Intro: This was my final race of the season, and one of two “A” races for me. However, it was also the only true road race I did this season. I have done two “road races” this season, but one I got dropped within a couple miles and abandoned (first race of the season), and the second was only 13 miles. So even though I really wanted to do well and had prepared as best I could, I had no idea how it would go. My goal was to get on the podium, and I really wanted a win.
I covered a lot of details about this race in my previous post, so I’ll keep these brief here.
Course/Conditions: The course was a single 32 mile loop, ridden clockwise. The southbound portion had some lightly rolling hills, then the next 1/2 was very flat, then the last 1/4 had a couple small hills. Rain had been predicted, but only actually hit us for about 30 seconds at the start of the race. Winds a little under 10mph, which gave us a head/crosswind for the first half, then a tail/crosswind for the second half. Cool weather was very nice and didn’t cause any issues.
Field: The Cat 5 field consisted of 27 riders, and we were let go at the same time as the Mens 60+ field of 10 riders. I knew a couple of the cat 5 riders, including one who was very strong. I also knew one or two 60+ riders who were strong, and I thought might want to form an early break. However with such a big field, and this being a race that draws people from all over the state, I had no idea about most of the field.
Strategy: Since this was an “A” race, I did a whole post on my strategy. The TL;DR version is, try to stay with the hypothetical break, and then go for a sprint finish. See that post for all the nitty-gritty details.
Racing: There was a neutral rollout for the first mile or two to get out of town. I got to the staging area a little late, and so started at the back. However since I knew about the neutral rollout I wasn’t too worried. The centerline rule was being enforced, so I just slowly and methodically worked my way from near the back to the top 10 or 15.
Finally we took a right and the race began. About a minute after getting onto Vine ave (the southbound portion), some light rain started to fall. It was nothing more than a sprinkle, but it was enough to spook some of the newer riders. After a few seconds of rain we had a crash, which took place a few bikes in front of me. I heard varying reports about what exactly happened, so I won’t publish anything here pointing fingers. Luckily I was far enough back to be able to get around with nothing more than a quick unclip. The portion of the field that didn’t get caught up thankfully eased the pace a bit, and I was able to regain contact. However this did cause the field to split a bit, and the lead group now consisted of 15-20 riders, with others scattered out behind us.
Even before the crash one person had gone up the road, but he only held maybe 10 seconds over the pack, and wasn’t gaining. In the confusion from the crash, I believe a couple more people joined him. Unfortunately I didn’t notice this at the time. While going up Vine we were riding into a head/crosswind, so I was careful to stay sheltered and spend as little time as possible into the wind. This meant that our next turn would put us into a crosswind, and then turning again into a tail/crosswind. About a mile from the turn into the crosswind I finally realized that there was a small breakaway group, and it consisted of at least one strong rider. I knew that I had to get up to them quickly, or I had no chance of placing. There were two other guys around me, both of whom were new to racing, but seemed quite strong. We three worked together (semi-successfully) to narrow the gap to within 10 seconds or so by the turn. One of the three guys (I’ll call him “neon jersey guy”) went off on his own to try to bridge, but ended up just dangling in-between. So myself and one other guy (“tri guy”) worked together to bridge. It took a lot out of me, and I tried to get him to do as much of the work as possible. However I knew that it was super-important to close that gap, so at that moment I accepted that giving it my everything was warranted. Thankfully we ended up closing the gap, and the breakaway group kept a steady pace and allowed us in.
So at this point we were about halfway into the race, and the lead pack consisted of seven riders. I believe one of the seven was a 60+ rider, so I felt comfortable that I could place in the top 6. We could see a small group behind us chasing, but they never seemed to be a threat. However our breakaway group put in a good echelon, and even the guys who had never done a group ride before were able to pick it up alright. We kept this up for another 10 miles or so, and really worked very well together. We had a cross/tailwind during this time, so rest was minimal. About 4 miles from the end we had a short turn into the headwind, and everyone lost the will to work. We played games a little bit, but ended up organizing again because we could see the chasing group a ways back. They still didn’t seem like a threat, but none of us wanted to get caught so close to the finish.
In the last 3 or 4 miles there were a couple medium-sized hills. Nothing that really necessitated getting out of the saddle too much, but steep enough to feel. On the first one someone put in a dig, but just about everyone stayed with us. I think neon jersey guy fell off briefly, but he quickly regained contact. On the second of these hills I noticed the strong guy in the group breathing pretty hard. It occurred to me that maybe he was struggling a bit here, but after he recovered and stay with us just fine I basically forgot about it. I was feeling fairly strong, and I probably should have acted on this, but didn’t. On the last hill about two miles out we took it very slowly. Whoever was in front slowed the pace a lot, and everyone else just obliged. I’ll come back to this later, as it may be important.
Finally we headed down into the finish. The pace picked up as we prepped for the sprint. About 200m out the strong guy went. Unfortunately I was back behind three or four people, as I hadn’t moved up properly. I didn’t move up because we were going fast, and the lack of rotation meant there wasn’t much space to move up. However I still feel like this was a mistake on my part, and I should have put in more effort to get towards the front (especially with the tailwind). The guy in front of me jumped and I followed him. We were 1-2-3 then going into the final 100m. But I ran out of steam, and one person passed me. This put me in 4th, and just off the podium. I was a little surprised by my lack of finishing ability, as I thought I would be able to hold the sprint for longer. But in retrospect I realize that I hadn’t trained my sprint enough for longer distances. I’ve done some sprinting at the end of hard efforts, but always for only about 10 seconds. That’s something to keep in mind for next season.
What I Learned: (1) Especially in a crash, where there is a lot of confusion, I need to keep an eye on what’s happening up the road. It’s easy to just get focused on catching back on to the biggest group, but it’s possible that a smaller group went further up the road.
(2) Don’t be afraid to put in work if you sense weakness. In particular I’m thinking of when I noticed a strong rider breathing pretty hard going up the hill. I’ll write more about this in my next post, but I think I should have attacked on the next hill, or maybe even that hill. But I was too timid because I wanted to “save it for the sprint.” I’m not 100% positive that I could have dropped him, or that I wouldn’t have gotten counter-attacked and then dropped, but I still think I should have attacked. It would have potentially narrowed down the field, but also gotten me valuable experience.
(3) Long sprints are hard! The previous sprints I’ve done were in crits, where the final corner came not long before the finish line. This was the first time I’ve had a long, flat lead-in where you could really start the sprint whenever you want. I need to train for this some next season.
(4) Being near the front in the sprint is so important. Of course I know this, and have applied it previously, but in this race moving up was more difficult because of the center line. I didn’t fight hard enough for it, and at the time I justified it to myself as, “I’ll just move up when the person in front of me goes.” However I think this was a big mistake, and might have cost me a place or two. I don’t think I could have passed the winner, but I may have been able to get second.
Analysis: This race was a great learning experience for me. As you can see from my list above, I feel like I got several concrete lessons out of it. In addition I got some of the “you just have to be there” sort of lessons, meaning subtle experiences that your brain files away without making a big deal out of it. Road races are such a different beast from crits. I feel like it’s more about the training and awareness, and less about technique. In crits cornering is so important, but in the road race I only took four corners, none of which were of any consequence. I’ve put in my upgrade for cat 4, which means I’ll have longer road races next season. For example the cat 4 group in this race did 64 miles, which is longer than I’ve ridden this season! I’m not sure how I’ll feel about training for those sorts of races, as our group rides around here are normally in the 40-50 mile range. I feel like road races would be a lot of fun with an organized team, which is not something I’m planning to do next season.
Well that’s the end of my racing season! I’ve got another post lined up about some things I plan to change next season. I’ll also talk some about my training plans, both on the bike and off. Finally, I’m considering buying a couple books about race strategy, and posting some reviews and helpful tips from them here. It should be a busy off-season!