Yesterday was the first race of the calender year. I have been studying the different approaches to races like these from teammates as well as fellow riders of mine. Once the race was over, I surveyed a few racers to get their opinions on how the race went Sunday morning. The people I asked (both teammates and non-teammates alike) mentioned that the Cat 4 field has a surge-filled race pace. I am going to use the analogy of the ocean tide to help further explain things. I was finding it difficult to come up with a detailed report the likes of which my upper category teammates have little to no difficulty doing.
When thinking about what makes them able to assess their races would be the amount of teamwork that comes along with races these particularly flat and shorter courses. In my category there are teams that show up and they may try and start a lead-out or breakaway depending on their strengths at the time, however I am going to cautiously presume that there is a significantly less amount of teamwork involved in the more entry level race categories.
It being the first race of the year, I was feeling excited, energetic, and ready to suffer. Throughout the race, I latched on to a break-away about mid way through the race. There was no bridging required; I happened to just follow the right wheel at the right time which helped save energy. I chose to do this because I am finding a preference for a more sustained effort when the time comes to go fast. I’ve been working on my accelerating and fast-twitch muscle work, but due to my background of longer distanced training rides and more elevation profiles in my rides I felt more confident in attempting to make something like a breakaway last. There were three of us that separated from the pack with a 5-10 second lead. I happened to be third wheel of the pack at the time. The other two guys happened to be teammates which made me think that they would have a better chance at staying away from our peleton. The first wheel did a good job creating the gap, and the second wheel pulled for a less amount of time than that of the first wheel. When the first wheel broke off, he went way wide to show that he was going to have some difficult latching back on to the pack. The second wheel began slowing down and fatiguing. I had to let him know that he had done enough work for the time being and that he should probably break off and hop back on to my wheel. I contributed to the break by putting in a thirty second effort, trying to make sure there was one or two wheels behind me to pick up the slack when I was done. There was one of the two wheels behind me, getting ready to go at it again. When it came time for him to pull, the pace had begun to drag, and three more riders bridged the gap and wanted to contribute. All three of these new riders were teammates (from another team) as well, and gave me hope that things might stick.
Unfortunately things did not work out and we were caught. This would normally be the end of the line for me, but I had recovered, and started to move up when the lap cards finally came out. This being the first circuit race of the year I noticed that there were many riders who used this as a way to re-wet their feet and dust off the racing cob webs. I say this because there was braking into the corners, and riders taking their lines a lot wider after passing the apex of the turn while being bunched up with others.
I mentioned the ocean analogy earlier because I’ve always felt a learning curve when riding in a pack like this. It always feel like I’m working against the current more than I should be. I’ve learned to find the right wheels to follow when moving up towards the front of the race, and to do my best to stay out of the wind (when not in a break) and prevent from getting sucked back to the mid or back of the race. The tide may be moving in one direction, and I just happen to choose the direction of more resistance to get to where I want to go.
When there were 3 laps to go, I once again began moving up towards the front of the race. I have gotten a lot better at moving up both on the outsides and within the pack. At this point, racers began to fatigue due to the surges and having to wind up the bike after taking corners. I managed to pass a lot of wheels safely and advance my position. With one lap to go I was with the top 25 and caught a wheel that moved all the way up to the top ten. I still had some energy left in my legs that I may be able to wind things up and end up on the podium. With about three turns to go, I came across my ocean tide issue. When I say that I mean that although I was within the top ten racers, I was to the far right of the peleton, side by side with the tip of the spear who began winding up for the final sprint. I have ended up at this position more than once and find myself at a loss as where to go from there. If I had my way, I would want to be a part of that spear that gets lead out and finish the race sustaining the effort that was provided. Instead, I feel as though I had to wind things up on my own, burn more matches than those sitting in, and already topping out when those are just about to break off and sprint to the finish.
This is as critical as I can come to a race assessment. Our peleton swallowed up the multiple breakaway attempts and the train in the center lead out the winner of the race on the last lap. My fitness felt find even with the surge filled accelerations. And although I was next to the top ten at the time of the last few turns, it still turned out to be the wrong place at the time.
Maybe I was at the right place and just hesitated and choked when the time came to go for gold. During my group training rides, I have tried my best to observe as much tactics as possible and made mental notes as when to go and when to hold off. I can’t help but feel that this may come down to what feels right for the particular rider. Some like to wait for the final 200 meters, while others have a little more in the tank and can break away from the lead out at an earlier time. The time has come to shift from the more observational, note-taking style of riding, and get in their and follow through with some convincing efforts to see what works best for me and what doesn’t. I know many teammates will read this and feel obligated to chime in on my perception of the race and my performance and thoughts. I encourage all to submit your feedback. Now that I am off the bike and off the race course, I can spend my time observing and studying in preparation for next time and although I may (or may not) come off as someone who can endure the pains of competitive cycling and all the suffering (good suffering) that comes with it, I should warn some of you that I can be a little sensitive when it comes to constructive criticism. Let me hear from you, just try to be gentle with me.