudent - I knew the gap would be very hard to close.
The front is a bit splintered, with gaps here and there. This means it's a good time to go.
I went wide around the last turn because I didn't want to be too close to the others - I didn't want to bring everyone, just SOC and maybe one or two others.
Wade looks over as we go by. "Really?"
I looked back and saw that I'd gapped SOC just a bit; I eased just a touch.
Once we hit the straight I looked down and saw SOC's shadow directly behind me. I drilled it. I consciously moved my hands to the hoods, hoping this would give SOC a bit more draft.
I looked up to focus on our target.
I circled the break in the picture. It feels about as close to us as Curiosity is to Earth.
I shifted up, went harder, went faster. I had to get SOC within 10 seconds of the break before I blew up, so maybe 120-130 meters. If I dropped him off too far he'd blow up before he bridged.
I only made it down the main straight before the booster rockets ran out. I guess that run up the side for the whole straight before ate up some of my very limited "boost". I swung left to let SOC go but he had moved left also. A little misstep in the dance but he got going.
SOC going. The break is just going off-picture to the left.
We're not 100m away, more like 200m.
I looked to see where the break was relative to us. We were much too far. SOC would have a good 14-15 second gap to close. I figure a rider is good to close a 10 second gap solo. 15 seconds starts to push it so this would be touch and go.
I tried to recover before the field caught me. A good sign of our gap was that after SOC went I still managed to get around two corners and basically reach the third one before the field came by me. Some riders launched some belated counterattacks but it was too late - the last train had left the station, and it had one passenger: SOC.
I almost dropped out of the race but I grimly hung in there, the Dark Place, hoping the suffering would ease. I went into a tunnel vision place, a place I hadn't visited in a long time. I could only see the bikes immediately in front of me, the back half of them at that. I couldn't see beyond that - I was in that position that if people started stacking it up in the front I'd be tumbling over them a few seconds later.
I'd just lectured a newer racer about the importance of looking up so I tried to follow my own advice. I looked up when I could, to be more aware of what was happening in front of me. At least three times, though, I looked up and realized that I had no clue what had just happened beyond a 5 foot radius around me.
Finally I returned to some kind of normal discomfort. I managed to actually look around. I looked up the road for SOC. He dangled precariously off the back of the break.
Riders started congratulating me on making a good move, a smooth launch. They assumed that SOC bridged immediately. I deferred, pointing out that SOC had to bridge and sort of recover before I could call it a successful move.
I kept looking as we rounded corner after corner. SOC got within 5 or so seconds of the break but faltered. They were too steady, too fast, and SOC dangled tantalizingly out of reach until his legs went. That extra straight in the wind, before we went by the front of the field, probably cost him the bridge. If I had ridden a bit smarter or, more accurately, had a bit more gas, I could have brought him another 4-5 seconds closer and he'd have bridged. But I didn't and he didn't.
A few laps later he rolled backwards into the field.
No one said anything.
After he came back from the Dark Place (he too almost got shelled when he got caught), we both went about trying to do some kind of a sprint at the end of the race.
I did manage to slam my pedal to the pavement at some point. I remember SOC quickly rolling past after, kind of like what you do when a teammate makes a mistake and you really don't want to be around him, so I asked him if I'd caused any problems with my pedal dig.
"No, it didn't faze you so it didn't faze anyone else."
Some more resin donated to Ninigret Park.
A couple riders rolled by, I tagged along, but we hadn't made contact by the time the sprint started.
That group ahead is just starting to sprint.
I never really jumped per se (1140w max), I just rolled hard all the way to the line. It was a much longer effort than a normal sprint - I'd have waited until after the turn to sprint, instead of going 100-150m before that turn. Nonetheless it was okay.
End of sprint.
In the end I probably got 20th or so (that's my generic guess whenever I'm not in the top 6 or so but not dead last).
In the medium picture, compared to last Tuesday, this race went super well. I finished, I did one (exactly one) move, and I had a medium sprint. Without much on the line it wasn't a super intense one, and I even stopped pedaling about a second before the line, but hey, it's all good.
I rolled for half a lap cool down then returned to the Missus and Junior. SOC had some unexpected news when they announced his name. Apparently on the lap we went they rang the bell for a field prime. We joked afterwards - we had a bigger goal in mind so we'd launched like we meant business. We could just hear the conversation in the field behind us.
"Wow, those guys want it bad. Man, for $10? If they need it that bad we should let them have it."
Apparently as surprised as we were the guy that thought he won it was even more surprised. When he crossed the line, thinking he had the prime, SOC was already a good 15+ seconds ahead.
We camped out for the final race, the M30+. It had a feel of the Rent when Max and Tim jumped away to an early lead. At one point gaining 25 seconds, they got caught by four others and that break won the race. Just like a Rent.
I was distracted by Junior and had to take a few pictures of him. He's a bit over 5 months old now, and weighs probably more than any one of our cats (our biggest is about 15 lbs). Junior can't crawl, really doesn't like to roll back onto his back, but he readily rolls onto his stomach and then kicks away with his feet like one of those army guys.
Well not really, the army guys actually crawl forward. Junior just kicks. We need to get him a kick board, he'd probably get going on one of those.
Kicking but not going anywhere. Yet.
Very intent look on his face.
Very intent look on his face.
With the races over I finally packed up the car and unpinned my number, tossing the pins in the door side pocket. For the next race.
The Pin Job. No Flapping Allowed.
We headed out for a well earned meal, some conversation, and relaxation. Junior started to melt down so we had to head home a bit early, but it was all good.
Good weather, good race, good company.