5 guys were in the 54 mile cat 3 road race. I finished 3rd. I crashed once, but am ok. The end.
War and Peace:
On Saturday I packed up the fam and bike and headed over to Marshall, IL for the Lincoln Trail State Park RR. The cat 3 edition was 12 laps of a 4.5 mile loop (54 miles total) on mostly wooded, rolling, twisty, state park road. Great course, great conditions. Each lap featured 4 kickers in the 5-10 second range, and the start/finish was set up after a mile of rollers trending upward from the lowest point on the course. With all the twists and turns you couldn’t see much more than 75 meters in front of you for most of the laps. Like I said, great course.
The field was 5 deep. Yup, 5 cat 3’s dragged themselves out of bed (at 11:10) to line it up. 2 guys from Dogfish (black jerseys) and 2 guys from IN Hand Center (white jerseys) went up against your’s truly. I had hoped that the field would be larger and more diverse but all year I’ve been racing in fields with numbers dominated by xXx and Burnham, so naturally - I was at home. I’m used to getting tag-teamed every Saturday morning.
A collective smirk was shared at the intensity of the send-off and the fact that with 50+ miles remaining, nobody was attacking at the gun. After an anticlimactic “Go!” and some softpedaling from our group, Dogfish and IN Hand began trading pulls. Later on the first lap, an IN Hand rider yelled at me to take a pull while a Dogfish grumbled about “being out here all day.” I laughed and retorted that “everyone had a teamate but me” and “there is no good reason for me to pull right now.” IN Hand repeated to me that I “should be pulling” and I said that if they want to go faster, they are more than welcome to. “If you want to drop me, then drop me” I shared. So he attacked. And that was the way it was going to be. Everyone was fresh so we watched each other and I rejected the notion that I would pull guys who had me outnumbered 2 to 1. This isn’t earth-shattering stuff, it’s bike racing 101.
Coming into the end of the 3rd (or 4th?) lap, John (IN Hand) was pulling on the rollers and I was sitting 2nd wheel. John was struggling a bit as he had done some work so far and launched a few attacks at our little love fest. His teamate attacked up the last climb, launching himself for the $25 prime on offer (he had won the previous prime, too). One of the Dogfish riders (we’ll call him Dave, but I’m not sure of his name) followed to contest it. Realizing the opportunity this offered I hit the gas too, not to contest the prime, but to try and drop John. I bridged up to the 2 off the front and went over the top holding a high pace. I kept the gas on for several minutes before yelling at the Dogfish to pull through. It had worked. The 3 of us rotated through and we were 1 IN Hand Center rider fewer. Now if I could only get Dogfish to continue pulling while I relaxed, I could try to drop both of them. Scott (unsure of name - IN Hand Center) was sitting in, and had no reason to work, what with the hope that his teamate would catch back on. We kept the rotation up for 3 laps, keeping the tempo between 23 and 26, so with each pull the likelihood of John rejoining was smaller and smaller. I felt really good during this section and noticed that I was taking longer and harder pulls than the Dogfish. [Read: you’re a darn fool, Frenchy!]
With 7 laps in the books (or was it on the 7th lap?) I decided enough was enough and stopped pulling. This angered the Dogfish, and the cooperation and steady pace we had enjoyed ended. We went back to Dogfish relay attacking, which was fine, although tiring. Which was the entire point. Generally, I was forcing Scott (IN Hand) to chase down the Dogfish flyers first, and then following his wheel. Obviously he wasn’t interested in doing the lion’s share so at one point, called my bluff, letting a gap open. Dave had a decent gap and realizing the opportunity, kicked it up a knotch to tempt us with 4.5 laps to go. I realized I had made a mistake as now both riders on my wheel had disinsentives to chase. Brian (Dogfish) wouldn’t chase his teamate, and Scott (IN Hand) could say he was waiting for his dropped mate. I was in a pickle. So I pulled. Once Scott saw I took a long hard pull, he pulled through, but not as long and not as hard. Ufh. Just before the rollers I ramped up the pace to close the last 30 meters to Dave and therein made my second tactical mistake. I should have attacked. Dave had been off the front for several miles, and since we had to actually work to catch him, he was probably the weakest of the bunch at that moment. I should have attacked hard through the rollers to try to shed him. Alas, I grabbed his wheel and we slowed down. [Read: c’mon Frenchy, work!]
We were now back to Dogfish relay attacking and being a little tired from all the chasing found myself with Brian and Scott up the road a bit with me sitting on Dave’s (a Dogfish) wheel. I tried talking Dave into chasing his teamate. Explained at length how tired I was from chasing him, but he was having none of it. So of course I sprinted as hard as I could to open a gap on him and went over the top of Scott and Brian off the front. I had a gap on all 3 and they were strung out themselves, not working together but struggling to get on terms individually. And here I made my third mistake – on a kicker I let up after seeing that everyone was intent on chasing hard. I should have kept it going for another couple minutes (even at a lower intensity) in order to shed someone or significantly weaken the other riders. As it was, I only tuckered myself out. Stoopid!
Sitting up in the group Dogfish attacked again (a good move) and I found myself back with Brian (the other Dogfish) with IN Hand up the road. Same situation, and I had let a gap open up. This time I didn’t know if I had the sprint to close the gap again, and it was clear from the pace that the guys up the road were digging deep. I jumped during the longest flat section after a significant gap had opened, in an effort to shed Brian the Dogfish. Unfortunately, while churning in my 53x11, at 34mph, I closed my eyes for a split second (this was not the course for such things!) and put my rear wheel into the gravel shoulder. The next second I exercised some kind of ninja insticts of which I was heretofore unaware – I bunnyhopped out of the gravel at 30+ mph, stabilizing myself in the roadway on my front wheel. During the process I had torqued my right shift hood inwards and unclipped with my left foot. Surprisingly I didn’t soil myself. I really did think I was going to go into the gaurdrail to my right and die. Needless to say, as I regained composure (and Brian caught me and shared that he thought I had certainly cheated death) I lost momentum and after taking the next corner, saw the 200 meter gap to the leaders grow. Now into the rollers I was not ready to power ahead at 400 watts for 2 minutes to make the catch. Surprisingly, neither was Brian. He didn’t try to jump me on the hills and get up the road solo. I assume he was either too tired to do so or too timid, thinking I would be able to follow. Regardless, this was his first mistake. I kept the pace as high as I could for the next mile and would catch glimpses of the leaders before they disappeared into the trees but I didn’t have it in me to reel them in and I certainly didn’t want to get too close only to have Brian bridge and drop me.
My pace slowed considerably at this point and Brian just sucked wheel – as he should. With just over 3 laps remaining, I was not too chipper about the situation. I resolved to recover and outsprint him at the line, so I pulled at 18 mph. The gap to the leaders ballooned out to over 3 minutes by the finish. What I didn’t know (but REALLY wish I did) was that up the road Scott (IN Hand) had started cramping and fallen off the pace of Dogfish. I have to think that had I known that fact I could have mustered Brian to chase with me and we would have been racing for second and not third. Alas, the fans were either too ignorant or unwilling to share this critical info. Here was my fourth mistake. Keeping a higher pace might have meant that we would have caught him, but I didn’t want to present Brian with an opportunity to attack me – there’s the rub.
Entering the last lap, my dear wife (who was not giving us splits!) made a bid for wife of the year as she approached the road (unbidden!) with a fresh bidon. We had discussed the possibility of a feed earlier, and we even practiced handing off a bottle in the parking lot (once), but she executed it to perfection and I now had fresh water in 90 deg. heat. Bless you woman. On top of that my (nearly) 3 year old yelled out a “Go Daddy Go!” reinvigorating my tired carcass. Brian asked me if that was my kid and we began a brief over-the-shoulder chat about our kids. It was while looking back at him (not the time for such things!) that I departed the roadway for the ditch. I kept it up through it and on the return trip back to the roadway caught a rut and fell over at about 12 mph. Scratched up, I was pissed. How could I have let this happen? Brian, in a class gesture, waited for me as I loosened up my rear brake to avoid the rim strike on the whobbly wheel. After a minute of righting myself, I went back to pulling.
With 2 miles remaining I upped the pace a little to speed the end of this march to the line. Coming into the rollers Brian attacked up the left side and began to swerve back and forth across the roadway in an effort to drop me. I held his wheel and he found himself in the unenviable possition of leading me out in a match sprint. While I have ZERO track experience I think I’m pretty good at this kind of thing. He made several mistakes (that I will not elucidate here – in hopes that others will perpetuate them) and I jumped him with about 200 meters to go and won by a bike or 2. I threw at the line just in case, nabbing my first podium finish in a cat 3 race.
Not winning in such a small field was rather humbling considering I’m on the best form of the year. While I “trained through” this race, the power numbers I’ve seen in the last week are quite good (for me). It goes to show me that I need to be more subtle in the tactical department and wiser before I begin winning races at this level.
I can’t believe you read all that. Next up is the Gateway Cup, which serves as the end of my road season.