After a few weeks of racing by myself or with only one teammate, it was nice to have a full compliment of XXXers at the Spring Prairie Road Race. Joining me were Brian Boyle, Matt Moran, JT and Jacques, making his Cat 3 debut. We would be the largest team here, an odd thing given that it was Wisconsin's state championship. Indeed, several riders would roll up to us and whisper suggestions of secret alliances, knowing that a break with out-of-staters could be their ticket to a gold medal.
The course is a six-mile rectangle. We'd do seven laps. The exposed flats could cause some problems with the wind, but it wasn't difficult to stay on the correct side of the pack and be sheltered. The defining feature was a wall right after Turn 4 leading up to the start/finish. It's a tough climb and not one I've ever been suited for. 300 meters at 12 percent? 3,000 or even 30,000 meters at 8 percent is more my liking. (Surely you've noticed that I always get killed on our hill sprint into Green Bay Road.)
The first several laps were uneventful. There were several solo efforts to get off the front -- including a few of my own -- but the Wisconsin riders were happy to reel things in, and we were happy to let them. After the third time up the hill several of us made a concerted effort to organize a separation over the crest, but we were all together again by Turn 1. It was obvious that people would need to be a little more tired before anything got off, so I focused on sitting in and conserving.
Finally JT created an opportunity on Lap 6, drilling it in the crosswinds between Turn 2 and 3. I was about 15 riders back and had a good view of the carnage he created. Gaps opened up all over the strung-out field. I let others close those gaps, and by the time I got back near the front people were wheezing and swearing. Lest they catch their breath, I counterattacked out of Turn 3. Three Wisconsin riders joined me and we were off.
Heading into Turn 4, I could see JT trying to bridge behind us so I stopped taking pulls. Having two of us in a lead group wold have been perfect. Unfortunately, he wasn't getting much help from the guy bridging with him and soon after the Wall he dropped from sight.
We also dropped one of the foursome on this penultimate climb, so it was down to me, an HTFU rider and a Trocadero. HTFU was promising to let me go -- he just wanted the state championship jersey. I tried to coax a similar arrangement out of Trocadero, but he was mute. (Perhaps as a result of us rebuffing his entreaty on Lap 2.) So we plugged along, although I skipped about every third pull, letting them work for the jersey and knowing that if we were caught, my teammates would be in good position to counter.
Coming into the final few miles it finally looked like our gap was definitely going to stick. My plan was to rest, then attack and hope that they would let me go and have their own cat-and-mouse for the jersey.
As Trocadero came off a pull, I attacked. They caught me. I waited for HTFU to come off a pull. They caught me again. Argh! They weren't supposed to do that!
Obviously I'd waited too long to start attacking, as here I was already leading us into Turn 4 and I didn't really have a Plan B. It was boneheaded positioning: If I were smart, I would have been sitting 3rd and allowing them to set the pace. Instead, I hit the hill medium-hard, expecting that I could just keep pace with them and then come around at the top. Instead, they both attacked hard-hard at the base of the climb. I had no chance. Again, this was not my kind of hill, and I couldn't get enough power to catch them. I lazed in for 3rd place -- last in the break.
Happily, JT and Jacques climbed better than I did and motored up for 5th and 7th. For all their work blocking and especially JT's work in setting up the winning break, I'm sorry I couldn't get the win for them. I owe them big time, though, and hope to have a chance to pay them back in the upcoming crits.