Smoketown Cat4 Report
I have said some negative things in the past about the Smoketown Airport course, and while I'm not going to completely recant them I can definitely say I had a better time there this year than I have had in the past. It's a hotdog course with a slight chicane on the far side and the bottom 180 always seems to be a problem for some riders. The weather was typical for this time of year - too warm to be chilly but not hot, muggy, overcast, and threatening rain.
Since that bottom corner is crash central, my plan going into the race was to stay up front and do work instead of having to use my brakes, avoid the inevitable undercut or sweep in the 180, and having to sprint out of the corners to make up wasted speed.
The first lap was a neutral roll out and from where I was in the second row everything seemed kosher but I heard shouts from behind me of people who were upset at other riders using the time to gain position. I took up behind Jeff W. from Green Mountain because, well, he's Jeff W. and he didn't let me down. As soon as the whistle blew to signal the end of the neutral lap he was off like a gun, stringing out things single file going into the first turn - so far so good.
There were four or five of us up at the front taking turns in the wind for the first couple laps - the workers didn't really go more than five back with the pack letting retiring pullers back in around the fifth or sixth position. Then people started skipping their pulls and Jeff seemed to be doing more work than what I would consider fair. Coming around to the back straight on the third or fourth lap I told him that I would take over his turn so he could get an extra rest in. I kept an even power output down the hill but a slight gap formed. I think some people were in over their heads and were planning on using the downhill for rest. I ended up doing the Adam Special for a couple laps - sitting just off the front, waiting for someone to make a move but none was forthcoming.
Around the 6th lap, I looked back and even though I was just trying to keep up a sporting pace a significant gap had formed between me and the pack. It had also started to drizzle so I figured it was time to quit waiting for people and threw it into gear - it there's a chance of me not having to take that 180 in the wet with a pack around me, I'm taking it.
I was away for a lap or so when another rider bridged up to me but he didn't have the legs to hang even though I let him sit in. I wasn't going to let up until I was sure I had a good gap. I called for times and started getting them from the crowd. 8 seconds...10 seconds...17 seconds...Loving it.
I'd been looking over my shoulder coming out of the turns and I noticed a lone rider making a bridge attempt. I wasn't going to let off the gas, but if he made it up to me I would be happy for a chance to trade off. It took a couple laps, but Peter A. from QCW made it onto my wheel. I knew him from the Sprints ride on Tuesday and he's a good strong guy and I was happy to have him aboard. I let him sit in for a lap and a half to catch his breath then he started taking his turns.
We settled into a rhythm of each taking half a lap, trading on the straights. The gap at this point was about 20 seconds. Initially, we were taking over at the beginning of the straights with him doing the uphill sections and me doing the downhill, but I noticed that I was faster by myself than following his wheel uphill and I wasn't satisfied with 20 seconds to be an insurmountable gap for the group to close in 10 laps. I also filed that bit of info away in my head as a possible weakness coming into the final sprint. I took over the uphill duties and he kept a respectable pace on the downhills and by the second to last lap we widened the gap to almost 30 seconds. On a course where "nothing gets away". I was chuffed.
I'd been z5'ing it for about 30 minutes now keeping up a 27mph average and I think Peter was in the same boat - we took the last two laps easy with the agreement that we'd give the folks on the sidelines a good show for the sprint. My strategy was to take advantage of his apparent weakness on the uphill into the sprint and give it so much for so long that even with a draft he couldn't keep up. Coming out of the final corner I hit the gas and gave it 800 watts for 30 seconds...but managed to fat finger an upshift and downshifted instead, fumbling - you can see it happen in the Strava analysis. That bit cost me the win by inches, but I'm happy with the result overall - I finally hit my max hear rate and had 298W average for the 45 minute race :)
So, at the end of the day, do I love the course? Only if I'm in front...