I've done each of the Lancaster road races this spring. Previously, I did many Cat 1/2/3 races where I could get crushed by much younger and fitter guys. When the big guns showed up, it could be a struggle to outlast their attacks and finish among them at the end. A new category in the Lancaster series, 40+ Cat 3/4 Men, allows me to go in with some new confidence. I'm younger and more experienced than the majority of my competition.
The races have been so-so. Not much team representation. Mostly solo guys racing for themselves. That can make things boring as no one is willing to go too far beyond their comfort zone or take risks. Instead of working together, racers look at each other and say, "Screw you, I'm not going to exert myself in a way that others may benefit from." What often develops is what I refer to as "Negative Racing". Instead of racing aggressive to win, racers are trying to avoid losing.
As I was previously using these for training, I often showed up with tired legs. That caused me to race more conservatively than I would like. I also don't know anyone in the races as these are far from home. In my Salisbury Road Race, a team of two riders successfully dictated the entire race. A solo breakaway with a good blocker among the rest of the field. Basically, one strong guy and one smart guy. While frustrated, I was very impressed. I took note of who they were, the team they were on, and how others responded and behaved.
Last weekend, I showed up at the Farmerstown Road Race. Same series and race category but a course I was not familiar with. We began the 42-mile race in a stiff wind. Enough wind to dampen the enthusiasm of many racers. In the first third of the race, a solo rider attacked and got a gap ahead of the group. It was a rider on the same team that dictated the previous race but I did not recognize the rider. I noticed him earlier in the race and wasn't too impressed. The winner of the previous race was playing the role of "blocker". That got my full attention. I'm not going to get caught sleeping again.
At about the half-way point, the solo rider was hovering with a 30-40 second lead. Impressive but not beyond the reach of others. In this situation, I'm looking to "bridge" up to that leader while leaving everyone else behind. I was anxious to do something before allowing that rider to slowly increase his lead. Still a long way to go to the finish so I had some reservations.
I noticed a farm vehicle on the road ahead of us. There was a right turn ahead and I thought we would hit that turn at the same time as that vehicle. I hit the gas. Getting a small gap on everyone else and passing that vehicle before the turn. Actually, I cut him off as motorists often do to us on our road training rides. I don't know that vehicle impacted everyone else but I got the gap I wanted and my race got much more interesting.
Now, I can share my race data to help you to understand what was going on. I do not look at my data while racing and do not recommend it. It usually tells you you are suffering badly (of course) and becomes a distraction. I do my analysis after races to see how the data compared to what I was "feeling".
After leaving the field behind, it took exactly 8 minutes to catch the leader. A short max sprint and Zone 5-VO2 Max effort. Then I settled into the high end of Zone 4-Threshold and hoped to make progress. It was difficult enough that I didn't know if I'd make it to the leader. I did make it up to him eventually. After the race, I created a lap in the data called "Bridge". You can click on it to highlight that portion of the map and graph.
I pulled up next to him and immediately introduced myself, asked his name, and told him he had an awesome teammate blocking in the field. I showed I was friendly and provided encouragement to keep digging deep. We now needed to work together to remain ahead.
We did that for the next 45 minutes. Exchanging pulls and trying to compliment one another. As one slowed, the other came around to keep the pace high. The wind kicked our butts at times. Bringing us down to jogging speed. I'd look back as we went around turns to gauge where the rest of the racers were. At times, they were out of sight. That was encouraging.
We started the bell lap with about a 20-second advantage. Not very good, as road races tend to get faster towards the end. Others are willing to take greater risks with their energy as they know the end of the race is approaching. If caught, I wouldn't have the legs to contest a field sprint. No choice than to remain committed to what I started.
The gap got slowly smaller. The undulating terrain made it hard to tell but they were slowly getting closer. I was getting fatigued. Confident that I could beat my companion at the end but needed his help to get there ahead of others. We were caught with 3/4 of a mile left in the race. As the field swallowed us, we exchanged a sincere thanks and good luck.
Immediately, the blocking teammate and another strong rider counter-attacked and they finished ahead of the field. The blocker finished second. A strong showing for a guy who likely put in some big efforts to support his teammate in the breakaway. The winner got the golden opportunity and capitalized.
I reintegrated into the field with tired legs. As they ramped up towards the finish, I could only watch while in their draft. Not enough left in the tank to stand and sprint. 38 riders started. Many were dropped and abandoned due to the wind. I finished 14th of the 21 who finished. The winner put in a two minute effort, at the perfect moment, and won. I put in a 52 minute effort and got zilch.
That is road racing. Chess on wheels with lots of sweat and a little bit of NASCAR. I drove home imagining what I could have done differently to change the result. I also drove home feeling as if I had raced aggressively, dictated the race to others and left it all out on the road. For me, that is a success and keeps me going back for more.
I appreciate your attention. Now go make an impact in your next event or leave it all out there trying.