Last weekend I went back home to NJ to see my family. Not liking the idea of missing yet another weekend of riding, I decided to bring the bike along. A quick google search revealed that I could race in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, at the Lucarelli and Castaldi Cup. Immediately, I was taken back 20 years, to when I raced as a junior on an aluminum Trek with downtube shifters and 8 gears. I remembered my brother coming home from a long night out to find me eating breakfast at 4:30am the morning of one of these races. And my Cranford Bike Team teammate, Dave Jussell, who would pick me up and drive me out to them, equipped with PowerBars, bananas, and coffee.
So I packed my bike and brought it to the airport. $300 later in oversize and overweight fees later, I was unpacking my bike in the house I grew up in. In store for me was a hard training ride on Saturday (intervals in the park where it all started), and then the P123 on Sunday morning at 6am.
The race was the same as I remembered it: a race for racers. There are no spectators and not much more than a registration table and a line of duct tape across the road. The officials spoke their piece and the 100 of us set out to race 45 miles. The circuit around Prospect park is just shy of 4 miles and has one big ring climb of about 75 feet. My goal was to finish and get in some good training; there weren't going to be any podiums here with me being a lowly 3 and quite a few 1's on 2's on the start list.
I stayed in the front 3rd of the race and there were some attacks in the first 3 laps that didn't stick. Then, in a moment of chaos, there was a break. 5 guys up the road with a 5 second gap. 3 guys bridged, making it 8. 2 more bridged. 10 up the road. This was serious. I noticed the desparation in these guys as they bridged. 2 more went. 3 more. I had to go, but I hesitated. I didn't know anyone in this field, and I was worried about wasting too much energy this early in a race where I was outmatched. I should have trusted my instincts. That was the winning break and I should have went with it. P123 race or not, I could have latched myself to the back of that break and ignored the insults I would surely receive for doing no work. 16th place would be in the bag. But I didn't.
Eventually the field organized and chased for a lap. The break got further away, and we gave up. Well, now my goal was to work on one of my biggest weaknesses: maintaining a good position without working too hard to do so, and having a good position going into the field sprint. To my surprise, I did a good job at that. I discovered that I race pretty well when there's nothing on the line.
I started thinking about my position for the field sprint about 5 miles before the finish; much earlier than I normally do. I surfed wheels pretty well and found myself around 14th position going into the last mile. There was a key point about 750m before the line, just before a constriction and twist in the road. I needed to be in a good position here, or make a surprise attack if the field was sleeping. Instead, there was an acceleration quite a bit earlier. I had a lot of energy, I felt good, and unfortunately I followed it. Now I found myself 3rd wheel behind two guys who had just emptied their gas tanks, and there was still about 1k to go: not good. Before the constriction, as anticipated, a big acceleration and a swarm to my left. I fought to catch the swarm but I followed the wrong wheel and there was a separation. 8 guys in a line with a 15 foot gap. I jumped on a chaser's wheel. 15ft became 10ft became 5ft. Almost there. My chaser died, and I would close the final few feet. But now we are in a full-on sprint, and I couldn't. The 8 guys took 16th through 23rd, a few came around me and I finished 27th.
It was nice to be home.