Weather: Sunny, partly cloudy, and upper 60s.
Wind Direction: North to South @ 10-15mph
Race Start: 1100
Field Size: 30-40 riders
Teams Represented: RTO, Frazier Cycling Team
An absolute beautiful late winter day to race bikes. The CAT 3 race had a start time of just a hair after 1PM. In my opinion, that is the best time to race. It isn’t too late and it isn’t at the crack of dawn. My lovely wife made the hour journey from Asheville to Greenville with me. I always love when she comes and watches me. I am not going to lie, I feel guilty on some of those longer road race courses. It can get pretty boring when you only see me every 20-30 minutes… Slight tangent. We get to the course about an hour before race start. Levi, a CAT 4 rider friend from Ohio, has been driving 8 hours every weekend to get in some good racing. Levi and I do a lap around the course as our warmup. It took 30 minutes to go around the course at an easy pace. I am starting to think that I need a bigger and slightly more intense warmup.
When I begin races I always have this slightly weak feeling in the legs. After a couple of attacks and some minor fatigue input my legs feel race ready. This could be a psychological side of pre-race nerves but I am thinking a bigger warmup will counteract this “issue.” My warmup is obviously limited to how early I arrive at the course. So, another solution I am thinking about implementing is going hard out of the gate and dragging the peloton around for a couple minutes at FTP. I don’t know which direction I want to go but I’ll give both a shot.
Sunday’s race was at a popular Greenville circuit called Donaldson aka SCTAC. The course is a 12 mile loop that goes around a small airport. The National Guard and reserves have a couple buildings on the north side. It is cool to ride in my USMES kit speeding past the equipment. There are two very short climbs. One of the climbs is at the very northern section and requires about 20-30 seconds at a high power output, but still big ring worthy. The second climb is parallel to Donaldson road on the western side. This isn’t much of a hill but the headwind made it a little more miserable.
On to the racing now. The first couple of minutes is a big mental analysis of the race and teams. There are a couple important questions that I always ask myself.
This was a race of breakaways, at least for me. It only took 5 minutes before the first breakaway was established. Blake Wilson of Frazier Cycling and me broke away from the field. We ended up getting a 30-40 second gap. It might have been longer but we didn’t get any gap reports. After about 15 minutes the group was catching us so we decided to save the legs and try again later. The pack actually caught us on the southern side of the course. This part of the course was the windiest. After the pack caught us this Columbian para-cyclist attacked…into a headwind/very minor crosswind… Now, I am not genius but I do know that attacking into a headwind is pretty stupid. It requires a greater effort to actually establish a gap and then even more to hold the gap. I’ll give one thing to the rider, he was persistent. Every lap, pretty much the same spot, he attacked…into the wind. Every time he attacked we easily pulled up back. The guy was strong. He was wearing a Columbia national cycling kit so I assume he was part of their Para-cycling team. The problem is he just kept attacking at the wrong spot. Oh well. Not my problem. Makes my life easier by tiring out his legs and the riders who chased.
I stayed with the pack for a couple more laps before the next breakaway. My time in the pack was focused on recovery and staying in the middle/front of the group. I wanted to pay attention to who was attacking and who was controlling the group. A couple of times an RTO rider would get off the front and one of his teammates would block/slowdown the group. I was not overly concerned about the solo rider. It was early in the race and I knew the other riders would work eventually to bring him back. It didn’t take long for me to be correct. We brought the RTO rider back and this set me up for my next breakaway attempt. The USAC moto official rides up to the front of our group and tells us we need to start racing or we will be neutralized (EDIT: because the CAT 4 group is behind us and needs to pass). I made a quick decision to attack. I figured if I could get a gap on the group they would be neutralized and I could establish a sustainable gap. We still had 3 laps (19ish miles) to go so it was going to be challenging solo. I wanted someone to come with me so right as I was attacking I hollered at some riders to join me… nobody moved. Oh well. I did end up getting a gap on the field and they were neutralized.
I am out on the course riding solo maintaining 330w when the CAT 4 USAC official rides up to me. He informs me that my field got neutralized and I will need to stop to maintain the gap. I realized that I could still keep riding if I just maintained conversation with the moto. I began to try and convince him that I shouldn’t have to stop because the field wasn’t racing. I attacked because we were told to start racing. He wasn’t really buying into that argument. I switched my tactics and asked if I could just “soft pedal” to keep the legs warm. Now, I was on the windy section of the course. I wanted to get out of the windy section while the field was neutralized. Eventually, the CAT 4 field caught me and I pulled over to the side to let them pass. Now, I am pretty sure I was expected to stop and wait for the CAT 3 official. I didn’t receive and clear instructions so I immediately started back at 330w. I made sure to not get close to the CAT 4 field though. I didn’t want to actually cheat and use their draft. After another 5 minutes of solo riding the CAT 3 official caught me. I tried the same arguments on him but he didn’t bite. He ended up slowing me down enough that the CAT 3 field caught me. I did go back and talk to the two officials at the end of the race. I explained that I was really never angry or upset and that I was just trying to squeeze and time gap I could from the neutralization. The officials joked and said that they almost let me go and continue to race. Dang, so close, next time!
Now I am back in the pack. I stay in the pack for the next 45 minutes which takes us to the final lap. During the 45 minutes there are some attacks, mostly from the Columbian in the headwind. There are a flurry of attacks going into the lap line on the bell lap. Two Frazier cyclists get to the front of the group and perform a perfect blocking move for Blake to get a gap. I don’t remember if I had a conscious thought but I knew I needed to follow Blake. The two Frazier guys were doing a good job of blocking the road. I was on the right side of the group but couldn’t squeeze by so I had to shift over to the left and attack from there. Luckily, I found room to move over and quickly started working on bridging the gap. One of the Frazier cyclists tried to cover my move but ended up letting me go. I don’t know if he planned to let me go but I was appreciative of their strategy.
It took less than a minute to catch Blake and we began to work together. Blake and I were in the first break together so I knew we could work together and that he was strong. There are a couple things I like to do when I am in a break like this.
When Blake and I reach the southern tip of the course I finally gave back to see where the gap. I was surprised when I turned around and saw nobody. We had gotten a big enough gap that we couldn’t see the group anymore. I told Blake that we had broke the pack but we need to still keep it up. He agreed and we basically worked together until 800m to go. At this point, I was tired and got out of the saddle at a low cadence. Blake took the opportunity and attacked. I fought hard for a couple seconds before accepting the fact that I was going to get second. I was really fatigued from being in the other breaks. Next time I need to anticipate this and attack instead of standing up to recover. At least then I am giving myself a chance. Either way, second place is still great. I was happy and the race reaffirmed my training was planned out perfectly.
Attack til' they crack.