Saturday, March 6, 2010

Making choices - Day 5 of the Greenville Spring Training Series: River Falls

It seems to me that when it comes to racing, you have a choice. You can sit in and let everyone else do the work, or you can get out there and make a race of it. After last week's win, I really didn't want to 'sit in to win', I wanted to make something happen out there at River Falls.

I felt a little nervous going into the race despite the preview ride I did on Thursday with a number of my Spinners teammates. I understood the course and I was prepared for it. We had three spinners lined up in the Cat 5, 35+ group. The field was about 25 to 30 riders.

As we stood at the start line, I looked over the field and saw 6 riders from the Spirited Cyclist team. I knew these guys were serious. Two guys from the Harris Teeter team lined up near the front.

Today was different from all of the other races so far. A break went and it stuck. After cresting the climb for the second time, two of the spirited cyclist guys attacked and pulled a gap quickly. I saw it happen, but didn't react quickly enough. Although I was near the front of the pack at the bottom of the hill, they had hit it really hard. This was my first mistake - letting them make that gap. I set off in pursuit to see about reeling them in.

Half way between turn 1 and turn 2, I was still gaining, but I could see that one of the two had dropped off the pace. I managed to get past him and was within 200 meters of the leader when I decided it would be better if I had someone else up there with me. Looking back, that was my second mistake. I should have just kept at it and made the bridge.

When I became absorbed back into the peleton, I realized how foolish these two mistakes were. This guy's five team-mates were doing a textbook block on the peleton. They would get out in front and sit up. Taking up the whole lane and coming over on other riders to squeeze them out.

I wasn't interested in a 'sit in' mentality, so me and my team-mate Hudson started kicking the pace. We pushed it pretty hard, but those guys kept trying to block us. They would ride in second or third position and as soon as Hudson or I rotated out, they would sit up and do their best to block us. We had another guy or two occasionally get out in front, but it seemed they would drop off the pace and no-one would come in to help out. Of course, Hudson or I would be right there.

So, while the rest of the peleton was sitting in, the Spinners began to dismantle the field. If no-one else was going to work, Hudson and I were going to punish them as much as we could. Hudson worked super hard out there and was always there when I needed a break. When I could sense him slowing up, I would get out and do what I needed to do. We drove the pace up to nearly 22 mph in those last two laps.

I had something happen to me several times today that hadn't happened before. It seems I was a marked man. At times when I found myself recovering in the pack, two of the spirited cyclist guys would single me out and block me directly - one to my front and one squeezing me to whichever side of the road I found myself on. I didn't exactly catch on to this immediately, but by about the third time it happened, I figured it out and decided I wasn't going to play by their rules - so what did I do? I got back out in front and continued to hammer the pace.

In order for me to get past them, I had to do some squeezing myself. As they tried to squeeze me, I drifted towards them. Nobody wants to crash, so they would give way. It was pretty interesting, and I suppose I should take it as a compliment that they would see me as that much of a threat.

With all these hijinks going on, it was still Hudson and I driving the pace. The field had completely shattered and there was only about 10 guys left in our chase group. We did what we could, but the break stuck and the Spirited cyclist guy won the race. The teamwork by those guys was textbook. Their tactics were very well executed. I have a healthy respect for this team and the way they worked together.

How did it play out? Despite the work I had done on our preview of the course - finding my markers on the climb so I would know where to begin my sprint - On the final climb what remained of our original field started earlier than I thought. I let them go - mistake number 3. When my marks came up, I was on the gas, but it wasn't enough to take back more than a few positions.

How do I feel about this after last week's win? Today I had a choice to make - sit in and go for a group ride and go for the sprint (like last week), or get out there and try to make something happen - make a race of it. For better or worse, me and Hudson got out there and made something happen. There's a lot of satisfaction in that, even if it only results in 7th place.

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