Mystic Velo. It's the first of the Ninigret Park races that I could do, falling the Saturday after the last Bethel. During Bethel it's hard to get out and do anything on a Saturday so I have to miss those Saturday races during the Series.
Although during the prior week the weather forecast seemed pretty dismal it ended up okay. From "raining and 50 degrees" it went to "partially sunny and 60 degrees". In reality it was more like sunny and 75 degrees so a great, great day for racing.
The one thing that I didn't like was the wind, specifically the wind direction. It was blowing pretty hard into your face on the finishing straight. In the last couple years I've raced here it's been a tailwind sprint, one that favors me, and I've done okay. Today it would be tough.
Due to the wind I decided to race the 60mm Stinger 6s, versus the taller, faster, but more wind-sensitive Stinger 7-9 wheels.
We arrived at the race a bit tired. Junior had been up pretty much the whole night, hacking and coughing, and I really didn't get that much sleep. The Missus handled him most of the time but as we were all staying in the same room (at SOC's house) it only meant falling back asleep feeling bad that I wasn't helping.
I also didn't feel great in the morning, a tickle in my throat, a bit blah in terms of energy. Nonetheless we headed out, had a good breakfast, and got to the course with plenty of time before our race. I hoped to get a good warm up in since I hadn't touched the bike since the last Bethel.
For me getting there early meant that I simply delayed getting ready. At Ninigret I'll usually get a few laps of the parking lot under my legs but instead I rode my bike from the car to the start line.
With a small field I expected a break to go up the road. Expo had a slew of riders - Stan, Mike, Joel, SOC, and myself. Stan and Mike were probably our strongest riders so they'd go for breaks. Joel would try to do something similar. SOC would mark breaks but he can also sprint, so he could be more versatile. Me, I have to sit in for the sprint so that was my plan.
Waving to Junior, although you can't see my hand.
The Missus and Junior were around and with the wide open area around the course (it used to be a WW2 airfield) Junior had plenty of room to go hiking around. I tried to wave once, and once he was pointing at me as I rode by.
Junior pointing at Daddy.
Mrs SOC, Joel's Missus, and Joel's daughter there with the Missus.
Stan spent a lot of time at the front, trying to break clear of the field. One move he made had serious promise but about half the field eventually bridged, putting him at a distinct disadvantage since he doesn't sprint well. In some of his more promising moves SOC, myself, Mike, and Joel would mark the counter-moves, and Joel brought back some moves himself. One such effort spent Joel - he dropped out shortly after it.
Because of the wind we rode closer together than normal. Although I never felt really squeezed I noticed a lot more points where I was really tucked up into other riders' drafts.
There was one corner where the guy to the outside moved in suddenly. The guy to his inside moved in, and I moved in to avoid him. The guy to my inside I think unclipped and almost put his bike down but there was no crash. I'm glad the guy made it, that's for sure.
It reminded me of something important - when you're cornering you should follow the line of the rider to your outside. This avoids the natural instinct of cutting the corner short. It's fine to cut the corner short if you're alone but in a field it's not.
Close quarters. I never felt like it got too close ever during this race.
Remember that the wide angle lens makes things look farther than they are.
The airfield history of the course means that there are no curbs and such. In the old days they had stacks of tires for the corner apexes and single tires lining the rest of the course. If you swerved off course for whatever reason you ran a pretty good risk of hitting one of those tires. In the corners riders would regularly hit their knee or shoulder or something on the stack of tires (think Casa Della Tires from Cars).
When the velodrome money (we used to pay a surcharge for each race entry for a future velodrome) didn't pan out they used the funds to pave the course and plant grass. This meant that the course was smoother pavement (it all used to be like the warm up area - you really, really didn't want to crash at the old Ninigret), there was grass, and the tires went away.
That in turn means that when it gets dicey you can just cut across the grass.
Grass surfing on the second last lap.
Approaching the bell it was pretty tight. The field was together, there were a few riders that thought they could win the sprint (I specifically thought of two CF riders who I think won the race), and the wind would mean a very tactical last lap that favored the smartest strong riders, or, conversely, the strongest smart riders.
This didn't take into account the "stack of the race", to use a quote from the tape of the Tour du Pont.
Crash One, some wiggly stuff to the front right, basically under the green tree in the picture.
Crash two - note the knee coming out mid-right field.
Crash three - now you can see a break in the field as guys are slowing hard.
Some guys had already hit the deck.
Crash four - guys tumbling to the right.
Crash five - making it past.
Crash six - closing the gaps.
After the crash Stan looked like he was still around but way over geared. I gave him a "let's go!" yell and rolled by him. The field quickly regrouped, now going fast. Cat 3s are merciless when it comes to crashes, that's for sure.
Post crash, second turn.
I knew I had to move up a bit but I also knew that the headwind would turn the sprint into slow motion. I felt comfortable that if I was at the back of the main group I could do well in the sprint. I figured one of the CF Juniors would win the race but I could get inside the top 6 and maybe the top 3 if I was in the group. Therefore my tactics revolved around staying in the group while saving as much as possible for the sprint.
I should have gone but I eased instead.
Hard tailwind at this point.
Here the rider in front of me is making an effort but fading hard. Instead of zipping around him I chose to wait a bit. I really should have gone but my conservative plan gave me an excuse to sit in just a bit more.
I hesitated here, a big mistake, especially given the tailwind.
You can see the huge hole here. We're coming up on the second right turn (there are two rights and five lefts) and the wind was howling from our backs. A little jump in the 53x11 and I could have moved up pretty hard and fast, even using my momentum through the turn and into the next straight.
Instead I waited.
Exiting the second right turn. Wind is from the right, very strong.
The howling tailwind became a howling crosswind on the next straight, so much so that a few times I found myself teetering on the edge of the pavement, trying to find shelter. When I hit the straight on the wrong side (the right/windward side) I sacrificed a bit of time to move into the sheltered position.
I suppose I could have moved up but the wind was such that I'd have dug into my sprint to do so. In hindsight it might have been worth it to use up some of my reserves. Instead I eased and moved left.
Within a few seconds I move to the left, to the sheltered side of the rider in front.
Note that if I'd moved up I wouldn't have had any shelter - everyone was echeloned to the left.
I moved left efficiently and immediately got into a sheltered position. The rider in blue/yellow is now shielding me from the wind. Ominously he's left a gap and he's not getting any shelter. I should have read this and moved up hard - with no shelter his legs would have been screaming, increasing the chances of him leaving a gap.
Exiting second last turn, wind is from the left, I have no shelter.
The second last turn dumped us into a short straight that I can never read right. I think the wind swirls due to the trees on the left and the tall bushes on the right. What I didn't realize is that it was a major crosswind from the left here and so I was getting no draft. Normally I follow pretty closely but I needed to get right to draft and there was no room right so I just stayed behind.
Before the last turn you can see the gaps in front of me.
Now you can see my mark is losing the wheel in front, and two guys in front of him there's a gap opening up. I saw this but prayed and hoped that it would come back together in the last bend. At this point I didn't have the reserves to make any effort and still have a sprint so I had to wait.
The gap going into the massive headwind sprint.
When I realized that the gap wasn't closing I had to go. I chose to go to the right, the protected side, for that little bit of drafting help, but it was a big gap considering the massive headwind.
I stayed seated and churned my way up to the "main group", the 10 or 15 riders actually fighting it out for the win.
At this point my hopes are fading but I'm still optimistic of pulling out a good sprint.
Trying to close the gap as the sprint starts.
Of course no one's going to wait for the sprint and as it started I wasn't on yet. Therefore I had accelerate while seated, trying to save my jump until the last possible moment.
After closing the gap, two guys were winning the race.
I jumped here.
After what seemed like an eternity I got onto the wheels and immediately went left to try and go around. At this point I stood to sprint, knowing I only had about 15 seconds left in the race.
Sat up as I wasn't going to pass too many riders. Meaning any.
As I sprinted I realized that the two guys way up the road had it in the bag. The guys I was trying to pass weren't cooperating with my plan - I was cooked from closing the gap before the sprint and they weren't blowing up.
So I sat up a fair bit from the line, coasted in, and did a practice bike throw. Based on the count back I think the guy to my right beat me at the line.
9th place. If I kept pedaling a little I'd have gotten 8th.
Pins were from my last number at Bethel.
I never unpinned that jersey so I just switched over the pins onto a clean jersey.