One of the best ways to start our season is Randy's season-planning workshop, where we learn how to structure our season so that our physical peaks match our racing goals.
Typically I peak early for the May road races, but without any on this year's calendar, I plotted a later peak, and our May camp in Asheville was the perfect way to put the finishing touches on spring's training. Sure enough, I'd enjoyed some quality racing to start June, and I was looking forward to carrying that good form this weekend with four races in four days.
Cobb Park 30+ 1/2/3
Cobb Park is a great event, small and low-key but with a great atmosphere provided by our friends of the South Chicago Wheelmen. The course is fantastic, too, with a slight elevation change, just enough to benefit me. I won here last year, and all week I'd been visualizing how I could do it again. My goal was to race aggressively, get in a small break, and then continue to race aggressively until it was a break of one -- me.
Riders started attacking right away. By the third lap, a group of about six was about 10 seconds down the road and starting to look dangerous. At the top of the climb, I bridged across, dragging one rider with me.
This was a good group of eight, but there were two Bicicletta riders present. I'd need to isolate them.
Organization was failing, and some of the original six were already a little gassed. Looking back, I could see more riders coming across. The last thing I wanted was for this group to get bigger, so I launched a preemptive attack. Only one rider, Andrew Rizzo from Bicicletta, came with me. A lap later, Scott Pearson was able to bridge across. Perfect: These were two experienced breakaway artists. We worked together like clockwork, maintaining a comfortable 20-second lead for the next 30 minutes.
But now it was time to win.
Last year I attacked the break with two to go and snuck away. I was afraid Scott and Rizzo might be expecting that, so this time I attacked on the hill with four to go. Unfortunately they were both able to cover it, and now that I had so rudely opened hostilities, the cooperative spirit was snuffed out.
One wrinkle in the dynamic is that Scott and Rizzo were friends and former teammates. I had to consider this a 2-on-1 situation. I maneuvered into the rear to suck wheel. Sure enough, as we started our final lap, I heard Scott say to Rizzo, "Just let me lead you out."
This is a teachable moment. Then you're 2 against 1, and the 1 is sucking wheel at the back, there are two ways to win. 1) One teammate can provide a leadout, as Scott was offering to do for Rizzo. Or 2) With the lone rider sucking wheel in 3rd position, the rider in 2nd position can let a gap open up, allowing his teammate to float away. This forces the lone rider to close the gap, after which the 2nd teammate can attack, or keep letting gaps open until the lone rider tires and gives up.
Scott and Rizzo's problem is that they were trying to do both! As we crested the hill, Scott was in 1st position, riding at 90% and preparing to lead out the sprint. But meanwhile, Rizzo was riding at 60%, letting a gap open up between himself and Scott.
I wasted no time in taking advantage: I attacked at 100%, getting the jump on Rizzo and, thanks to the gap he'd created, passing Scott at a speed that prevented him from jumping into my draft.
But I still had 600 meters to go. I sprinted down the hill, then coasted through the sweeping turn to ensure I took it cleanly before getting out of the saddle to sprint for the final 150 meters.
In my peripheral vision I could see Scott's SRAM wheel advancing on me. Oh, no! This was going to be just like "The Rider," in which his foe crawls back inch by inch to win the sprint! I got out of the saddle one more time to give just a few more hard kicks -- and crossed the finish line first. Phew!
This was historic: This was the first time I've ever won a sprint of any sort, and Scott and Rizzo certainly made me earn it. In addition, after seven years of throwing my bike to finish every race -- usually well off the back -- this is the first time it's ever carried any consequence.
It's kind of fun. I should try it again sometime.
Cobb Park P/1/2/3
An unfortunately small field for this one. Only 15, and just about everyone had already raced, most of them in the 3's race directly previous, including Andy and Robert, with whom I'd have the pleasure of racing.
Knowing so many 3's would be pooped from their race, I tried to break up the field early. I attacked after a few laps, and a young South Chicago Wheelman rider came with me. After a few laps, however, he couldn't hang on any longer and retreated to the pack.
A lap later I saw Tony from Beverly Bike bridging up. I waited for him, then commanded him to hold my wheel. After he recovered, we traded pulls, but soon he was showing fatigue, too. (Small wonder: This was his third race.) "Don't red-line on me, Tony!" I yelled. I was happy to do most of the pulling, but I needed someone with me to provide occasional relief.
Alas, Tony also fell back, leaving me by myself with 30 minutes still to race. I went into time-trial mode, but finally I was reeled in.
The finish came down to a confusing sprint, including several riders sprinting a lap early, and I bungled the leadout I was hoping to give Rob, but he and I were able to hang on for 4th and 6th respectively.
Greenbush Road Race 2/3's
I had high hopes for this one, a fun, rolling course that I would do with Seguin and Pankonin. There were some larger teams present, including several that were shooting for the overal, but depending on how those dynamics played out, I figured Will or I had a good shot at getting in a break if we were patient. Failing that, this was an uphill sprint right in Seguin's wheelhouse; all Will and I would need to do was work to deliver him to the final corner.
After 25 miles, I was getting my head into attack mode. Next time through the twisty climb, I'd launch, counting on people to be tired by this point. Alas, my mind was on this and not the road, and I hit a nasty section of potholes dead on, resulting in a front flat. The SRAM car and motorcycle each attempted to motopace me back, but we just couldn't make it work, probably owing to my own lack of motopace experience.
In the end, Will was able to set Mike up in a good spot into the final corner, but a junior led him off-course, and we were left to wonder what could have been had I been there to give him shepherd him through safely. Rats!
I left with a stomach full of peanut butter, jelly and anger. I would have my revenge.
Schlitz Park 2/3's
This was a great venue when it hosted a Superweek race last year, although the ToAD version would be a little different, with a much more technical descent: A fast left turn, followed by a fast sharper-than-right-angle right turn and then an S-curve into a short finishing straightaway.
Anyone who has waited at the bottom of a mountain for me knows that descending is not my forte. I was nervous about how it would hinder me here.
After watching Mia's astonishing win and a few other races, it was clear that this was a course that could a shatter a field as early as the first lap, not unlike Snake Alley. Other riders noticed this too, and dozens of us lined up 20 minutes before our race in order to scramble to the start line, the ol' race before the race.
Fortunately I was able to secure a spot on the front row, on the left, just where I wanted so that I could take the first turn wide. I was expecting a full-on cyclocross sprint for the first corner, but a funny thing happened: I was the only one contesting it. Perfect. This let me set a brisk tempo up the hill, which in turn let me be among the first into the descent, where I could take it on my own terms and not risk being elbow-to-elbow in the pack.
Second time up the hill, I attacked, which let me take the descent all by myself. Good thing, as I took it way wide and nearly ran into the curb when I freaked out at the wet pavement, still drying from an earlier squall.
I stayed off a lap or two, then was reabsorbed. Soon I attacked again, this time earning a $25 prime, but the field wasn't quite shattering yet, and I was caught again. This time a Geargrinder rider counter-attacked and got clear, building up a 15-second lead.
I sat mid-pack and recovered, preparing to attempt to bridge. But again I bungled the descent, hitting a recessed manhole head-on and blowing out my rear tire. This was right before the hard-left turn, and there was no way I could turn with my tire flapping in the breeze. I had to bail, fortunately taking nobody else out as I headed straight into the curb and crashed onto the grass.
Body felt fine, bike felt fine. Off to the SRAM wheel pit.
The mechanics were quick to change my wheel. I took a gel as I regained my composure, and just in time a spectator brought me the sunglasses I'd lost in the crash.
I got reinserted, but my legs had gone cold. I struggled to keep up at the back of the pack. Meanwhile, two riders had snuck off the front and were bridging up to the leader.
A few laps later, I was feeling better, and I was noticing we were shedding riders on the hill. This was my cue that the conditions were ripe to make my own escape again.
At the top of the climb, I kept up the tempo around the corner and into the flat ridge. This is a great spot to attack on a course like this: Everyone expects the attacks to come on the climb, but then they relax once the road flattens. With just a little bit of effort at the top, you can catch them off guard and too pooped to chase.
Sure enough, I was able to get clear. The leaders' gap was about 25 seconds, which I cut in half, but although tantalizingly close, I couldn't close the deal -- and there were still eight laps to go! My time off the front in Cobb Park was the longest I'd ever been solo in a crit -- but now I'd have to do it for even longer.
But thanks to the encouragement from Mia, Jared and others, I soldiered on, concentrating on the descent to lose as little speed as possible. By the final few laps I wasn't even feathering the brakes. Small miracles.
With one to go, I gave 100% up the hill one final time to stay out of reach, then took a conservative tack down to the finish. The sprint behind me was gaining quick, but happily I stayed clear for fourth.
Nonetheless, I of course still did a bike throw. You never know how close someone might be.