By Mark Edwards
We got squashed today. The bigger teams, with well coordinated blocking, kept the chase group on a short leash. While an early break of 5 kept their noses down and pedals spinning, those of us not desiring to race for 6th place got slowly frustrated by the very effective blocking from Morgan Stanley (MS) and VOS. On this date, bringing the break back wasn’t in the cards.
The race opened with a hard pace, shelling many of our 100 starting field on the first climb. But, hard as the pace was, guys are coming into race shape and it showed in how many were able to hang on. For the first couple of laps each hill provided the motivation for someone to take a dig, and dig they did. But still, after the initial thinning of the herd, it wasn’t easy to get rid of those fit enough to survive that first toasty hot lap.
It’s often said that, if you pay attention, you can learn something from every race you do. Today’s lesson for Team Bicycle Trip was pretty much impossible to miss. While we’ve all made strides as individuals, racing as a Team involves a whole other set of skills we’re just beginning to learn.
With one and a half laps to go Geoff pulled up next to me and said “if we don’t make something happen, no one else is going to”. And he was right, our group was mostly VOS and MS blocking, or guys unwilling or unable to work, so Team Bike Trip went to the front. Russ, Geoff, and I knew we were pulling the whole group, but none of us felt we came to race for 6th. We started with a nice smooth rotation, but after a few minutes Russ pulled up and waved me off “Sit on! Let Geoff and I do the work. Save yourself for the finish”. Huh? I tried to come around again and got the same response. Wow! Russ was serious, how cool is that? Two super strong guys willing to kill themselves so that I might have a better chance at the finish.
In hindsight, probably not a good plan. But it sure elevated my already high opinion of these guys.
Russ and Geoff continued to trade off, no help from the group. Watching these guys slave got me ever more frustrated as I watched 30 guys sit on. Now, I understand VOS and MS. I also understand a few may have been riding at the edge of their ability… but not all 30 of them.
Russ seemed to get a rush of adrenalin; he planted himself on the front, got low on his bars, and got those aero Zipps singing. We were on the level section and he was flying. We made the turn starting the gradual climb to the main climb and still he was hammering away. The effort had taken its toll though, I could feel the pace dip, but still no one had any interest in helping. Clearly Russ intended to bury himself to position Geoff and I as well as possible. Russ pulled off at the base of the main climb and wished us luck, we thanked him as we went by (as did the entire group – but apparently they weren’t grateful enough to help).
Immediately Geoff heated things up on the climb. A few guys came up with apparent thoughts of doing a little damage on the climb, but Geoff shrugged them off without hesitation. Each one that tried got the same response, an acceleration that quickly had them ducking back into the shelter of the group, tail between their legs (did I mention the wind, strong as it was, Geoff and Russ seemed immune).
Near the half way point Geoff’s account was drained, it was time to pay the piper. One of the attackers came around and Geoff was done. I jumped and got the attackers wheel, who quickly popped also. So now it was my turn. My Teammates had given their best, but the group was still unwilling to work, could I make headway by myself?
I crested the climb first and dropped down on my bars, attempting to keep the pace high without blowing myself up. With a couple of short exceptions, I stayed on the front for the next half a lap. Checking over my shoulder regularly my view was a smiling group of VOS and MS riders, only too happy for a free pull.
Finally back down near the starting line, I’d had enough. I’d been able to see the breakaway group for the past several minutes and knew that Bike Trip’s efforts had brought them into range. But, was anyone willing to put out a little effort to make the catch?
Apparently not. I sat up and took a good long look at the group behind me. Yea, there were a bunch of MS and VOS guys, but there were even more other guys that had no reason not to chase. What the hell? Did you guys all really pay your money, get up early, and suffer in the wind and hills for 3 hours just to give the breakaway an unchallenged win? I guess so.
So I tucked back in the last couple of miles and tried to recover. But VOS wasn’t done with us yet. James Allen had spent the day resting and had in mind winning the field sprint. James VOS teammate Jan Elsbach (whose skillful blocking not only was effective today, was equally impressive at Copperopolis two weeks ago) now went to the front and laid down a suicide pace, making sure those of us that were tired would get no reprieve today.
Jan pulled off at the base of the climb and now the fire works started. James went to the front and attacked with another rider on his wheel. Seemed too early to me, but tired eyes do that. I surged with the group from about 7th position. Passing guys as I went, I kept hoping James and his shadow would crack. James didn’t, his shadow did, but close enough to cross the line ahead of me.
So, what was the lesson? First, cover breaks! But, given the numerical disadvantage we were at, that’s easier said than done. The main thing I would have liked to have done different was that, generous as Russ’ offer to work for me was, we had no idea how far the breakaway was in front of us. We essentially fried each of us one at a time. I think we would have been better served to share the work between the three of us until we had the break in sight, then decide if protecting one of us made sense.
The other lesson was that; our confidence lags our fitness. With each lesson we grow stronger. Look for a more dangerous, more aggressive Team Bicycle Trip to emerge from these ashes of experience.