Less than fresh off of yesterday's hill climb, it was an early morning for me as I had to head to the eastern plains to do a road race in a town called Deer Trail. It's a 90 minute drive from Boulder, but my category was the first one to go off (at 8:30), so I was up at 5:20a to leave the house by 6. While the early morning start was not very welcomed, I knew that races starting later in day were likely to have to deal with stronger winds than I, so I was OK with that trade-off.
The course for today was basically L shaped, with the race starting at the corner, and going up and down relatively gentle rollers. My category was to ride the bottom of the L, come back to the corner, then head North to do the vertical line of the L, turnaround to go back to the corner, and then do and out-and-back on the bottom of the L again to the finish. All for a total of about 43 miles.
There was a neutral start for the first stretch to get from the town to the L (meaning everyone follows the lead out vehicle in a calm and orderly fashion, and no one can attack.) And even though the racing hadn't officially begun, I knew it was important to position myself early both a) towards the front half of the field (of 76 racers) and b) to the side of the field where I'd be shielded from the slight breeze coming out of the North as we headed East along the bottom of the L. As we reached the L, the racing began and the pace picked up some. I was happy with where I was for the time being... kinda towards the front, and tucked in on the right side of the road drafting as much as possible. The rollers tended to string the field out a bit, but it would bunch up again on the downhills as the pace let up.
There was some jockeying for position going on approaching the first turnaround because people knew the field would surely stretch out after the 180-degree turn... there is no way a pack of cyclists like that can go around an orange cone in the middle of a two lane road and still stay together. I wasn't able to move up dramatically before the turn, so did get caught up in some mayhem at the cone... I bumped into 1 or 2 cyclists, and had the same happen to me.
I got myself the positioning I wanted after a short, intense effort to get back towards the front of the pack, except this time, nestled towards the center of the road. Things were pretty calm for the next several miles... there was a guy doing a pretty solid solo effort off the front, but he was only maybe 150m in front of us and there were 30 more miles to go, so it wasn't time for panic.
The field did get a little strung out as we headed North and into the wind and over some rollers, so I became more aggressive in keeping myself shielded... I did get caught out a little bit at times, but made sure to correct that as soon as possible. Remembering what happened at the 1st 180-degree turn, I got myself to about 15th wheel about 200m before the turn so I could both avoid the chaos and make sure I could position myself for drafting. (Yes, even though we would have a tailwind now, it was still important to draft as much as possible as we were going faster than the breeze.) Plus, I expected the pace to pick up as we'd be approaching less than 15 miles to go, and sure enough it did.
Right after rounding the turn, I had to get up out of my saddle to chase down the people in front of me and get behind them, and the guys up front kept the pressure on solidly for the next 7.5minutes/3+ miles or so. It eased up for a short stretch, but as we approached the next uphill roller, it was back to hard riding as there was a definite effort to thin the herd.
There was a slight downhill to the turn to do the final out and back to the finish, so I could recover some. As we made the turn to do the slight uphill, the guys up front hit it really hard and I made a huge mistake as I was not on the side of the road where I needed to be avoid the wind; rather, I was acting like a windshield for my fellow racers. I let up a bit so I could tuck in behind the last guy, but by this point I had "eaten" a lot of wind and spent a lot of energy. I was able to tuck in for a bit, but it was too late. I then latched onto a group of chasers in hopes of rejoining the lead pack and was able to stay with them for a while, but alas, they, too, were too strong.
It was "Operation: Maintain Placement" at this point and if possible pick off anyone who also got spit out the back. I was able to catch a couple and had a few go by me, but the impact of my mistake became all too clear as I rode the last couple of miles in no man's land and dealing with the wind on my own. Out of 76 finishers, I came in 31st place with a time of 1:58:00, average speed around 21.7 mph.
It was a tough weekend in the saddle, and am now looking forward to a little break (racing-wise) before my next kick at the can on Memorial Day weekend.