I wrote in my last post about wanting to try a breakaway in a race. I won’t rehash all the details of my plan, since they’re laid out clearly in that post.
So, how did it go? Surprisingly, it turned out almost exactly like I had imagined! This year there was an excellent turnout, and my group had about 30 guys in it. Most people here were Category 4 or 5 racers, and many Masters racers. The first half of the race was spent riding into the wind. A couple people tried to go off the front, but it always got chased down.
Next we turned into a crosswind for about a quarter mile, which lead up to a right-hand turn onto a hill with a stiff tailwind. As I explained in the previous post, my plan was to shoot to the front in the crosswind, corner fast, and then punch it on the hill. I had been able to conserve a lot of energy on the headwind section, so I felt comfortable executing my plan. According to Strava I held 26+ mph on the corner, and then pushed hard up the hill. I actually think my biggest gap came from cornering so fast, because about halfway up the hill I glanced under my armpit and saw I was completely alone. I think if I had coordinated with 4 or 5 other people to go with me, this break might have stuck. However on my own, my FTP is just too low. I held out for about a mile, and saw that the gap was just slightly decreasing, and no more than 5 seconds or so. Thus I soft-pedaled and formed back with the group.
In the next 4 or 5 miles several people tried to get away. However, one team was well-represented at the front, and so I knew that as long as it wasn’t one of them going off the front, then the flyer would get chased down. In those last 5.5 miles we averaged over 26 mph over rolling terrain, so it was a fast finish (tailwind helped a lot).
When we were about a mile out from the finish I lined up behind the guy I knew to be the best sprinter there. I could have gotten behind him earlier, but I didn’t want him to notice me and try to shake me off his tail. So around mile out I tucked behind him and stayed there. It was a very tight bunch, with about 10 or so guys thinking seriously about sprinting. Unfortunately only 4 or 5 of them actually had the legs to do so, so as the sprint got started it was difficult to pick through the crowd. I followed behind my man as he launched, but he had a really good kick and got some separation from me. I pushed hard and peaked at 40mph, crossing the line at about 35mph (it was an uphill sprint, hence the deceleration). I got second, which I was very proud of, though of course I wish I could have contested the sprint better.
- I need to work on my FTP. I already knew this, but a concrete example always helps you get out the door to train it.
- Fast cornering can open big gaps. Especially in a big group, you can assume that the back 80% of the peloton will need to slow through the corner. It can potentially be much more than that if the people at the front aren’t comfortable cornering. So it’s worth it to eat the wind a bit if it means you can get a nice gap through the corner.
- Find which teams are well represented at the start of the race. Because I knew that one particular team was well represented, I knew they wouldn’t let anyone else go. There were several times where I almost went to chase down a flyer, but held back because I saw no one from that team was in it. Each time I was right, and the break got reeled in by them, and I stayed sheltered.
- Be proactive at the sprint. I was waiting for my man to jump, and then I planned to try to pass him at the end. The problem was that the time between seeing him react, and me being able to react, was simply too long. Once he went I still needed to get out of the saddle, shift, and get wound up. By the time all that happened he already had several bike lengths on me. Instead, I need to anticipate when he will jump. That way I can truly stick with him.
I felt like this was a great learning experience. This was exactly the kind of learning experience that I feel I didn’t have enough of in Category 5. I also suspect that this year in Cat 4 the races will be sufficiently fast that I’ll have a hard time getting these sorts of experiences very often. Thus I need to grab these opportunities to race “below my category” whenever possible. I also need to train my butt off this season, so that next season I’ll be able to have these learning experiences again, but this time in Cat 4.