Last week was the fun and hilly Winchester Circuit Race. Think an Ardennes classic mixed with a crit. The course had almost 3,000 feet of climbing in about 27 miles. Racing with two teammates I had the luxury of not hitting out from the start. Instead, my guys would help soften up the field in this short and intense event so that I could make a move about a third of the way through this relatively short escapade (the whole race was about 70 minutes).
About 20 minutes during which my teammates ensured that nothing got away, it was time for me to go. Three quarters of the way up the most significant climb in the race (a climb of about two and a half minutes which we'd ascend 6 times over 6 laps) I had a dig, the field somewhat less fresh after two laps of the relentless, climb-filled course, I got separation and was away.
Well, that wasn't quite the plan. The idea was to make a separation, to take a group with me. Oh well. In that situation you've got your three options. Sit up- which always seems like a bit of a shame, why waste that effort? Go solo- this one's actually my personal favourite. Really hard, but surely the true path of the hero. Alternatively, just hang out. I chose the the final option- to hang it out there and wait for company.
Hanging out is one of the best ways to get a break started, although it is the somewhat more nerve-racking method. The more common method of establishing a break is going all in with your group from the inception: you just go for it. No holding back. You can always tell when one of those breaks has legs as the first 30 minutes feel like absolute torture and you just want to quit. You feel many things in those scenarios, but definitely not nerves. Mostly just your spleen trying to get vomited out out through your nostrils. When you're hanging out, you actually do the opposite: use all your willpower to hang out there but not by going full gas. You want enough of a gap so that others are tempted to join you. Enough of a gap so that people behind will need to bridge as opposed to just surge over to you. Enough of a gap so that you are sometimes out of sight but not gone so far as to be out of mind. However, you need to be watching behind and be capable of blasting full on when the group gets too close. When any sort of break or move establishes, the first 5 minutes are the most precarious, this is the time when the field still has hope and the move is not far away. At this point there is jumping and surging in the main pack as people look to either get in on the action and close it down or to get across themselves. This is when most attempts at separation are snuffed out (which I guess is stating the obvious to some extent). It's in this time that the guy hanging out (or guys- often when the move is only one or two guys it is legitimate to wait for reinforcements) has to be acutely aware of behind, going hard to stay clear but not constantly hard to get too far away from would-be support.
So that was my mission. The course to some degree, being entirely up or down, helped my purpose. I went hard up the climbs, and did my best to tuck-and-roll on the descents. This should be enough to keep a distance but not to go all in, extend the lead and blow up. Off I went. I'll be honest, I was hoping for my solo ride to be a bit shorter than it was, but it turned out that my hoped-for support wouldn't make a visit until exactly a lap after I took flight, using the same climb to make the junction over that I had used to get away. My little escapade had taken 12min 05sec at a normalized power of 354 w. My average power for that 4.5 miles was only 311 w- it was either big effort uphill or minimal on the descents. I'd been paying attention behind me and when the group got a little too close, I put more in, always trying to maintain some sort of decent space. As the most significant climb of the lap approached I was somewhat apprehensive. I'd done 12 minutes solo at a good clip and there was a significant chance that as the backup reached me that it would surge right past me seeing as the climb was steep-as and there'd for sure be a push. I took a peep behind, saw people making a move over to me, eased up ever so slightly, as as the small group made the junction, went all-in, hoping to ascend the climb with a big push to make it to the top with the fast-moving backup. My first finish line was the top of that hill.
I made it. Actually it wasn't as bad as I'd have thought- I guess the move over to me on that climb was pretty hard on the chasers. And that was that, we were a group of 8, my support had arrived, and I'd successfully been hanging out. At a normalized power of 354 w, but hangin out nonetheless. The race went OK and after some more tactical play and some well timed attacks to drop some of my companions later in the race, I ended up on the podium. Didn't win (another story about getting blitzed at over 600w by a monster athlete on the final climb- savage), but not a bad way to hang out there and get a result.