Great race yesterday in Lancaster County… It’s fun to get into that road race atmosphere again, spotting cars with expensive bikes on top along I-76, then following makeshift signs down country lanes to a BIKE RACE.
The car park of a rural industrial facility was full of folks on shiny new 2015 model bikes, talking the usual about “not going for a sprint”, “needing a few more miles for Battenkill”, and “Ugh, wind".
CS Velo’s Mike Porter was out early on his trainer, and Mark Sweetman came along to cheer on the team and meet some buddies in advance of his race. It was terrific to catch Kurt Dodds on the start line of his race, with Meredith and a new supporter.
57 had signed up for the Cat 4/5 40+ field so I was determined to get a good place on the grid, and rolled down early to the line with Mike. The start of our race was slightly delayed as the marshals took their positions on the course, which left a bunch of chilly racers in lycra enough time to chew nervously on energy gels and regret not doing more training before signing up for an early season race. The 40+ 4/5 scene is different to the 4/5 fields I am used to… guys further advanced in their careers clearly splurge more on carbon parts and electric shifting, and looking around me I couldn’t see a bike without a power meter.
I really enjoyed my first outing on the Farmersville course; some technical sections, some nice short “power” hills and a fantastic road surface all the way. It was indeed very windy, which meant nobody wanted to pull… For the first two laps, Mike did the majority of the work, with nobody really willing to roll through when he looked back. During this period a few guys solo’d off the front, but nobody was taking these breaks seriously.
On lap 3 (of 5), just as a guy was about to get caught at the foot of a the hill along the back straight, a strong-looking Zen Masters guy (Patrick), put in a few hard pedal strokes and it all kicked off. A NCVC rider (Francisco), went for his wheel, and I jumped hard to catch on with a SEAVS guy behind me (Greg). We pushed on for 2 - 3kms, and as we turned right into a stiff headwind I looked back and saw that although things were strung out, we hadn’t quite snapped the elastic.
After a quick verbal exchange we dug in again and the chase snapped with just one guy from BSBA Racing (Steve) bridging across. We went on to work together consistently and opened a decent gap. I looked back at each corner, and pretty quickly we were out of sight, and out of mind. As the adrenalin dropped, it became clear that not everybody was putting in an equal effort, with some break companions spending more time on the front than others.
Before the race, I was wondering whether the 40+ field would be significantly slower than the 4/5s… Using the science of Strava to compare the two, it appears that while the 40+ race was slower overall due to a very slow first couple of laps, when we lit the paper we rode faster than the 4/5s (our fourth lap was completed in 17.31 lap vs. their fastest lap of 18.00).
As we entered our fifth lap, Patrick shouted that we should all keep pulling, but (duh!), some of the guys had other plans. Up the same hill where the first break went, Steve took a dig and got 10 metres. I was feeling good and jumped, but across the top of the hill I was slowed by dropped Cat 4/5 guys and – this being Amish Country – a cart and buggy. No worries, over the top, Steve had 25 metres but I felt controlled and that we were going reel him back in comfortably. I continued to pull and around the next corner – into the stiff headwind – he had 15 metres.
This is where, with the benefit of hindsight, we should have organized ourselves better. Steve was just up the road, bobbing in and out of the saddle and glancing back… Patrick rolled through and took a pull, then I found myself on the front again, with my breakaway companions single file on my wheel. I was giving it 90% because I didn’t want to blow.
And so it went on through the final kilometres, with me leading the chase and Steve just up the road. I am sure that with one hard pull from each of the chasers we would have got him, but I think that they collectively assumed I was going to catch him alone… and I shouldn’t have taken on so much of the pulling.
We really nailed a long right sweep at the back end of the course, and pulled hard into the final straight. At this point Patrick lit a match and powered off into the wind for second. I was well placed to the right of the road, which forced Greg to pull into the wind on my left… Just as I was pulling level with him, somehow Francisco snuck up on my inside in the gravel… I hesitated a moment, and pulled up for fifth.
Looking back, I am elated to have made the break and learned a lot from the experience. This is just my second season racing on the road, and I clearly recall being dropped by the bunch after just a couple of kilometres of my first Lancaster race… Progress with CS Velo feels good.