I was really very nervous for today’s race. I spent some time this week asking for help from the team in determining strategy for races. I got a lot of input and I want to talk about how it played out in today’s race and how important I think it can be for each of us in future races. I’ll get to that, but all that strategizing is what I think made me really nervous today.
Being a newbie as a racer, I have often struggled with how I am supposed to evaluate my upcoming races. I mean, at 53 (54 racing age), I am entering my 3rd year of trying to learn to become a competitive cyclist. Up until recently, I have had no concept of how to get mentally ready for a race. I just show up on the line and do my best, hoping not to crash. Jim Langley has talked strategy to me on a couple of occasions, and then recently offered me an excellent evaluation of my upcoming race at Madera. That motivated me to ask the team in an e-mail if we could become more proactive in forming strategy. I have gotten thoughtful and excellent replies on this topic from Dennis and “the Heater”. I should also say that I have gotten and continue to get much thoughtful advice on the road from a variety of teammates, particularly Russ.
Today was an eye opener. Ed & I were in a race with 100 riders. There were four teams with 6 or more riders, and of those, one had 11 and one had 16. Steve Heaton had given me the most detailed advice, and he recommended checking out which teams were registered and in what numbers. He further advised trying to determine if any of those teams had riders who were a threat. He thought we should try to get to the front part of the pack as soon as possible and work to keep an eye on the big teams. If more than one of the big teams sent a rider off the front, then we should try to go with them. Otherwise, we should just work to sit in towards the front and let the teams do the work of chasing down any breaks. This was a good plan, and although simple, it was not one I would have thought through on my own. I found a good spot in the front quarter of the pack and did the work I had to do to stay there. I have tried to do this at races in the past but usually find myself drifting to the back. The combination that kept me there today was all strategy related. Russ has often told me to ride in the part of the pack that I want to find myself finishing, but it has never really taken hold. In part that is because I have had to work so hard not to get knocked off wheels and eventually I have simply given in. Today, I had the additional need to keep an eye on what the teams were up to. That gave me enough sense of purpose to hang in there and continue to fight for wheels. Then something revealing happened. Somewhere between half and 2/3rd’s of a lap in, it got easier. All of a sudden, it was like I was where I was supposed to be. The crowd I was riding with was at the front and we all knew it. Sure, occasionally the crowd from behind would come around us with a surge. But, we would each just do the work we needed to do to get back to the front. The other guys didn’t have the need to be there. And when the finishing stretch was looming, you can bet that those guys were not gonna get any free rides.
So for the first real time in a race, I felt like I was in a reasonably good position to be there at the end. But this was a big race, with a number of big teams. My initial thought was that Wells Fargo was controlling the race. They had guys at the front and the pace (slow) was reminiscent of what the guys from Body Concepts had done the previous week at Snelling. It turned out that WF just didn’t have the legs, and it also seemed that even with 16 guys in the race that they had really not discussed strategy. For the most part, I would say that was also true of the other teams in the race. It became even more clear as we approached the finish on the final lap. There was no organization among any of the teams and we were going to begin to barrel into the rollers that lead up to the still slightly uphill finish sprint. One guy, a climber, went off the front on one of the hills, but was quickly chased down. I was trying to gage my own choices. I had identified a spot that was a power hill leading up to the finishing sprint. I felt that I could surge to or off the front going up that hill and still have enough left for my sprint to the line. As we approached that little hill on the final lap, it was obvious that I had not been the only one with that idea. Lots of guys went hard up that riser. I decided to hold my own even though my legs felt like they had the power to go to the front. It seemed like guys were going really hard and I knew it was still a long way to the line. As we crested the hill, I started into my sprint, such as it is. I passed a number of riders, all of whom were gassed, and continued to drive towards the line. As I approached the line, I had to hit the brakes. There was no opening. The finishers ahead of me were gassed, but they were stretched out across the road.
In summary, none of the big teams really played any part in the finishing stretch. I do not believe any of them had come to this race with a strategy to deliver their man to the line. I think that is their loss. I also expect that it is our gain because we often find ourselves outnumbered. For my part, today was an excellent learning experience and a lot of fun. I cannot express how important I find the input from my teammates, nor how much I think we should move forward on establishing strategy for our races, teaching it to new riders and team members, and discussing it openly among ourselves. I would have liked to win one of those etched and painted river rocks that were going to 1st place winners today. Not this time, but maybe next! 19th today.