Approaching this race I'd had a short "block" of training, doing my April and May hours (14 total) in June (16 hours) and a bunch of of hours at the beginning of July. However I'd just ridden three times in the last two weeks, with two of those rides being shorter, slower, and admittedly less demanding rides. My one training ride was also pretty easy, trying to reintroduce my legs to the idea of pedaling.
I came into tonight's race with no expectations other than to enjoy the beautiful weather. With the temperatures in the mid 70s, with very low humidity, it felt like San Diego during my training camps. It was cool enough that I brought an uninsulated bottle to carry with me on the bike. As a precaution I also bought one of the heavily insulated Podium Ice bottles I prefer in warm weather.
With the Missus and Junior set up with their chairs and cooler I got ready to race. No warm up as I preferred to spend the time catching up with some of the folks, racers and not, at the venue.
At the start.
For such a beautiful day the field seemed small. I figured there'd be 50 or more riders, but it was more like 30-35 riders. Regardless the field seemed a good size, big enough for shelter, small enough to let riders move around a bit.
Roll off, no neutral laps
We headed off with no neutral laps. Although the pace was fast it wasn't crazy fast, and the field settled into an uneasy truce. Expo usually had numerical superiority, and although we were short a number of regulars, we could still field a good half dozen riders. Two other teams usually had numbers, the Blues and the Yellows. The Blues were short today, I think fielding just one or two riders, and the Yellows had two. One of their two had soloed to a clear victory the last time I was there so he was obviously the one to mark.
Getting ready to rumble. Aaron is to my left, TJ in front.
Jon is in orange, and the rider in black gets a mention as well.
With the two main teams standing off everyone waited for the opening moves. Expo's strongest Cat 4s, looking to do well, were Aaron and Nick. The rest of us, including two Cat 3s, were really there to support their efforts.
Break up the road; Aaron in it.
When Aaron went up the road TJ and I marked moves. Jason, of Yellow, ended up at the front, took a pull, then looked to see why no one was pulling through.
Sorry Jason, no help from the two back here.
All he saw were two of Aaron's teammates. After a bit of waiting, maybe to see if Aaron would blow up, he went to the front and started pulling.
In fact I drifted back a bit to get more shelter because I was a bit exposed at the front.
Jason single handedly pulls the field back.
In a few laps of steady, powerful riding Jason closed the gap.
Jason catching Aaron and co.
Aaron is just around the corner in the picture above, maybe 20 meters in front of Jason, 3 or 4 seconds. I lost focus for a bit, I was looking down a lot (so my helmet cam clip doesn't tell me much), and suddenly the race situation changed.
Another break goes, no Expo in it.
Note the very artistic yellow circle - that's where the break is in the picture.
Another break went, a perfect time really. The field was strung out, the probably-strongest guy had just pulled for a bunch of laps, Aaron had been off the front so he was a bit cooked, and everyone else had been hiding from the wind. Two riders took off. TJ didn't go, I didn't go (I didn't even know they went), and the two moved away with no Expo rider tagging along.
I tell Aaron who to mark before I go to the front.
With Aaron a bit tweaked from his efforts off the front and TJ suffering from all the jumping around to hold second wheel I realized that I needed to do some hard work. I took the opportunity to tell Aaron who to mark, then after his nod I rolled up to and past the front of the field.
Beginning the chase. Jon was pulling.
I circled the break in very artistic yellow. They weren't that far ahead, and my goal was to bring the whole field up, not to bridge myself up. Therefore I pulled steady and not that fast, trying not to gap off the field. Some gaps opened up regardless but overall the field was motivated to stay together so I kept going. After about half a lap I rolled up to the break, with Aaron just behind.
I blew just after I caught on so I sat up, intending to stop. The two man break rolled away again, an unintended result of my sitting up at Turn One. By Turn Two the fragmented field looked… fragmented.
After a lap I'm blown, this is at Turn Two after four riders have passed me.
Aaron blew by, followed by Jason, marked by TJ, and one other rider. I was going so slow, they were going so fast, I figured that was it. A few length gap, then more riders, more gaps, more riders.
Doubting if I can stay in the race.
As the rest of the group streamed by I stayed on the hoods, effectively signaling my intent to drop out of the race. It took so long for the fragmented field to roll by that I followed the last three riders into Turn Three. I got good protection from the wind (from the left at first, then from the right, necessitating a tricky move from the right to the left) and hoped the field would collectively ease.
They did and I groveled for about three laps before deciding that I shouldn't give up, that I should keep going. I didn't realize that Aaron had gotten away from the field along with the Yellow that had been in the break I chased down then let go. The effect of TJ and Jason at the front, blocking, meant that the field eased a bit.
Then two very strong, very fit riders took responsibility for the chase. They traded pulls for ten minutes, keeping the field strung out.
Aaron and another are gone. Two guys pulling the field along.
After a few laps of everyone staying in the same order I realized that this is what it must be like in the pros, when there's a break, there are a few riders pulling the field, and the rest of the field is just waiting. The riders pulling are doing so for a reason, and the riders waiting have nothing to do except stay on the wheel in front of them.
A side effect of this is that you get to learn all the idiosyncrasies of the rider in front of you, and, in a crosswind, the rider in front of them.
In my case I happened to be behind an ERRACE rider Michelle, and she was on a Biker's Edge rider. I watched how they dealt with the final straight "left-right" wind, how they cornered, how they accelerated. You learn more about a rider in this kind of environment than you can in pretty much any other environment - with multiple laps around the same circuit, with wind hitting you from all directions, it's a telling exam.
Initially, before I relaxed in my spot, I'd been trying to edge in front of Michelle and even the Biker's Edge rider. However I realized that there was no point to it so I just settled behind the two. Likewise whoever was behind me settled down as well.
TEN minutes later, riders in the same order.
Rider in blue was one of two pulling for those ten minutes.
If you look at the other riders you might think the two above pictures were taken 20 seconds apart.
I did make one mistake, I think it was during this time - I cleared a nostril to my left. In fact I cleared my right side much earlier but there had been a rider to my left so I decided to wait until it was clear to do the left side. I figured this was the time. I moved to the left a bit just after Turn One to give myself room. However the rider behind me moved left also. I didn't check, didn't signal, and when I "cleared" I heard a surprised (and probably disgusted) yelp. So apologies again, after the apologies I muttered at the time. It was my fault, my bad. Next time I'll check first.
At any rate one of the two riders finally got disgusted with the lack of help (or he got tired) and drifted back into the field. This broke the "Tour de France chase" spell and riders started moving up and around and stuff.
The lap cards came out (they count down the last 5 laps only), more shuffling, and soon it was one to go.
I'd drifted back a lot to find Nick but he wasn't around. Ends up he flatted out, ironically running over a safety pin. TJ wasn't looking very fresh - he'd been sitting in the top five for probably the entire race, covering everything for Expo. I looked around for a rider to help while still trying to maintain some generically good position. It's no good to offer to help someone but then not be able to help them.
Jason is to my front left.
At the bell I was in fine position, although really any position would have been fine in the smaller field. There were a couple riders I'd want to avoid - mainly ones that acted hesitant in the turns or one that switched lines pretty abruptly - but otherwise any wheel was a good one.
I also gambled on a long move from Jason. He's incredibly strong and fit and I expected him to win the sprint from the front. Anyone that beat him would have to be vigilant and have a jump left after following Jason for a good 200-300 meters.
Telling Jon to get on my wheel.
As we rounded Turn One I pulled up even with Jon, the guy that was chasing when I put in my big move. He's one of the riders really learning in the B races. He's impressed me both on and off the bike - he seems pretty savvy, he is generally a super aware rider, and he isn't afraid of working, and off the bike he's always been gracious and kind and polite. Sort of spur of the moment I decided that it would be fun to give him a massive leadout.
I looked over, told him to get on my wheel.
Just as the words were sinking in a slowing rider came back to us. I went right, Jon had to go left because he was already to the left of the slowing rider's wheel.
And then that was it, we were in two different lanes, separated by a line of riders.
Parallel moving up, Jon to my left.
I went up the right side, basically on my own, while Jon followed TJ following Jason who had made the expected early move. Jon got caught in traffic so that was that. Now it was down to seeing if I could get back up to Jason and get him before the line, even though I'd been in the wind much more than I preferred.
Going to the right.
Coming out of Turn Three Jason had a pretty good gap to three riders, with me sitting just behind them. As one started to fade I went right, on the protected side. I gambled on being able to move back to the left, for shelter. I knew that shelter would be worth 20 or 30 or 40 meters at the line and therefore it was worth getting shelter for a bit and sacrificing position.
Now committed to the right.
However TJ blew trying to follow Jason and he naturally tried to get closer to anyone sprinting up to him. This side-by-side made it a bit wide for me to dive left - if it was just one rider then I'd have moved left, I had the room - I'd have ended up in TJ's spot. With two riders it would have been a super sketchy and dangerous move.
Therefore I stayed right, knowing I'd be feeling the full brunt of the wind.
Sure enough the wind hit me hard, zapping my sprint right out of my legs. I thought for a moment that I could get around the rider in black and then pass Jason on his sheltered left.
Blowing up right.
The problem was I couldn't pass the rider in black and I promptly blew up. I was out of the race and I knew it so I checked to make sure I was clear and moved out of the sprint lane. Ends up the rider in black caught and passed Jason, winning the field sprint, so he did a great sprint. If you look at the pictures he's pretty much never on a wheel so he did a massive solo sprint.
After a cool down lap I rolled over to Aaron, who, with his sunglasses, had an unreadable look on his face. He and another guy had finished ahead of us in the break but I hadn't heard one way or another if he won or not. He didn't look crushed, like he got second, but then again second wasn't bad either, so maybe he was happy to have stayed away.
Remind me not to play cards with Aaron.
With that out of the way he couldn't help but grin a lot more. He was very thankful, he knew that me pulling back the break helped set up the race's outcome. At the same time he made the race as well, doing the first attack, forcing Jason to pull for a number of laps, then going again before Jason could go with him. Overall a very strong race for Aaron, very astute, very fit, and one that made me proud. TJ was great also, marking everyone so well. It's exhausting doing that - I can't do it - and he still managed to be at the front in the sprint.
Next time it'd be nice to work on sprint stuff. It's harder to stay away in the "real" races. All too often they end in field sprints and to prepare for that requires some "field work", if you will. You can't do field work when you're not in the field.