Dunnigan Hills Road Race: Race Report
I raced the 2017 Dunnigan Hills Road Race. I did not win. However, I did end up on the podium, and I'm quite proud of that. I'll tell you why.
When you train or imagine racing in the depths of Winter, your mind wanders to your hoped glories come the warmer months. The attacks you'll make. The solo moves off the front... In reality, racing aggressively is one of the hardest facets of road racing to master. It's easy to imagine going all in, harder to do 80 miles into a race when you are already spent.
At Dunnigan, I made every effort to get into the early break. When a solo rider went after about 5 miles of the 83 mile race, I went off in pursuit. I got a gap and settled into a threshold rhythm in chase. I spent 7 miles chasing this lone rider, with the pack chasing me, being at about 15 seconds in arrears of the solo escapee most of the time, with the pack about 30 seconds behind me. Not sure why he didn't ease up and allow the junction, after all, he was on his own. In any case, there are moves you go after full gas and moves that are not worth it. After 7 miles I decided that it wasn't a good predicament to go supra-threshold to get up to a single guy, so receded to the pack. Also, there was another 70 miles to race, so it didn't seem like a good bet. As expected, the lone rider was caught a mile or so later.
After a few miles all together, the attacks started again. Insistent on getting up the road I moved up, jockeyed, then darted out of the pack when I thought the time was right. Joined with two others, we got a gap and established a nice move, the gap attaining 90 seconds at its zenith. We worked together and kept a strong pace. After 25 miles a splinter group from the field had formed when attacks on the one climb in the race had forced a selection in the peloton. This movement behind had eaten away our gap, bringing the splinter up to the break I was in. After 45 miles of racing I found myself in the a group of ~18 riders.
One of my team mates had come up from the field with the split. Sensing that the field was tiring I instigated another move, this time with my teammate on my wheel. The pack, more surprised than anything and with a helpful dose of fatigue, receded behind us as we generated a small gap of ~20 seconds which we clung onto for 5 or so miles before being brought back again.
At this point, I was pretty much at the end of my resources. We were something like 65 miles in and I'd been up the road in three separate moves, each of which required a big effort to establish and lots of work to maintain. However, the time in a race when the moment is right to get separation waits for no man. I knew that this was the moment. As tired as I was, I knew that the rest were just as spent. So I attacked again.
Now, I knew that I was about 20 miles from home and I knew that I was fast approaching my limit, but I had to try. I had to race. I sprinted from the field and got a very health 25 seconds off the bat. My assertion that the will to chase was being sucked from the field was right. Now was the time. However, as great as this was, it didn't diminish the fact that I was pretty much spent. I was out front, solo, and spent.
In answer to all my prayers, thankfully after a short while out front alone I could see a single rider trying to bridge up to me. Unlike my foolhardy competitor at the start of the race, I had no intention of making the guy suffer, or letting me suffer alone for any more than necessary, so I eased up, facilitating as best I could the junction. Perfect, I had help.
By help, let me be more specific: I had someone to drag me around. I made a few token efforts but was pretty useless. I spoke to my breakaway companion, who had noticed my previous forays out front. I explained the situation and he knew the score. Thereafter he settled in and did a stellar job dragging me towards the end of the race. However, we still had the best part of 20 miles remaining and despite my companion keeping a hard but steady pace, as we hit a series of challenging rollers I became unhitched. Mind was willing, legs were gone. Actually, not even sure how willing the mind was at that point... My breakaway companion carried on as I fell behind.
A took a moment to gather myself and settled into a decent tempo, I wasn't going to sit up but I didn't have enough left to set off in a realistic pursuit. To my surprise, and great relief, I took a peak behind me to see how far back the group was. First off, the peloton were not in sight, second, I could see two chasers closing on me. I had a good gap on them so took the time to recover as best I could and let them approach. As they came by, I hopped on.
At this point I had zero intention of even making a token effort. One false move would again spell the end and lead me to getting flicked. They asked, I pleasantly declined, explaining that I wasn't fucking around, I was really blowing. After several rotations they accepted this. They could have attacked me but they felt me not real threat, which was a fair assessment of the situation. They plowed on, their purpose clear: to catch the lone rider out front, I was an after thought. The leader who I had lost the wheel of previously was never more than 30 seconds ahead. The duo I was with worked really hard to close the gap. Both they, and the lone leader, were putting in massive efforts. Impressive.
The gap slowly crept down. As it did, so did the distance to the finish. As the miles ticked by I started to regain composure. The hardest parts of the course were behind us. We only had s short distance left. I'd had some time in the wheels not working. Things were not so bad. Our trio (the forward momentum of which I was contributing absolutely nothing to) finally made the junction with the lone leader about 8 miles from the end. At this time, with us all together, knowing that I couldn't be jack for the entirety, I started rotating through with the other three. I'd had a break for a few miles and could at least contribute to getting our group the to finish.
At about this time we got a time split, the field was back 2 minutes. They were way behind and had finally given up. Although relieved at this news, it meant that the dynamic of our quartet changed. We we are now aware that this would be the move that stuck it. The whole hearted cooperation waned, replaced by a more win-centric mentality. With about 6 miles to go the first attack came. I wasn't really confident in sprinting full gas in pursuit so increased my pace to set a steady tempo that wouldn't blow me up. One rider hesitated but after assessing the situation sprinted around me and jumped up to the the attacker. The other rider behind me was in no place to respond. He had gone all-in previously to get to this point. He had nothing left, he couldn't keep pace, and fell back.
By now, the two leaders were ahead, with me behind. After a few more miles the situation had not changed. The two leaders had stayed ahead, I was keeping pace behind, but not closing, and our fourth companion had drifted away out of sight. I kept going.
A mile or two later a moto-ref provided me with a time check. I was still 2 minutes up on the field, although behind the two leaders. The race had been decided. At this point I was 2 miles from the line. I kept going. I crossed the line third.
I'm pretty satisfied with that finish. I didn't win, however, in reality I could't have played the final part any different. I was running on fumes for the last 20 miles so to stay out front by any means was a success. I wasn't the strongest in the race by any means, but for sure was the most aggressive, and that aggression gave me opportunities. Even though I was nearly spent, I still managed to instigate the final move that held out for the line (although, to be fair, I didn't contribute too much to driving it!). Also, I wasn't shy about knowing my limits when out front. I had very little leeway and very few remaining resources. In that regard, I'm pretty pleased with the result. To podium when you are feeling strong is fantastic, to podium when you are on your knees is, strangely, almost better.