This Saturday, August 16th is the Iowa State Road Race Championships. I’ll be competing in category 5, and plan to request an upgrade afterwards. Thus this should be my last cat 5 race, and I’d really like to go out with a solid result. Preferably a win, but definitely a podium. If I don’t win I’ll be a little disappointed, but if I don’t podium I’ll be very disappointed.
Physical Preparation: I’ve been doing 1 minute intervals 1-2 times per week for a couple months now. I’ve felt that one of my weaknesses is doing a hard effort and then recovering. Based on the group riding I’ve been doing I think these intervals have paid off. In addition I’ve been working on my sprint form. I started about a month or two ago with the idea that by sprinting more I’ll gain more power, but I can also improve my form to get more “free speed.” I have no reason to believe I’m the strongest person though, though I do think I’m in the top 5. In order to move from top 5 power to the winner I’ve been investing some time in mental preparation.
Course: 32 mile loop, done once. The first two miles look like they will essentially be a neutral rollout. We’ll be going through town and it’s very flat. Then we hang a right up Vine road and stay on it for around 10 miles. Vine road is mostly rolling hills, though the hills aren’t very big and there aren’t too many of them. I don’t think the hills alone will be enough to form a split. The longest (though not steepest) uphill is the final one on Vine, at the top of which we hang a right. This back straight is flat and uneventful, and we stay on it for 6 miles. The last 13 miles are on Riverside road. The first half or so of Riverside road is flat, and the second half has some small hills. Essentially the last 2.5 miles are downhill, but flattens out for about half a mile before the finish. The center line rule is enforced, although apparently they open it up for the last kilometer.
Weather: Right now (Thursday, race is on Saturday) Wunderground is reporting temps in the high 70s with a 40% chance of rain. Winds at 10mph from the south, meaning a headwind up Vine (the first straight with light rollers) and a tailwind on Riverside (the last straight towards, mostly flat). With a rain forecast like 40% there’s just no telling, but those winds are the direction of the prevailing winds around here, and seem completely reasonable. Thus right now I’m planning with those winds in mind.
Competitors: As of this point there’s 11 people registered, so I’m guessing a field of 20 or so. According to USA Cycling, four of them have not raced this season, so I think it’s reasonable to essentially ignore them for now. Out of those remaining seven I know 3. Thus removing them (and myself) that leaves 3 unknowns. Of the people I know, one I am not at all worried about because his fitness is low. One is a good friend of mine who has good fitness but little race experience. I think he will factor into my strategy (below). The final person I know is both strong and has good race experience this season, and has podiumed on almost every race. He will also factor one. Of the people I don’t know who have raced this season, none have posted many interesting results, though one is a triathlete (via Strava), so they’re always ones to watch out for, as they can sometimes just motor away.
Hoped-for Outcome: Because I don’t expect to be the very strongest (at least not by a large margin), I don’t expect to solo in, even just for a mile or two. I’ll keep an eye on everyone, as there’s a small hill about 2.5 miles out, but I doubt they’ll all be so dead that I could just ride away. Thus I’m expecting a sprint finish. I think a reasonable-sized breakaway is very possible, so the sprint could be from that, or a true bunch-sprint finish. I feel good about my chances in a finishing sprint.
Strategy: I expect that due to some initial excitement, there will be a couple people pushing the pace on the rollers. I’m expecting a headwind there, so I need to be sure to stay with the front group if a split occurs, otherwise I probably can’t bridge. I feel pretty confident on rollers, so my plan on Vine (the rollers) is to stay near the front, but sheltered by at least 3 people. I’ll be careful to watch out for slower people who may get in front of me and slow me down on the climbs, thus causing me to split from the group. Because of the headwind I want to be careful to not be the one doing any closing of gaps. Thus I’m going to stay close behind the two people I know to be fast. I plan to spend absolutely zero time riding into the headwind unsheltered. If needed I can just labor my breathing a bit more to suggest I don’t have the fitness there to pull. There’s a small hill at the end of Vine road, and I think some people might try to use it to form a break. However, the gradient is quite low (3-4%), so aerodynamics will still play a big role. Thus if I can stay sheltered behind them I should be able to stay with any break that might occur and expend minimal energy doing it.
Now we’re onto the back straight. If a split hasn’t already formed then I fully expect the group to basically stay together until the end of the race. Even though we’ll be in cross/tailwinds for the rest of the race, there are basically no hills and no teams. Thus even though someone may try to form a break, I’m guessing it will only serve to tire themselves out. I’ll still be keeping a close eye out though in case I’m wrong.
So, let’s assume we have a breakaway and I’m in it. The rest of the course we’ll be in a cross/tailwind, and so I can’t really just sit in. Thus I’m expecting to do my share of pulling in order to keep us moving, though I do hope to conserve just a little more than the others. I do not feel like time trial-style efforts are my strong suit, so this part does worry me a bit. However I have done plenty of group riding this season, so I’ll just need to rely on that experience and fitness to stay with them.
Now let’s fast-forward to the last 3 miles. There’s one slight hill about 2.5 miles out, and then a gradual downhill for another mile or two, and then a flat last mile. Because of the tailwind I assume everyone in the break will be about equally tired. However, people will also know that this is their last chance to “go for glory.” In addition, you can see the finish line from a good mile or two away, so people may get antsy. If I want to win this race, I think this is the crucial part where I need to be smarter than everyone else. Going up that last hill I’m going to keep an eye on everyone else, just in case they happen to look completely spent. With a downhill tailwind there is always a possibility of soloing in for the win, but I think this is unlikely (for me or anyone else). My plan is to stay about 5 people back or so going down those last 2 miles. Because of the tailwind and downhill, I can launch my sprint earlier than normal. However, if I start from too far up then everyone will see me and I’ve probably gained nothing. On the other hand, since we’ll have a tailwind starting from the very back means I’ll be working just as hard as everyone in front of me. My guess is that one or two people will want to launch much earlier (1.5 to 2 miles out) in a bid for glory. I want to be careful to not be the one doing the chasing, but instead let one or two strong people do it for me. Let those lone heroes tire themselves out and then try to figure how to get off the front without just dropping off and losing contact.
Finally I’ll rely on my sprint practice this season to seal the deal. I really enjoy sprinting and feel pretty comfortable with it. I think I’ve trained myself into a position that if it turns out like how I’ve described I can take the win.