We had big plans, we 5's did.
There would be nine of us racing in the 4/5 event -- me, Bob Willems, Dave Wolf, Matt Moran, Jim Campbell, Nestor, Sherman, Johan and Ansgar -- so we agreed in the forum that our best bet would be use numbers to our advantage by setting a strong pace at the beginning and riding the xXx express train to the finish line, 41 miles and several hills later.
Our plan lasted about 200 meters. The field of 45 took off like mad from the beginning -- 26-28 mph by my computer -- and about a mile in there was a minor crash right ahead of us. None of us went down but it created gaps in the line, gaps that would be exaggerated when we got to the first big climb, about 4 miles in. At the top I looked around and the only friendly I saw was Dave. We weren't sure if anyone was ahead of us and were confused about whether to chase or to wait and regroup. We hesitated a bit but then pushed on when we still didn't see anyone.
For the next 15 miles Dave and I rode together in packs of between 3 and 7. Between the hills and the bends in the road, it was impossible to tell how far we were from the leaders, nor how far we were ahead of the nearest riders behind. At the halfway point we were in a group of 7 when someone took charge and organized a rolling paceline. These guys were out of my league -- a UW rider among them had gone down in the early accident but had managed to catch up -- and I got dropped faster than I could say "Wait, how again does a rolling paceline work?"
I rode the next 14 miles with someone from Stone Creek who was also doing his first road race. Finally we caught up with Dave, who had been dropped from the paceline and was riding alone. The three of us rode together, splitting pulls pretty evenly.
The last big hill came 2 miles from the finish. At the top of it I found myself with a 20-meter lead on the other two. Anything shorter and I may have held back to work with Dave, but I decided to test what I was capable of. I think I opened up a lead of around 100 meters, but my tentativeness on descents and corners did me in. (I'm much better at going up hills than down them.) They caught me a half-mile from the finish.
I was so crushed and gassed I didn't even have the good sense to get in line behind them and draft. An official saw us coming and got excited about a possible sprint, but, well, even in the best of conditions I sprint like a school bus, and in this case I had nothing left and Dave had
only a little bit more, so we didn't do much to contest the Stone Creek guy. He grabbed 21, Dave 22, me 23.
I'll let the others recount how their races went, but of the original nine, two dropped and the other five gradually rolled in over the next 20 minutes. The official count was 31 finishers.
I think it was Ansgar who said afterward that our teamwork will improve once we learn more about ourselves and each other. I think that's true. I'm learning, for example, that I have in endurance and climbing what I lack in speed and handling.
And I think we definitely could have cleaned up if this were a race limited to Cat 5. With so many 4's in the mix, it was impossible to take control at the beginning and exploit our numbers. Should we have stayed together better? Probably. I'm happy with the way my race went and would definitely do this race again, but it might have behooved the collective to have a Plan B, in which we would regroup after the first hill.
Speaking of hills, who's up for some hill repeats on the next team ride?