This new road-race series, held on Fort Ord's paved military roads, is put on by Kieth DeFiebre, the same guy who puts on the CCCX mountain-bike and cyclocross races there. Amazing energy; we owe him a big thank you. These races are a great way to practice team tactics too, and that's what we really need to improve on. Mark, Jim, Russ and I came up with a number of neat tactics to try, and I think we did a good job of executing them in the end.
The 4.3-mile course was mostly gently rolling through the old fort's hilly back country, but with a nasty "stair-step" section on Eucalyptus Road into the headwind from the northwest that had several steep, short climbs of maybe 30 to 60 seconds in duration each. That was followed by a hard right turn onto a very fast 1/2-mile descent leading down to a flat, straight, 250-meter finish. We thought it was a bit scary to contemplate a pack sprinting down that hill.
The weather was gorgeous, though rather windy. Our field of 27 old guys started out pretty mellow, but we'd all agreed that we'd want to keep the pace high so I started some long pulls at the front on laps 1 and 2. But I did so on the aptly-named Parker Flats Road with a tailwind so as to avoid working too hard. I also ended up sharing some pulls on the long, gradual climb after that (where the feedzone is during the District Championships) and a few other places. This forced riders from other teams to chase me down, which they did.
On lap 3 I took another pull on Parker Flats, bumping it up just a notch. Soon I was off the front with three other guys and we soon started a ragged paceline up its long, gradual climb. We didn't really work together all that well, but our gap increased, thanks to my teammates in the pack who started blocking for me. That was pretty amazing, and a total blast! I made sure my break-mates knew I had teammates blocking so they'd contribute to our paceline.
But... as so often happens breaks don't always cooperate, and some of them were apparently pretty tired. So I noticed that a number of riders gradually bridged up to us and soon our break was 7 guys. One of them, from VOS, just sat in, and so did others. More guys bridged up later, which bummed me, but all of this had the benefit of tiring them out in the process since they had to pass my teammates, then ride through the wind up to us. But soon the pack was almost all together.
On lap 4 I pulled again, and on that long, gradual climb some gaps opened up, almost everybody in the "break" sat up, and I was off the front. I held back a bit to see if anybody would go with me and one guy did (I think it was one of the guys who'd been pulling with me). But he dropped his chain—what rotten timing! So I quickly thought through some options:
- Sit up and let the pack catch us: They were already just seconds behind, and as a sprinter I could have sat in and rested for a likely sprint finish.
- Try to reorganize the break: I hadn't seen much evidence of cooperation so that seemed low-odds.
- Solo off the front by myself for the remaining 1.5 laps. Hmmmm... like I said, I'm a sprinter so that seemed low-odds too.
- Even if I got caught my teammates would all be excellent candidates for this course's stair-steps finish approach (assuming they hadn't worked too hard blocking).
- If my teammates didn't block they could rest while others were forced to chase me, improving our odds even more.
- My break-mates weren't pulling hard enough for #2 to work.
- I was a bit worried I'd blow up on Eucalyptus Road climbing those stair-steps on the last lap as the pace would go up.
On the last lap I swear the wind picked up a lot (it did; see the wind chart to the right here), and climbing those stair-steps into the headwind took some hard effort. I could also see the pack behind me now as they started to slowly reel me back in. But I still thought my lead was big enough and I tried to get my breath back so I could attack the last step; I treated it almost as the finish line because it would be very hard to catch me on the fast descent after it.
Well, as I flew down the hill, gasping, I looked over my shoulder as I reached the flat finishing section: Oh no, they were rapidly gaining on me! I put my head down and tried to sprint, but my legs were already at their limit and several guys passed me (including that VOS guy who sat in on the break). I still managed 4th in 45+, so I was pretty happy, but disappointed at the same time. Just after the finish line my watch beeped: 1 hour and 15 minutes, exactly as planned. Talk about consistence!
So, what could we have done better? I think we did really well, but:
- Perhaps blocking for me was our main error, as much fun as it was. If my teammates had sat in instead of blocking I would have been caught sooner, but we'd have been better in the sprint finish. But then we'd be sprinting down that screaming hill; scary.
- Ideally Mark, Russ or Jim would have soloed, not me. But they would have been chased down by those who know their strengths.
- We could all have stayed with the pack, then we could have attacked on Eucalyptus Road's stair-steps. That was a plan we considered, but in the end several really strong riders matched our pace there and might have been able to beat us anyway (Russ told me he had to pause for air on the downhill, it was so hard!).