Both Fred and Jonathan have blogged about their Tour de Husker race experience already, and I thought this would be a good chance to bring my blog back from the dead! My writing is not as good or witty as Fred's nor is it as succinct as Jonathan's, but I had some time so, why not, right?!
I was excited that the Tour de Husker was back for 2018 after a year off. I don’t get to do many road races, so I jump at the chance when it’s available and fits our schedule. I would really like to Twin Bing too, but it’s on a Sunday and since we’ve committed to keep Sundays a family rest day, a Sabbath if you will, I won’t be making that one. We do make exceptions from time to time, but very rarely for a bike race.
Side note: I feel like even if we hadn’t structured our Sundays in this way, I would prefer to race on Saturdays so I could have Sunday to chill out before heading into a new work week. There must be some other advantage to racing on Sundays that I haven’t considered?
The last couple years have been good to me as far as training goes. I feel quite strong and I know I have the fitness to win a cat 4 race. In reality I feel like my fitness is at a place where I would fit in well at the cat 3 level. But, if I can’t put together a win in a cat 4 field, is it really a good idea to upgrade? If I was able to race a lot more, I would definitely stick it out in the 4s until I had at least a win or two. However, with a lack of race opportunities, it makes every race a race where I suddenly feel like I “have” to win. So, I’m still pondering the idea of requesting an upgrade. I pretty much have the points so…
On the other hand, this race fell at a point in my training where I would be pretty fatigued. It would be at the end of a three week block of pretty tough workouts. I considered dialing my workout the day before way back, but since TdH wasn’t really a target race for me this year, I decided it would be better to move forward with my training plan as scheduled. I know this flies in the face of wanting a win before upgrading, making it harder to accomplish.
We had a decent sized field for a local cat 4 race. I think there were a total of 18 of us plus a masters racer or two. The first couple laps were relatively calm. There were several attacks happening, but everyone would close them down pretty quickly and it seemed like maybe the attackers were just testing the field cause the shut it down even before they were caught many times. No one seemed interested in counter-attacking either.
By the time the second lap was maybe 75% done, I felt that if the race continued the way it was going, we’d probably end up in a group sprint. I sprint like a climber, so that wasn’t going to work for me. I decided that on the next time up the initial climb it needed to get harder than it had been. If no one else was going to push the pace, then I would.
We got to the climb and one of the guys from out of state went to the front and started riding pretty hard. I was right on his wheel and was happy that someone else was going to the work of pushing the pace. But then his speed started to drop and I could see the effort was already taking a toll on him and we were still on the early part of the section. So I came around him and upped the pace even more. I didn’t jump hard or anything. My goal wasn’t really to get a gap so much as it was to try and whittle the group down a bit.
I looked back after maybe 30 seconds or so and I had one guy on my wheel. No one else had come with me. The guy who was with me was one of the guys who had been attacking a bunch earlier in the race. I kept the pressure on for a little while longer and then indicated that I wanted him to come around and contribute. He acted kind of surprised and asked if I wanted to really make a go at it. That kind of baffled me. Apparently he was content to sit on my wheel and see what would happen. Later on, I figured out that he was riding in support of another guy, so I suppose I should be surprised that he actually did come around and did some work.
We worked together for the rest of the northbound section where my breakmate suggested that we not kill ourselves on the climb and wait for the tailwind to really hit it hard. That made a kind of sense to me so I eased up a bit when I was on the front for the rest of the headwind section. In retrospect, I think maintaining a hard pace the whole way would have been better. I don’t think this guy was really in it for the long haul.
Anyway, the group caught us not too long after that. I expected them to come around us with some sort of sense of urgency, but they seemed happy to have simply brought us back and their pace dropped right away. So I got back in the group and somehow ended up on the front again (I hate when I do that!). I didn’t really think I was riding all that hard, but I guess the rest of the bunch was tired, because suddenly it was me and the same dude with a gap again. He made some comment about how we had a gap again so it seemed like maybe the group was letting us go. So, I suggested that we just roll smooth and steady turns and see where it got us.
Well, got caught again. Again, I expected someone to come around and, I don’t know, start racing? But the same thing happened and there was an immediate lull in the pace. Not what I was expecting or wanting. I thought for sure someone would counter and I could hop on and we could maybe have a nice break form. It wasn’t to be though.
At this point we were on the dam with a bit of a tailwind and the group was spread out across the road. Too easy. Again. So, I attacked. This time it was a full on attack. Out of the saddle and snappy. I went pretty hard 10 seconds or so, the settled down to a hard but sustainable pace, and then looked back to see if I had done any damage and who was coming with. It appeared as if not a single person had responded at all. I was all by my lonesome. Not ideal considering there was still nearly 20 miles left to race, but it didn’t seem like anyone else wanted to play. So, I went for it.
I pretty much set it to threshold pace and tried to hold the burn at a just tolerable enough level to last another hour or so. Had I not done that hard workout the day before, maybe I could have gone a few percent harder for a while to really open up a gap, but that wasn’t happening with the condition my legs were in at that point.
I made it to the next corner with a decent gap. Decent enough be able to hit the brakes to make sure I didn’t turn the corner right in front of a car coming through the intersection at the same time as me (thanks, corner marshal).
The next ~30 minutes or so consisted of being pretty uncomfortable and looking back over and over to see the main group gaining on me and then falling back over and over. I would think I was done for and then suddenly I would be hopeful again. I kept thinking that if I could just get to a corner with enough of a gap, I could be out of sight, but the course has too many straight sections for that to work with only a 20 second gap.
I eventually got caught and figured that my chances were pretty well blown. But again, no one countered and I was able to slip back in to the group and recover. There was some pace put on for a bit as we hit the dam again, but nothing that was too concerning for me. When we got to the south side of the course, the group started getting smaller and smaller until there was just five of us left. I guess the chase after me had really taken its toll on the group.
We rolled through the hills on the westward part of the course pretty steadily. There was a bit of a cross-wind but apparently everyone was feeling pretty generous cause no one put the group into the gutter. I was able to sit in the draft nice and easily for most of this time. They were even rotating and let me just sit on the back taking no turns whatsoever. Two of the guys were teammates, I believe. They were from out of town and, with the cold weather, team kits were hard to see with jackets on over them.
Anyways, one of them (same guy as who went off the front with me a couple times earlier in the race) told the other to just sit in. He then went to the front and rode off. Maybe I’m remembering it wrong, but I distinctly remember him going to the front and just riding off. Like, he didn’t make a hard attack and create a gap, he just rode a little faster and the rest of us just watched him ride off to a few seconds’ lead. I was okay with it because I didn’t think he would get too much of a lead and I was happy to just sit back and see what would happen, but I was surprised that the guy who had been on his wheel didn’t match the change in pace at all.
So, we have one guy dangling off the front of the group by a few seconds, three other dudes rotating (including the guy who was instructed to sit in), and me sitting on the back and skipping pulls while enjoying the full benefit of the draft. I was sitting pretty.
Eventually, I got impatient with rate that we were not pulling back the guy off the front so I went to the front and increased the pace a little bit. That was a little stupid, since then everyone was quite happy to sit on my wheel. I only say a little stupid, because I was still only doing zone 2 power while on the front. I thought about just going for it again, but we were still far enough out that it would be a very hard effort to maintain and were close enough that they were almost guaranteed to chase, I thought.
The 5 of us eventually came back together and made our way back into the park for the final 2ish mile stretch. No one really pushed it here either and I was able to sit on some more. A small lead out was attempted by the two team mates, and they decided to open the sprint right at the last right-hand turn towards the finish line. Unfortunately, the lead out guy swung off right into the line I was going to take and I had to swing wide to avoid crashing, losing a bunch of momentum. I still had a shot though since they were starting the sprint way early. The guy who started the sprint faded pretty quickly. I knew how far out we were and so didn’t go full bore right away. But another guy went for it and, incredibly, held it all the way to the line. At one point, I tried to reaccelerate and I almost fell off my bike when my legs just about seized.
I ended up in second place… again. On one hand I’m happy to be on the podium, but on the other hand, I know I had it in me to win and I just don’t seem to be able to put it together yet. Thinking back on it now, I can think of several things I could have done differently. For one, I think I should have pushed the pace on the cross-wind section, putting the group into the gutter. I get the impression that the rest of the group was pretty tired so forcing them to match my pace without much of a draft may have simply dropped them all. But could I have held that all the way to the line after spending so much time earlier off the front solo? Who knows?
It was still a great day on the bike regardless of not quite getting what I think I could have for a result. Next race is the first race of the Psycowpath series at Swanson. Hopefully the weather dries up in time. It would be nice to actually get to ride my mountain bike sometime before the race too!