This past Sunday was the category graded state championship for North Carolina which took place just outside of Burlington, NC. Having just come off of a 218 mile ride on Memorial Day weekend, I had no idea whether I had recovered enough to have legs beyond 15 minutes in this race. The course was a 13 mile lap that had a few challenging hills on one side with a slightly downhill backside.
This season has been tough racing with my team as one of our Cat1 riders broke his neck about 2 and 1/2 months ago. He is going to fully recover and will likely race his bike again, but racing without him has been a difficult affair. Pro/1/2 fields are tough races as there are constant attacks. Without teammates in numbers, it is difficult and almost impossible to follow every move and have any say in the outcome of a race. On Sunday we actually had 4 of us in the field who are all relatively fit. Back in the line up is our ace sprinter David Jordan who has been busy earning his masters degree, but finally finished his program 6 weeks ago. Since he’s been riding a lot and quickly returning to race form. It’s his job to conserve during a race and to do as little as possible. Since I am no longer the guy being relied on to sprint, that gives me a free hand to attack during the race. I didn’t want to ride a boring race so I attacked……. a lot.
The first lap in a Pro,1,2 race is sometimes very quiet. Not so this time around. Chemstar has a big team and they were determined to put a man up the road in a breakaway. They kept launching riders on the first lap. I attacked with them a bunch of times or even countered them. Nothing got away. On the second lap on the hilly part of the course, Chris Ziemann launched at the top of the biggest hill on the hilly side of the course and got clear. Chris is about 5’4″ and weighs 120lbs soaking wet. No one likes to follow him as there is very little draft. He rode off alone 13 miles into an 80 mile affair. Temps were heating up. I think many of us in the field decided to let Chris ride away and that we’d reel him in later after he was cooked.
There continued to be many attacks from the field on laps 2 and 3 to establish another selection off the front of the group. There were just too many strong guys in the field. Everything got chased down. Meanwhile Chris Ziemann had slipped out of sight. He was somewhere around 4mins30secs in front by the end of lap 3. On lap 4, the attacks continued. On the first roller on the start of lap 4, a group of 3 guys slipped off the front. No one from my team was there. I had enough room to slide out so I attacked up the hill and quickly bridged to them. At first there was a little daylight so I pulled through hard once I got there. We were there for another minute or so until someone in the field punched it and brought us back. My teammate Ken Johnson then punched it and attacked. He quickly drew a big gap and kept on trucking. No one went with him. We then were approaching the biggest hill on the course which was maybe 500 meters long, but the middle 250 is probably at 10%. Someone on the front decided to light it up there and strung out the field. I might have been 15th wheel at that point still pretty close to the front. Apparently I was not recovered from my last attack though as I quickly began to implode. I pulled off and waived around the rest of the guys behind me. I had to slow down as my legs were completely gone underneath me at that moment. Guys were passing me like I was standing still. Within about 15 or 20 seconds I began to recover and the back of the field was quickly passing me by. A friend of mine on another team was nice enough to move his bike in front of me and I then had enough in my tank to jump on his wheel. It was survival for about the next minute while the caboose group I was in reattached itself to the front of the field.
I was dang near dropped right there. I definitely started riding a bit more conservative at that point in the race. I don’t know how many times I had attacked prior to that, but I would put it somewhere 20 or 25 launches. I haven’t been riding or even training like that very much in the past couple of months as I’ve been racking up the endurance miles for the double century. I think I had found my limit at mile 50 or so of an 80 mile race.
While Ken was still off the front, another group of 3 got off on lap 4 and bridged to him and in no time flat they caught Ziemann who was still off on his own. However it all came back together before the start of lap 5. Attacks kept coming on the hilly side of lap 5. A group of 3 rolled away with Dave Mabe, David Leduc, and Matt Rinehart. The quickly gained a minute on the group. Then towards the top of the hilly section Andrew Raab, a guy Nathan from team Embrocation, and some other guy peeled off. I was near the front at this point so I punched it quickly to bridge across. We quickly grouped up and began working together. At first we drew a quick 150 meter gap and it looked like there was enough distance between us and the field. The next moment Rich Harper and Wally Bixby were leading the field back to us.
A few minutes later the peloton reeled back in the other group up the road. Now we were all together with about a lap to go. The sprinters started making their way forward in the group and their leadout guys started moving up to. The plan was before the race for me to lead David out. If David could come around me, then he would. David’s fitness was still a question mark for the 80 mile distance. I felt OK at this point in the race and told Ken and Rob to go to the front and keep it fast to prevent attacks from happening. I at first had Rich Harper’s wheel who has won this race several times in a sprint. All was going well then all of a sudden I began cramping. First it was in my hamstring, then it moved to my quads. Next it was my abductors. I was kind of in a panic. I was still two bikes behind David and needed to tell him to fend for himself in the sprint. We’re trucking along at 30mph and I’m fighting muscular lock up and move up in the group to talk to my teammate. I tried stretching out where I could on the downhills. Eventually I was able to hobble up next to David and got him the message to sprint for himself. He was doing an excellent job sticking to the right wheels in the group and fighting off the people trying to push him off the wheel. I drifted back a little bit and just tried to keep the legs turning over without locking up. I was concerned that if that group started really winding it up with one kilometer to go that if I totally cramped and had to stop pedalling that I cause a crash. Crashing sucks so that wasn’t really going to be an option. I found a happy medium by placing myself on the right side of the road where I had an out to steer my bike if I had to slow down. Eventually, the sprint started to get going at about 600meters to go, but it was a slow sprint. David gave it a great shot, but got a bit boxed in. He managed to squeak out a 3rd place which turned into a 2nd place when the guy in front of him got relegated for spewing profanity all over the finish line within earshot of the official as he cursed out the guy who won for not sprinting in a straight line or something. Anyway, it was unfortunate, but sometime’s you get results like that when you exhibit little self control.
I managed to get across the line without totally cramping out or crashing so I was happy for that. We raced really well as a team and made the race hard for everyone including ourselves. I was actually pretty happy with the race level fitness considering I haven’t trained it specifically for the better part of 3 months. I plan a good training block of race specific fitness coming up and I think that’ll make me better for the second half of the race season. It will be awesome when my teammate Keith returns and we have 5 guys and can divide the race workload more broadly. That will leave me potentially 5 or 10% fresher for the race finale and better able to help David out in the sprints if it comes down to that.
It was good to race like a team. Everyone was stoked after the race as it was a lot of fun to ride so aggressively. Next road race is the Apex road race on the 25th of June I think. Hopefully we can win that like we did last year.