"I'm here and we have a gap" - approximately the words that Igor said to me as we headed toward turn 3 on the last lap of the Cat 4 race at Monsters of the Midway. It was all I needed to hear.
I knew Igor had been sprinting well recently, as had Jim Phelan. My training hadn't been very consistent the past several weeks, so I was in no position to ask my teammates to help me make it a target race. Instead I offered up my services as a domestique. Monsters is a pretty basic 4-corner crit with two long straightaways, one of which is usually into the wind, and in the lower categories, it's difficult for breaks to form, let alone stay away, so we went in assuming it would come down to a bunch sprint, but one that was perfect for putting together a strong lead-out train.
We didn't go into the race with a plan, really. Jim said his training hadn't been great the past couple weeks either, so I told Igor he was our sprinter and that I would lead him out if I could get myself into position to do so. How exactly we would execute said lead-out was not discussed; we simply lined up and agreed to try to stay near the front and out of trouble.
The race was a pretty typical 4s race with a smattering of riding abilities, including guys that probably should have had to do another 10 mass starts before upgrading. There was a lot of swerving to avoid pot holes that simply should have been ridden over, dive-bombing corners from the inside, and a general inability to hold lines. I was in close proximity to two crashes - after crossing the start/finish line about midway through, I heard the telltale "oh fudge!" behind me and glanced over my shoulder just in time to see some dude sliding into the gutter/curb. Then later at the apex of turn 3, I saw two riders lock handlebars immediately to my left (inside line); I put in a small acceleration just in time to narrowly miss having my rear wheel taken out by the ensuing carnage.
And then there were the constant variations in the speed that are so common in the 4s, which is why I often found myself going from the first five wheels to nearly the back, as the front guys would suddenly sit up and the back of the pack would just swarm and overtake us, leaving me to have to work my way back up to the front. Igor seemingly did a much better job of maintaining position through these transitions and managed to stay near the front the entire race. I think in these situations I should have simply let myself drift up alongside the front riders that sat up so that I could be in a better position to slot into the swarm, whereas I simply stayed behind the sitters-up, right on their wheels, leaving myself boxed in.
Fortunately for me, though, apparently no one in the 4s has yet figured out how to use gutters in the crosswinds and the group left the protected side fully open on EVERY SINGLE LAP, so moving back up was not very difficult or taxing. The pace picked up in the last two laps, and coming out of turn 2 on the last lap, I found myself about half way back and could see Igor sitting at about 3rd wheel.
I knew I needed to move up if I had any hope of providing Igor the promised lead-out, and once again, I had plenty of protection on the left and moved up swiftly on the right. As I was doing so, two things happened simultaneously that were purely magical. 1. The front sat up, 2. Igor looked over his shoulder and saw me moving up. At this magical moment I jumped, HARD.
I easily cleared the front of the pack, and then I heard: "Tom! I'm here! We have a gap!" With that, I put my nose to the stem and gave Igor everything I had, and he was cheering me loudly from behind. As we approached turn 3, I could feel my legs beginning to revolt, so I shouted "I'm done, I'm done, GO GO GO!!" Igor sling-shotted around me through turns 3/4 and put in a strong dig on the exit. I tried to continue grinding the pedals in the hopes of holding off the field down the long straight to the finish, but it was not meant to be; I got swarmed about 40m from the line. But on the bright side, I was in perfect position to watch Igor coast across the line with hands raised for fir....errr, second?... did I mention some dude rode away from the field on the first lap and NO ONE NOTICED? (I didn't, I started at the back...my bad)
Well regardless, our move was THE move of the race in my opinion (if we pretend that other guy wasn't there), and it was a lot of fun to be a part of it and see my teammate get on the [non-existent] podium (seriously monsters, where was the podium?). It was the first time that I felt like I legitimately helped a teammate succeed in a race, and dammit, it felt good. A lot of it was luck - right place right time - but knowing a teammate was on my wheel heading into the last two turns allowed me to dig deeper than I ever have before at the end of a race. Maybe if I had trained a little more I would have held on for third... I still managed to limp across the line in 16th in a field of 45, so not a bad result, and managed to finally beat my nemesis - some polish masters dude that has a surprisingly strong sprint and seems to beat me every time - not today! (17th)
Congrats again Igor, and good luck in the 3s!!! (now let's see your report from the 4/5...)