Saturday was the state championship road race, which is held on a sixteen mile circuit with a 7-10% climb of ~1.5k on every lap. The cat. 3s were scheduled for five laps, and I was frankly hoping to just hold on four times up the hill so I didn’t end up with a DNF and could at least drag myself over the summit the last time and finish within shouting distance of the field.
My brother and I did this race last year as cat. 5s; Steve won, I came in 9th, having been dropped by the lead group on our 3rd and final time up the hill. I came oh so close to chasing back on, and the pain of that near miss was in my mind on Saturday.
My strategy this time was to make sure I was near the front as we started the climb. That way if I lost ground, I would just drift back through the field but hopefully not end up behind a gap. First time up the hill, I started towards the front, and though the pace was high, I never felt like I was struggling to keep up. I finished the climb near the front of the group, grabbed my bottle in the feedzone, and kept going. One down, four to go.
A guy from Cole Sport had attacked on the climb and had a decent gap, but he was alone. Most of lap two was a series of counter-attacks, with people trying to get up with the leader, and others chasing them down. As we hit the climb for the second time, Cole Sport was still alone, and the rest of us were all together. If he could stay away to the end, he would have earned it the hard way. Once again, I stayed near the front on the hill. We must have lost a few this time up, because the group seemed smaller.
Third time up the hill, my teammate Will attacked, along with Brian from Team Wright, a guy from Biker’s Edge, and Chris from RMCC. There may have been one more—I’m not sure. I almost got gapped, but not on the climb. In the feedzone, I tried to get two bottles. Rachel ran after me for all she was worth*, but ultimately, I couldn’t wait any longer for the second one and was still left with work to do to get back on.
*The unsung heroes of the day were the support crews. Though the race promoters had neutral water available in the feed zone, there were no bottles nor volunteers to hand them up. And it was a hot day. So Rachel and Steve’s wife, Marco, started collecting cast off bottles, filling them up, and handing them to racers needing support as they came through. The idea caught on, and soon others got involved. Even so, some douchebag in the Cat. 1/2 field had the audacity to yell at them for not doing a good enough job with the water handups. How about they let you dehydrate next time?
Most of the teams with numbers were represented in the break, and surprisingly, there was very little chase. We just rode along at a comparatively mellow pace, with Steve and I on the front deliberately slowing down* to force someone else to work.
*Having someone in the break is critical, not just because the man up has a chance to win, but because the teammates in the group aren’t expected to chase. If you are on the front, deliberately slowing down gives the break a better chance to survive, but the slow pace may also prompt other teams to get on the front and work, forcing them to use energy they won’t have at the finish. We’ve been on the wrong side of this equation a couple times this season, so it was nice to have it the other way.
After the fourth time up the hill, it seemed obvious the break would stay away. The main field had shrunk considerably, and the only team left with any numbers was Ski Utah. Mounting a chase would take its toll, so I expected another parade lap. Clint from Ski Utah said something about throwing in the towel and duking it out at the end for the last remaining upgrade point, which is probably what I would have done. Surprisingly, Clint and his teammate Cody traded pulls until Cody was blown, and then Clint got on the front and drove it by himself until just before the climb when a Barbacoa rider moved up and took a turn.
Mark T. talks about doing your duty on the front—the work Clint did epitomized that ethic. He knew he was destroying any chances he had of placing by trying to bring the break back, but he did it anyway, preferring to try and fail rather than not try at all.
Last time up the hill, what was left of the group started to shatter. And then we caught the guy from Cole Sport who had been alone on the front all day. Wonder where everyone else is? I felt great and liked my chances sprinting it out with who was left, but we still had some climbing to do.
Then Tyler from Team Wright attacked. I thought “let him go,” knowing he probably couldn’t last by himself when it flattened out before the finish. But Steve and Nick from RMCC went with him. That was fine. Nick’s a great finisher, but so is Steve.
At the top of the hill a guy from Logan Race Club started to chase them down. In that split second when I could react and go with him, I was still feeling the burn from the climb and hesitated just that much too long. The only guys left were my teammate Scott P. and guys from RMCC and Wright. We all had men up, so I figured we’d just do our best to maintain the gap we had on the Ski Utah guys but not do much else.
Then RMCC turned to me and asked if I could chase. I gave him a non-committal shrug, but it was apparent he wanted to bring them back and Wright was willing to help. I could see why Wright would chase—Tyler is a pure climber and wouldn’t do well against Nick and Steve. But why would RMCC chase with Nick up? Scott and I can both sprint—why would they want to bring us with them?
Wright took a pull, then RMCC, then he rotated off and gave me a big shove, so I went up and rode tempo, feigning effort. Wright and RMCC took more pulls, and we gained ground each time. I rode more tempo and saw Steve looking back—did they want us to catch? Were they blown from the attack? By the time it fell to me again, the catch was inevitable, so I figured let’s get it over with and regroup. I took a big dig, and two groups of four were now eight.
Scott turned to me and asked if I had legs. I said I did. He said he’d give me a leadout. It was obvious what we were doing, so it was just a question of whether anyone else could respond.
With about 500 meters, Scott accelerated. With 200, I came around and went for all I was worth. And then I passed someone. Were we that close to the break, or was he from another group? Then I passed the guy from Biker’s Edge. My legs were searing, I thought I’d gone too early, I expected Nick or Steve to come around any moment. I just wanted the pain to stop. Then I saw Chris from RMCC up the road and realized I was racing for third—it was just a question of whether there was enough real estate left to catch him and whether I could suffer a few seconds longer.
In a close sprint, riders will “throw” their bikes forward at the end to try and get their front wheel those last few centimeters ahead. I have never done nor practiced this move and don’t know the first thing about timing or technique. As I dug to try and catch Chris, I knew the throw was my only shot. I timed it late. He got me by less than half a wheel. One more meter…
Steve was right behind me for fifth. Brian and Will had been alone at the end, with Brian outsprinting Will for the state championship. Scott finished 11th after setting me up. Considering the course and the competition, I couldn’t be happier with the results. A detour to Logan for Aggie ice cream on the way home was icing on the cake.