To start off I just wanted to say that a year ago if you told me I’d be writing a race report for a win I would not have believed you. My season last year was a struggle. I would get dropped from the main group quickly and then just struggle to not finish last. My second season has been much better thanks to some hard training (e.g. intervals, going to team rides, and recovery weeks), big changes to my diet (so much more important than I ever thought), and determination to improve. I write this for those of you that might be a little discouraged after some early season results. Stick with it!!
Ok, so, The Ridge at 38 Criterium is a great race. The festival area is big with food and drink options, there were good crowds out all along the course, and the course is fast, flat, and safe. I suggest you consider targeting this race next year and bring friends and family to support local racing!
I reconed the course the day before the race. With the entire course almost pancake flat streets the 3 quick turns in the last 400-500 meters looked like difference maker. The last turn was no more than 50 meters to the finish line. If it was going to be a sprint you would need to be in the top 3 positions if you wanted to have a shot at all. I decided a last lap breakaway would be the best tactic. In theory a solo or small group of riders could take the last 3 turns as fast if not faster than the peloton so I thought if I could get a gap it could hold to the line.
The morning of the race I discussed this with the rest of the team that was there – Jeff, David O., and Jon B. Ideally if we could break as a team with 2 and maybe 3 riders we could work together. Knowing how the Cat 5 folks race I was willing to bet the peloton would not be super organized to chase it down. So that was the plan – at least one of us goes on the last lap and better yet 2 or 3 of us go.
The race went pretty much as predicted. Some guys went out way too fast and the peloton kept just chasing them down. We averaged close to 26 mph during the 20 minutes (8 laps) of racing so at that pace there is no way a single rider could stay away for too long. During these races being up in the front half of the peloton is key for a few reasons: 1) you don’t want to be too far back if a dangerous attack is launched; and, 2) with the high speed turns you definitely don’t want be caught in the boomerang effect and having to be sprinting back to the group on every turn. The latter is something I learned last year. Once you keep having to burn those matches to just stay in the pack sooner or later you’re going to pop. So I stayed up toward the front and patrolled a few moves but was quick to stay out of the wind and waited for the last 2 laps.
One thing I’m finding a little difficult is how to communicate with the team in the heat of the race. How do you talk but not give away things to others? Jeff and David were up front with me and we kind of looked at each other to see how things were. I was ready to break on the first straightaway on the last lap. I wanted to talk to Jeff to see if he was ready but I thought that would be too obvious. I did want to keep some element of surprise so yelling “are you ready?” didn’t seem like the best idea. I tried to rely on a little bit of intuition and just hoped if I attacked Jeff or David would follow. I fell back on Jeff’s wheel for a second and then went full throttle.
With just under a mile to go I knew I was going to have to hold my attack for a while. I looked back and saw a gap but didn’t see any of the other pedal guys so I had to put my head down and committed to a solo breakaway (visions of Jens Voigt in my head). Just as I was entering the last 3 turns someone passed me and with my legs and lungs burning I tried to get around him but couldn’t. He ended up crossing the line in front of me with the pack (and Jeff taking 2nd) a second or two behind. I thought I had gotten 2nd place until I realized that he was wearing a different number. Turns out he was in the 40+ group, so I ended up 1st in the under 40 group. Definitely would have like to officially cross the line in first – you know practice the victory salute – but I’ll take the result.
I think the strategy worked out in the end, but I do think I might have gone a little early. Lesson learned (or maybe something new to train for). Overall I think a late breakaway rather than wait for a field sprint on this course was a good tactic. I think if we did manage to break as a team we could have stayed away and with a larger gap. Timing these breaks are difficult and make sure the team knows when to go is even more difficult. As always each race provides a learning experience and something to try out next time.