Any doubt you had about the taxing nature of WMSR should be erased by the fact that it's taken me until Monday night to write up how the points race went down. Don't get me wrong, racing three days in a row during the work week is a great idea, but it's only because it's such a bad idea. I needed a whole weekend to recover from the racing, driving, and not sleeping.
Going into the points race I was hanging onto 2nd overall by 1 point, having just won the field sprint in the road race. Since the points race is basically 12 field sprints in 15 miles, I had this idea that I was going to do well. I started calculating how much I needed to beat the overall leader by to win the whole thing. I counted the shit outta those chickens.
I knew racing a bike on a rough quarter mile track was going to be dicey, but I wasn't ready for just how insane the guy who was in third on GC was. Most people, when surrounded by other racers, might "take them into account" while riding. Not this guy. I should have known after he went miles across the yellow line trying to see the crash behind him in the road race -- he was only dimly aware of his surroundings. Thus I was the first guy to nearly get crashed by him, when I picked his wheel to follow in sprint #1. Two guys in front of him slowed, so he swung ten feet up the track without looking, leading to me and everyone else who almost got their front wheel taken out freaking out. Meanwhile, he took second in the sprint, which only rewarded his sketchy behavior.
But, there was no way he was going to get through 12 sprints using the "change lines without looking" sprinting strategy. We ramped up for the next sprint and he tried to come around someone on the outside of the turn -- touched elbows with them, FREAKED OUT and headed six feet up the track, just like last time. Too bad Sam Evans-Brown was riding on his outside this time. Down they went, with Sam escaping injury by surfing sketchy-guy's carbon wheels. And that was the end of that.
After that the pack settled down, having remembered that you can lose a lot of skin and equipment in the blink of an eye. Of course it didn't hurt that the sketchiest rider in the field was walking back to his car...
One thing I didn't foresee about the points race was how much harder it is to win a sprint when everyone's fresh. My road race sprints have come after an hour and after many hills -- so many of the larger gentlement are shelled, or at least gassed, when the last k hits. But when you're on sprint #2 at the 2.5-mile mark of the race -- everyone's a hero.
Try as I might I couldn't do better than fourth in a sprint. Points were 5/3/2/1 so I was scoring, but VERY slowly. At the midway sprint (double points) I went all-out, but everyone else did too. Fourth again. At this point I had five points and a ton of lactic in my legs. Meanwhile you could've gotten double that just by resting and then winning the halfway sprint. Needless to say, my tactics sucked.
The problem was that I'd won two road races sprints by letting everyone else go early and then jumping at 200m. On the track, 200m to go is halfway down the backstretch! I should have been punching it there, but for some reason I had this idea I could jump people in the last 50m, off the last turn. Because I'm Mark Cavendish.
Well, I'm not, so I kept jumping off the last corner and moving from 6th to 4th. And as any sprinter will tell you, jumps ain't free.
So I took a sprint off, which was still surprisingly taxing -- if you don't contest the sprint, you chase the entire lap after the sprint to get back to the group -- and thought about what I was doing wrong. It seems obvious in retrospect, but at the time "positioning myself better" required deep thought. Lactic acid makes good decisions hard. Don't act like you haven't been there.
On the next bell lap I had forced my way to the front (probably too far up, but hey, it's better than 7th) when someone jumped and came flying past. I didn't react, because (1) my legs were worthless for anything more than 10 seconds and (2) I'd been passing whomever led out the sprint consistently, so it was obviously not a good idea. As a result, the jumper got a gap, someone came around me to chase, I got their wheel, and came around when they burned out to take second. Oh, I see how you do this.
Now that I knew what I was doing I skipped the next sprint, because hey, why keep a good thing going? Plus, my legs hurt.
With 10 to go we had almost the exact same sprint, same guy jumped with a lap to go, someone other than me chased him down, and I came up to 3rd to grab two more points. Success! Incredible pain... and success.
I decided to skip another sprint, because I was dying. Unfortunately the early-jumper guy took that one ALSO, which meant I had lost 2nd place on GC to him. He'd started the day 13 points behind me, and would be 15 ahead if the race finished now.
Don't think I figured this out mid-race. I just crunched the numbers afterward.
Coming into the last sprint I was tied for 8th. I still could have leaped to 2nd or 3rd with a win, but guess what, everyone who had anything left was going for it. Like it was the end of the race or something! My reluctance to learn about positioning was not helping, as I hit one-to-go as seventh wheel yet again. I emptied the tank along with everyone else -- fifth into the last corner, pulling alongside fourth place at the line, throwing the bike and just barely getting ahead of him for two points -- enough to vault me up to 5th and hang onto 2nd in GC by only four points.
Like I said, I knew none of this at the time. It's better to be lucky than good.
I've used my new stage racing cred to apply for Cat 4 status, so if you're lucky there will be a "so then I attacked, and 50 people were able to cover it" race report in the future.
Like every other part of WMSR, the points race was a great bad idea. Sprinting against Cat 5's through corners and bumps for 40 minutes? Safe, easy AND fun! I can't wait to do it next year.
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