O'Fallon road race - May 30th
I had O'Fallon on my radar since early in the season as a race that I wanted to do. Before the season even started, I had my heart set on road racing. The idea of longer races with climbing and more than 4 turns is appealing to me. That being said, I had no reservations about traveling 5 hours for a 44 mile road race featuring a handful of climbs and about 25 turns on each 22 mile loop. Team turnout was pretty slim. I believe that there was 4 xXx'ers in total. I was the lone xXx representative in the 4/5 race. Before the race began, I took note of what teams were well represented and found that Wild Card had the most numbers. I also knew that I had to watch out for Metro East since they are the race organizers. The race began and Wild Card was driving the pace, albeit a bit slow. I stayed at the front of the group. Wild Card sent an early solo attack and a lot of riders started getting restless as the gap began to get larger and larger. Nobody really did much to bring the gap back and Wild Card held the pace in check by riding two wide at the front. A few miles up the road we would find our solo breakaway with a flat tire on the side of the road. That's one way to bring a break back. I started to get the itch to get aggressive and shake things up as the pace just seems too slow. I head to the front wheel and take my pull and put a little extra heat on. I looked back and had a gap, but nobody came with. I stayed out for a couple of miles but the group caught up. I knew I didn't have stay away power alone, so no big deal.
This trend would continue through the second lap. I would get anxious and try to kick up the pace every few miles and test the breakaway waters. I had hoped that I would get some help to keep it up, but I would never get more than 1 rider and I knew that wasn't enough with the long distance left to go. When not off the front, I often found myself at the front of the pack doing a lot of pulling to keep the pace high. I knew that I was riding hard, but I kept at it hoping to break more riders down before the last climb which is the biggest on the course and near the finish. Just as someone is launching an attack off the front, there was a crash right next to me. I almost went into the ditch on the side of the road to avoid the carnage. I stay on the bike and look up and there is a rider hammering away from the pack. I hit the jets and tried to bridge and it just didn't work. I couldn't make it. A bunch of riders get around me and now I am sitting in no man's land behind the break and behind the chase. I gave everything I had left to try and bridge to the chase but I was dropped. That's officially the first time I've been dropped this year. Before the final climb, the wheel car passes me making me officially out of the race and I curse myself for burning way too much earlier in the race. I roll into the finish line alone with a 12th place finish. It was a Wild Card rider who made the winning break and would go on to win. I got a lot of "nice work", "you were really strong" types of comments afterwords from other riders who were near the front and eventually finished ahead of me. That certainly means I did way too much work for them. It was nice to try new things and be aggressive, but I have to realize when to keep things in check to have enough left for a stronger finish.
Despite my difficult to stomach performance in the final 2 miles or so, the race was great. It was really well organized, the course was well marked, and most of all, it was fun. As an added bonus, the race organizers had a deal to give free lodging to whoever came from the farthest away and stayed at the hotel for free. William and I took home that easy to earn prize. I hope to make it down again next year and bring some team firepower along for the ride.
Spring Prarie Road Race - June 7
To Wisconsin we go. It is a refreshing sight to have team mates for the 4/5 race - 9 of us total. This is my first race with some of our team's Cat 4 riders outside of the early 4/5 race at the Burnham Super Crit where I practically knew nobody. The neutral roll out starts from the parking area and up the hill that leads to where the race ends. Even on the neutral start, I can feel that this hill is quite the steep little kicker that will likely determine the outcome of the race 6 laps later. Early in the race I am dropped off the back of the group near turn 2 (of 4). What was going on here? Am I in over my head or is my head just not in this race? I sort of panicked and busted my tail to catch back on to the back of the group before it got too far off. I was able to catch back on shortly after turn 3, but that was a little bit scary. Thankfully, the rest of the race would carry on with me in the group, generally toward the back half. The roads were sort of narrow and I could not find many holes to move up. Due to my big size, I descend really fast with minimal effort. Unfortunately, I was on my brakes a lot on the downhill sections just to keep a safe distance from the riders in front of me. On one of the downhills, a rider next to me is getting a drink from his bottle and has a hard time holding his line. I am right at the edge of the road on the right side and his bars bump into mine. I was about an inch from hitting gravel at 40 mph. I somehow held my line and moved on. That was definitely my most hair raising event of the year as I can only imagine the terrible things that could have happened if my wheels inched over just a bit more.
The last lap comes and the group has only shed a few riders due to a seemingly pedestrian pace (outside of lap 1 turn 2 of course) that could not find any consistency. When heading into the wind after turn 2, I see Liam at the front of the group looking like he wanted to get out of the wind. I work up to the front and tell him to get on my wheel and I pulled him and the entire group through past turn 3. I gave some thought of attempting a break, but my legs just weren't there. I was swallowed up on the first of the rolling hills but hung on to the back of the pack where I would sit and recover for the last climb. I was feeling pretty good about my energy reserves since I had been sitting back for most of the race. Based on my perceived effort up the last climb on previous laps, I thought that I would be able to out climb about half of the group of 25 that was still left.
The final climb, this is it... Time to show everyone that I can climb... Wait, where is everyone going? How are they getting up there that fast? Am I moving backwards? I wasn't moving backwards, but I realized that I couldn't climb fast enough to win or even a top 10 finish. I finished the hill and "sprinted" to take 14th. That was a tough finish with all kinds of yelling, swearing, coughing, and heavy breathing. David Dokko was on the side of the road puking just past the finish. All in a day's work.
The team ended up with 3 in the top 10 and 3 more in the top 15. Not a bad team showing despite the lack of a podium placing. During lap 3 or 4, xXx had about 6 riders at the front of the pack in a single file pace line leading the charge. I felt just a little bit pro out there being part of that. Good times. Good race. I will certainly be back again next year, hopefully with better climbing legs.
Up next: Sherman Park, my last hurrah as a Cat 5.