Attacking Off the Front; Attacking Off the Back - Part II

Posted 17 Aug 2017

By Adam Naguib

tags: road, racing, race reports

Ninety miles with over 8,000 ft of elevation gain makes the Patterson Pass Road Race a real toughie. It also is really windy. Astoundingly, the race features strong headwinds as you ascend up grades exceeding 10%. This race is a bit of a pig.

This race is known for being very mean so it attracts strong riders. It's not the biggest race on the calendar but for sure it garners massive kudos. A good result at Patterson demands nods of acknowledgment and respect from all those in NorCal racing circles. That's my way of saying that the field has strong people in it.

As you can see from the profile- race starts with a big hill. The field was actually pretty sedate for the first two-thirds of the climb before it started getting hard. The difficulty isn't so much in the average pace but the horrendous spikes in the 400, 500 w zones. The second climb was even worse. Looking at the race data fro the second climb, it was only 8 minutes in duration and the average power to stay with the field was only ~320 w over that time, but again, the repeated jumps in power to respond to the field are what make it hard. The horizontal line in the power profile is the average for the climb and it's clearly visible that it wasn't a steady climb at all. Lots of surges and responses to attacks. Of course, let's not forget, at this point there are still about 80 miles to go with these two climbs being covered 3 more times each.

It became immediately apparent to me after the first 15 miles of this race that if I wanted to have any chance of ending up near the front and having a shot at being in the winning move, I'd need to find a way to do this before we started the major climb again. I could sit in, get flicked then ride the first chase group and hope for a top-10, but that would guarantee that I could not podium or compete. Not really an option in my mind. This race is so hard that lap two (i.e. the second of four rounds of climbing the major race ascents) is where the winning move frequently goes. Forget race of attrition, the field gets so hammered way before attrition sets in. You either can put 500 w in repeated bursts to make the break or you can't. You don't need to wait 60 miles to discover in which camp you are, 20 miles is plenty.

I'll always race, no matter what, so I decided that although my odds of success were minuscule, staying in the pack would reduce them to zero, so I had to do something. I've displayed the race data for the first climbs as well as my subsequent attack above. The selection topography is displayed in the left panel with the corresponding race data for this period at right. I used the descent after the second climb to get composed. As we turned off the descent, I immediately moved up as quickly as I could, and when an opportunity presented, attacked. I'd hoped to get one or more to come with, but alas, I was the only one. The heart rate data show pretty faithfully my physiological journey in the first 30 miles of the race. The power spike where I jump is clearly visible. I went all-in. I had to get to the top of the big climb on my own, the logic being that the top of that climb would be where the race selection was made. If I could avoid the 500 w spikes during the time that selection was being made by already being out front, then the break would come to me. If I could climb at a steady pace, even if it meant I was climbing solo, then I would have a better shot of being in the winning move. In a perfect world, crest the major climb alone. Freewheel down the other side and get caught by the 4 or 5 leaders, then sit on for some well deserved rest before reassessing.

I attacked and there must have been some surprise as no-one followed or seemed to even contemplate it (I'll be the first to admit that attacking after 13 miles of this horrendous race may not seem like an appealing move to most sane people). I went for it and I quickly established a ~30 second gap. I didn't expect it to balloon but had hoped for more and am still unclear exactly what the maximum I achieved was. I would have loved a minute or more to slowly leak away whilst ascending the major climb. I pressed on, knowing that I was emptying the tank and that the last miles of the race were where I was going to have to pay for my exertions, but I knew that this was my one shot at having success.

I got to the base of the final climb and still had my gap. I forged on as best I could into an incessant headwind as the grade steepened. A quarter of the way up, before the hardest sections, I still had space. I knew I was going to lose a lot of time but hoped that getting over just 5 or 10 seconds ahead of the leaders would be attainable. I wasn't trying to beat the lead group, I was trying to race ahead of the split.

I pressed on, more wind, steeper sections. I did my best to stay focused and not give in to fatigue, to force the pace. But it wasn't enough. I was finally caught by the group about a mile from the summit of the 4.5 mile ascent. It was over. I had raced and gone all-in but things didn't fall in my favour. Moves from the group had begun earlier on the climb and these are what had squashed my time gap and brought me back. I got into the group and had a moment to breathe. I kept a steady power, knowing that the surges that would fracture the group and diminish it to its final fragments were nigh. They came, the group splintered, the break was set. After 13 miles out front solo responding was impossible.

Twenty-six miles into the 90 miles my race was over. I'd gone all in but it wasn't enough. From then on I was in a zone 2/3 training ride to the finish. I'd try to hang onto stragglers as they came by but in essence the die had been cast and it was a case of simply getting in. I ended up completing race in 5 hours, about 30 minutes after the winner had crossed the line.

I was off the front, then off the back, like before. This time, however, it was a calculated move made with full knowledge. I'll try again. I'll keep racing.