Into the winD
A few days before this race I had a conversation with my teammate Russ. I told him I wanted to go and support him in the race. I looked at the start list and noticed we had a few others from the team listed as well. It was going to be a tough race with a good size field of riders and a hard climb to the finish. The course leans more to the advantage of a climber than a sprinter like me (or so it seemed.) Once at the race, Russ said that this wasn’t going to be a good day for me to support him and he requested that I go for a podium spot. Then I see teammates Mark and Geoff (pure climbers) decided to race last minute like me. I thought this is good, we now have 7 guys in the race and two who can climb with the best of them. My focus was to have a good workout and to employ smart strategy and tactics.
The air was dry and the wind blowing super hard (in the 20mph range) with gusts. It’s going to take 3hrs to finish and more water than I can carry but I will figure that out later I hope. It’s a great course with a tough climb to the finish followed by a series of rolling climbs with super fast descents that end with a long flat in your face headwind back to the finish climb. I became very intimate with this headwind (but more on that later.)
The first two laps we had 6 teammates covering the front (Russ, John, Miles, Geoff, Mark and me.) We went with the breakaway attempts and made a few of our own but they always came back quickly. At the end of the third lap going up the climb I was dangling off the back, out of water, looking over at people on the side holding my empty bottle, begging. No one offered up any fluids. At this point I’m thinking “no frickin’ way will I be challenging anyone the next time around for a podium spot.” So, I go into “what can I do to help Mark and Geoff mode” assuming they have it in them for the final climb. Once we get to the top I sprint to catch back on before the next rolling climb and ask Geoff how he is doing. He says “good” and he looked fresh! I told him I was no good for the finishing climb but I will do everything I can to keep it together and not let anyone breakaway. I look to the front and Mark is the one driving the pace looking to soften the group up before the descent and the final climb later. I slowly crawl up to him over time and let him know I’m good on the flats but not for the final climb. Let me do all the work and you and Geoff sit in ready for the final climb. I looked back once we started descending and notice a split in the group so I attacked the descent all out to the bottom in my biggest gear, 53/11. Then I took a small breather and checked in with my guys and went back to the front and pulled to keep it single file. Mark comes up and says we need to keep it together until the climb. I responded with, ”you take cover, I’m good.” I didn’t want him using any extra energy and I was committed to making sure no one got away by holding a hard pace into the wind. Then I realized in a split second after about 10mins driving the pace that I could stay on the front of the group and let everyone draft off me or I could ATTACK into the wind. The next thing I know I’m attacking all out pulling away straight off the front into a vicious headwind. It had been tried by others on earlier laps but failed. In my head I knew I wouldn’t be able to stay away. My tactic was to force other threatening teams to chase me and soften them up for the climb while my guys got to rest. I look back and the pack is hesitating because no one wants to take chase into the wind. I don’t blame them. The pack has seen every attempt come back to the group. So, I went into time trial mode thinking, “All I have to do is go all out to the base of climb and my work is done.” Every time the wind would gust and release pressure I would jump out of the saddle and sprint to get on top of another gear. I would look back under my arm pit and see them single file, then another time spread out. I was increasing my distance on them but still was only thinking about an effort to the base of climb. Once I arrived at the base of the climb it’s a slight rise and the wind shifts to my left side so I’m able to pick up speed. As I approached the start of the serious climb I realized my gap was worthy of a chance at the win. All I had to do was hold my pace to the finish (5 more minutes) and I could win the race. I looked forward using riders from an earlier race finishing in front of me as carrots. I would catch and pass all the way to the finish. I would look back to measure my lead and feather my effort to assure I would take the win. On the final climb team mate Mark put the hammer down and rallied for third, earning the team 2 podium spots.
Tactics won the race!
I’m about to cross the finish line
I had to charge into a vicious headwind and not let the wind chew me up and spit me out like every other attempt. I had to have the mental strength to shift from thinking I wouldn’t finish the race with the group to digging super duper deep and battle for the SOLO win. But without having a team with me, I would not have attacked 20+mins from the finish. I would have stayed out of the wind and tried to save myself for the climb and salvage whatever I could muster.
I love many aspects of periodization training. Over the course of the year, I work on sprinting, climbing, flats, time trialing, tactics & strategy, group rides for simulation racing, short intense efforts, medium and long efforts and riding into the wind. I focus on my weaknesses and as I get closer to my peak fitness I train my strengths. After a few years it starts to accumulate in a way that gives more options when racing.
This is what I love about racing! It’s not always the strongest rider that wins the race but the savvy and most willing to put it all on the line under pressure. What I have learned over the past 19yrs racing is those who race reactive usually come up short and those who race proactive end up on top. The risk is much higher but the rewards are sweet.
Team Bike Trip/Symantec claim 1st and 3rd
Check out my legs. I use TylerBalm! It’s a rub on potion by pro racer Tyler Farrar that makes your legs swell.
I use it before I go on the podium to pump up my legs.