At the finish line of Sunapee I was extremely annoyed by my performance and looking for redemption. The crowd told me that the road race season was nearly over, and some monstrosity called "crit season" is coming up -- but there was another road race coming up, Lake Auburn.
That sealed it, as a hyper-competitive, results-obsessive moron I had to go do Lake Auburn, lest I have to live with the knowledge that I suck really bad in road races for 12 more months.
So, into another full Cat 5 field I went. The Auburn course is simple, but nice -- unlike Sunapee it has a lot of turns and back roads, so there were no outraged drivers stuck behind us, and also unlike Sunapee it has a long enough stair-step climb to kick people off the back for good. The course is an 11 mile loop with a short wall at the 1 mile mark and the stair-step climb to a false flat at the finish line. We were doing three loops.
The race is run by the Maine Cycling Club of which my Dad is a member, so obviously when he volunteered to drive a follow car they gave him my field. Talk about feeling the pressure not to get shelled!
The race started and we hill the wall at the one mile mark, and the immediate threat of getting dropped was due to 50 Cat 5's shifting out of their big rings under high tension. *ping* *ping* *ping-clank "AW, SHIT!"* One dropped chain, one foot down, which leads to five guys putting feet down and having to restart on a 12% grade.
I find it very annoying that all these guys who can't shift their bikes are strong enough to pull the field along at 27 if I try to attack.
Anyway, I think almost everyone regrouped from the early hill carnage, and away we went. I didn't feel very good on lap one, probably related to supplementing my breakfast with McDonalds (oh, but breakfast is the freshest meal they make!) and getting a three minute warmup. Being a road race I was rolling around at a 140 heart rate and then spiking to 180 on the climbs, not exactly a recipe to settle your stomach. But at least I was "racing smart" and staying off the front at all costs... and so was everyone else, which is why we ended up averaging 22 mph for the race.
On lap two I ended up on the front for the biggest downhill and spun out my 46x11 trying to keep the field from bunching up, much to the chagrin on anyone who was chasing after the first wall. At the bottom I was still only pushing 160 bpm, and it occurred to me that I regularly do 2 hour mtb races above 175, so I could probably stay on the front at this effort for a long time with minimal side effects. So I did.
Graham from Hup (the only guy I knew in the field) rolled up soon afterward and we alternated pulling the field around for a while. I realized that, at least in an every-man-for-himself road race, the optimal strategy is to do almost nothing on the flats, but it's also the most boring, so screw it, I'm working. I'm sure all the guys coasting behind me appreciated it... but I think my legs also appreciated the wakeup call.
The only bummer was that at one point when I was just about to swing off, a Bowdoin kid launched an attack that was exactly the type of thing I would have wanted to go with, had I not been tired from hanging out on the front. No one else wanted anything to do with his attack, so he sat up rather than attempt a 15-mile solo.
Ending lap two on the big stair-step climb I decided that I would launch my requisite "stupid attack" for the day and see if I could get away with some of the climbers, and maybe stick it to the larger gentlemen that I had heard discussing their plan of "conserve conserve conserve."
We get to the final pitch of the climb and I throw down my big stupid attack, (490w for 40 seconds, I weigh 66 kg, you tell me if that's good or not) pretty much as hard as I dare to go assuming that if it actually draws out some guys I'm going to have to keep working hard all the way across the flats at the top. It draws out some guys all right... basically the entire field. I hit the top and check to see what's going on and find the entire goddamn field is on my wheel. Strung out, breathing hard, but they're all. there.
Man, I hate road racing.
I was so intimidated after this happened, realizing that much of the field could climb at least as fast as me, that I swore off making any more stupid attacks, and decided that hanging as best I could up the final climb was all I could stomach. Solo glory be damned. Sorry, Jens.
So we rolled around another lap and prepared for the final showdown. My spirits were boosted significantly by noticing that the field was a lot smaller than it had been -- I counted 23 guys left in the group, so we'd shelled half the field, and I can certainly pretend that my attack was responsible for some of that.
While I was congratulating myself for shelling fat men and 13-year-olds, the Bowdoin kid shot off the front again with five miles to go, and this time I wanted nothing to do with it because if the whole field can cover me climbing, there's no way I'm getting away on the flats. Everyone else had the same feeling, so the Bowdoin kid set off for solo glory.
For the next three miles he rode an all-out TT, never more than 15 seconds up on a field that was still mostly at conversation pace. I have no idea why he didn't sit up. We caught him just as the final climb kicked up and he went straight out the back. It was a quality stupid attack, I could learn a thing or two from him.
Alright, the final throwdown! I was positioned pretty far back when we hit the first wall on the stair-step, and further slowed by dodging the Bowdoin kid as he hurtled back through the field, and when I got to the top I was a good 50 yards behind the leaders with multiple gaps open. Crap. Some of the guys around me seemed resigned to their fate, but an NEBC guy and myself were not, so we jumped from wheel to wheel on the false flat before the next stair step and eventually caught back on, albeit at massive cost to my legs.
The second step is longer and steadier, and I had just rejoined the group at the back, so I spent the whole climb going around the wheel in front of me to stay on the rapidly-shrinking lead group. My grasp on the group was tenuous to say the least, but when I checked behind me at the top there was no one there, making me the worst climber to make the final selection.
Now we only had 1.5k to go with 8 or 9 guys, so we got very tight, at least in my limited experience. There was one guy on the front who didn't want to be there, two guys trying to draft him, three guys behind them, etc. I was stuck against the yellow line and taking entirely too much wind at the back of the group, but after the third time I elbowed some guy's ass trying to move over I decided I would just stay there.
We were going briskly but not that fast (27 up a false flat?) and I was completely boxed in on the yellow line, but starting at 200m we could use the whole road, so there wasn't much I could do except wait for the road to open and then hit it. I was trying to find the 200m sign when the sprint opened up, the guy in front of me was out of the saddle but I was able to stay somewhat on him while seated (600w), there's the 200m sign... I took off across the line with everything I had (960w for 10s) -- click, click, out of gears, just go!
The nice thing about a power tap is that everyone else who reads this can immediately judge my sprinting abilities. Anyway, they were good enough:
I made a comment afterward that I was the worst climber and best sprinter to make the selection, to which someone responded "that's road racing." Guess so. There were seven guys stronger than me climbing, but thanks to a finish line not atop a hill I was able to bag a glorious Cat 5 win. Make no mistake -- after failing miserably in two former attempts to win a Cat 5 race, I am stoked, even if this whole thing seems kind of silly. Too bad the road season is basically over.
Fun Cat 5 anecdotes! Three guys got DQ'ed from our field for three separate reasons. Rider #1 missed the start due a bike issue, then backtracked the course, waited in a driveway, and jumped into our field. Unfortunately the follow car saw him and DQ'ed him, but hey, at least he did get to race a bit. Kind of understandable, really. Rider #2 crossed the finish line and immediately unleashed an F-bomb in front of the crowd/children/officials. Whoops. Heat of the moment, I guess I can understand that one.... Rider #3 crossed the finish line and "immediately" decided to take a nature break -- COME ON, DUDE!
Good times. I hate to say it, but I might end up in another one of these things (or even Wells Ave) if the MTB calendar bottoms out on me again.
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