Race Report: Pine Flat Road Race
At the start of the ~63 mile race a small group goes away looking for the break. I had little intention of being off the front from the absolute beginning so was not overly concerned. The only negative associated with this group of three that forged ahead was that one racer was from the most represented (3 riders total) team, meaning that for sure these guys would contribute nothing to any sort of chase required in the latter part of the race.
Mid way the break had approximately 2 minutes on the field. At this point I started to pay a lot more attention to what was transpiring. The last quarter of the race had two significant climbs. It would be touch and go as to whether the field would be able to bring back the escapees if we hadn’t done so by mile 50, which was the beginning of the first climb. It didn’t feel quite right- the strongest riders in the main field were rotating on the front, keeping the time gap from extending. I had a good sense for who the stronger and weaker racers were due to knowing some of the field and simply observation on the day. This would have been ideal if the gap was gradually coming down, but it wasn’t. If the gap had be falling, with the strongest riders in the field becoming fatigued by their chasing efforts, coupled with the strongest riders out front tiring from their all-day exertions, this plays perfectly into the hands of those not contributing in the main field. However, as mentioned, the gap was holding, not falling.
Weighing up the situation I calculated that it didn’t look like the main field would be racing for the win as things stood, 4th place was it. I made the decision that this wasn’t enough. At mile 38 I decided that if I in any way wanted a shot at the podium I had to go- I attacked. One other rider came with and we rotated for a minute or so but, as is the peloton’s want, we were chased and on the understanding that we were not going to be allowed to have it, we eased up and were captured. Instantly, a third solo rider attacked as we were brought back. No response. I looked to the most active three or four riders who had been doing most of the pace setting and who had brought my little foray to heel and they just shrugged and looked at each other. My previous attempt seemed, in conjunction with their earlier duties, to have sucked the fight from main field. This was one of those magic race moments which you can always tell by the same feeling one has. You *know* that you have to get on that move, it is clearly getting away. It is the train that you need to get on. You mind knows it. The problem is- you’re cooked. I had received zero recovery from the previous attack. My mind said yes but my lungs and legs were less convinced. I knew it though. I knew what had to happen. I went again.
Now, bridging should be renamed in my opinion. Bridging doesn’t technically exist. It makes it sound like a calculated effort: I will do 350 w for 15 minutes, the break is doing 320 w so I will catch them in 5 miles. In reality, that is BS and if you are ever bridging for more than 60 seconds the truth is you are in serious trouble. It should be just called mid-race sprinting. Because that is what it is. A full gas, go to you blow effort. Very rarely does one make a calculated bridge with a measured effort. No exception, I went full gas out of the saddle and sprinted. I started at over 700 w and got three quarters of the distance before retreating back into a seated position. But, this was no good. The only hope I had was to get into that draft. After the second sprint (including the exertion for my first attempted escape) there wasn’t going to be an extended 350 w effort without some rest. So, I got out of the saddle again and hoped. Thankfully, the legs responded and I closed those final 10…7…3…yards to the escapee’s wheel, entering the draft. Thankfully, the course was flat here. If we would have hit a climb or roller, I would have been popped right back off again.
I looked back, we had a gap, not huge (maybe 15 seconds) but something. I made a quick intro to my break mate then after a short recovery, started rotating. We worked well and kept a good tempo. Upon regular inspection, the gap to the main field didn’t increase. It was steady. In the break, this is where you need stones. You get disheartened. You want to extend your lead. Why are they not giving up on us? Here you need to get into that cozy bed of lactate that you have just made yourself and wait. Just a bit more. Wait. In reality, there were probably two to four guys working the front of the field to chase us. That makes up to four of them against two of us. The gap is steady, not coming down. We do have one advantage though- we are all in. We are giving 100% and rotating smoothly. We are holding a gap. All we need to do is wait. Once the gap isn’t immediately shut down the doubt will jump from our little group, leap back over the separation that I had just bridged, then lodge itself firmly in the main field. After 5 miles or so, this very thing happened. Those at the front of the bunch became disillusioned. They were working, not closing the gap, getting tired, and most of the field was sitting on. Then it happened- they eased up, our lead extended, we got out of sight.
The two of us, working well, had a nice gap now. We were chasing the three original breakaway artist who were up the road. So, 4th and 5th on the course. Still not podium, but definitely better than being in the field. Ten miles or so after we had got separation, we started to hit the lower ramps of the first climb. I personally find it really hard to judge climbing out in the break. Were we going too hard or too soft? We still couldn’t see the field. We continued to ascend. Then, from behind, a lone rider bridged up. At that very moment, two things happened. My break mate popped. He went backwards. The emotional impact of getting caught (even by a single rider) must have sent him over the edge. Second, we came around a bend to the steepest part of the course to see one of the original escapees who went at the gun. He had been dropped from the leaders. We passed him as he pedaled squares.
I crested the main climb a little behind the new break companion, knowing now only two riders were ahead. Then disaster. As I looked behind, the remnants of the field were right behind (maybe only 6 or 7 riders), but caught nonetheless. Apparently the ascent was a little on the slow side. I counted our little group as I filtered to the back. A group of six, with two of the original guys who attacked still away, meaning our group was gunning for 3-8th place. The group didn’t have much impetus, I could tell that most riders were cooked from the long climb. One further rider rolled on to our group, using the long descent and to get back on. I saw the riders at the front, they were not happy rotating. There was no cohesion. I could just sense the time was now. We hit a significant hill and I sprinted full, hoping to get someone to come with. This effort at ~900 w took me to the top of the rise and I looked back to see no response. Nothing. I had a nice gap. I was all in. I was 6 miles from the finish. Maybe a full on effort might get me to the two leaders up front. Head down, full speed. I kept going. I got out of sight. The final mile of the race was straight up hill- something like 8% average. That didn’t seem too appealing but what was I to do. I ignored it an decided to deal with it once I go there. As the road tilted up, not so steep at first, I kept a good rhythm. I was still in the big ring, riding nice cadence. I still had a gap. Then I came around another corner. Amazing, the sign says “1 km”. Then I see it. A wall of asphalt in front of me. It occurred to me that 1 km might take me an eternity. In the saddle, out the saddle. Up a gear, down a gear. I was searching for the rhythm. For some flow. Nothing. At some point with climbing it just goes. No finesse. No elegance. Sometimes you just brute force it up a hill. Now was that time. I looked behind. I could now see the group. A good 200 m down the hill. Is that a lot on a climb? Is it not? I kept on. I turn another steep corner. “200 m” Good? Bad? Fuck- that’s 200 m uphill. I look behind, the group is closer now. I start to falter mentally. Can I hold this? I try to find a fluid pedal stroke. I had covered another 50 m. The group is closer. I am about to blow up. One last effort, 100 m to go. I get to the line. The first rider from the chasing group crosses the line about 10 seconds after me.
The entire race was a full on affair. My total power over the 2hr50min was 242 w. The last 1 mile climb I averaged ~350 w. I thought I was going to die, I really was going full gas. The last hour or so from when I first left the group, as evidence by the data, was a threshold effort more or less. A hard fought third place. Never got a time gap on me and the two up front. Wanted to catch them obviously. Not too sure how close I ever came to that. Pleased with how I raced. I couldn’t control the break racing alone. That was out of my hands. I’m pretty sure I did the best I could with the cards I was dealt on the day. Could have gone from the gun I suppose, but maybe they wouldn’t have let a group of four go like they had a group of three? Who knows.