Racing isn't just about fitness; if it were then all we'd need to do is line up a bunch of stationary bikes and have the competitors just churn out Watts to determine the winner... I wouldn't watch that! Fortunately racing is also very much about our positioning and timing of efforts (tactics), both as individual and as teams, and our mental states. That mix of factors is what makes wheel-to-wheel racing so frustrating, uh, I mean, fascinating.
Team Bicycle Trip had a record 5 riders entered in the 45+ and 55+ combined Masters field at the Tri-Flow Menlo Park Grand Prix. This was my fourth visit to this criterium. This year it featured a new, longer 1.7-mile version of the race course with 6 turns, almost making it a circuit race (but no hills). I felt that the sharp left-right "chicane" would help string out the peloton and make the race safer than previous years. That seems to have been true as only one guy went down in our race, and that was simply due to him clipping his own pedal into the pavement in the last turn.
Like usual I tucked into the middle of the huge pack and bided my time, while keeping an eye on developments. I must say that the hard workouts we have been doing make that task much easier; it's hard to think when you're suffering, but now I can ride smoothly while looking around and sizing things up. Our average speed was about 26 MPH. I saw some brief attempts to form breaks, but none stuck. I could see Russ and Jim near the front responding well to them, and thus I concluded that no breaks were likely to form after all. I thought the new course would have made breaks easier, but perhaps the high speed prevented that. In the past I've raced mid-day, and those stronger winds may have encouraged breaks, while this time our chilly 9:55AM race was in nearly perfect calm.
With 6 laps to go they announced a 2-place "prime" lap to liven things up. I noticed VOS's leadout guy signal to his sprinter and I followed them up the left side on the long straight. Soon another team joined them, SJBC I think, and I was 5th wheel as we approached the line. I jumped nicely on their left, looked over to my right as I passed them, and saw a SJBC sprinter pass on their right. I looked him in the eye... he blinked first and I crossed the line way ahead of everybody (winning two boxes of Girl Scout Thin Mints for Margaret!). Primes are a lot of fun and great sprint practice.
Now I sat up and let the peloton catch me. My intent was to recover in the pack near the front and be ready for the final sprint. What actually happened was that I ended up in the river of riders in the middle who drift to the back of the pack as others ride up on the sides... it's OK to drop back a bit, but I let myself drift too far back.
With 2 laps remaining I was desparately trying to get back to the front. This turned out to be much harder than I anticipated, as the wide course was totally blocked by riders veering across its full width, but not moving up. I was nearly pushed into the left curb by a SJBC rider who himself was pinched by a guy to his right. After hitting the brakes to save my skin, and my brand-new bike, I had to jump hard just to grab the very back of the peloton... now I had less than 2 laps to work my way through the nervous 90-rider field!
The others all agreed that the pack was fidgety, and all of us had stories of riders taking crazy chances for no real gain. I kept moving ahead, often backing off to avoid slower riders and guys just veering around, and was nearly hit by the guy who crashed. But I was dismayed to be so far back with the finish line in sight so I pretty much just cruised in at 28th (35th in the combined field). Oh well.
At least Jim got a well-earned 2nd in the 55+ group (26th in the combined field)... but only after correcting this with the officials. Wow! Vlada got 20th, Russ 23rd, and Larry was right in there somewhere too, in his first race back after breaking his hip!
I didn't learn anything I haven't learned before, so for me the lesson learned is just to execute better on my intended strategy. I felt great and will be back at it soon enough!