The pigeon lake road race was to be my first road race of the season and my first road race ever. I purchased a racing license from the Alberta Bicycling association this spring to register me to race cyclocross in the fall and then potentially allow me to fit in a couple road races along the way this season for training. Cyclocross season does not conflict with triathlon season in Alberta, the lakes are just too cold by the time ‘cross season starts for anyone to race triathlon. I decided to give the road racing a shot only to the extent that it benefits me in training and experience. Success here was not to be measured by results, but rather by having fun and hopefully putting in a solid training day of race effort.
The past year has found me finding it harder and harder to do race simulation efforts during training because either 1) they are too long or 2) I go too fast to be safe. The former relates specifically to run workouts where the recovery necessitated by hard and long runs begins to jeopardize my ability to train the next day at an acceptable level. If I’m racing I feel a bit more justified to give it a go at race effort, namely the Calgary Police Half Marathon in late April and then take the necessary recovery protocols to get back on-board following a day or two with delayed onset muscle soreness. The ‘to fast’ is measured mostly on the bike, ripping around town at 40-45 kph in the aero position is impossible. I need to get out of town onto sections of road that have good shoulders to really do quality work on the bike or I need to show up to indoor workouts during the summer and crank out some intervals at our Wednesday evening suffer-fest.
The cross country race season mixed in some running race efforts to the spring training and I am certain that these race efforts benefitted my top end speed, more importantly they boosted my confidence to run at aerobic threshold. I haven’t been doing that. The winter is too slippery outside or the intervals inside on the track end up being too short to get the heart rate up and then hold it there for any measurable amount of time (for me, that’s got to be 10 minutes or more to seem important).
Back to the bike race. I’m racing category five with all of the other cyclists new to road racing and have one teammate in the category with me. Stefan is the triathlon club’s head coach for the 2009-2010 season and brings a bit of European racing experience to the table even though the ABA mandates he start in Cat 5. His goal this season is Ironman Canada at the end of August and certainly has a bike strength although his swim splits put lots of the club to shame and he runs a mean run. His plan is to break off the front, and go for gold. If he’s caught he plans to break away again. In pre race discussions we establish a gameplan of getting both of us into the breakaway and will not be concerned if it also includes a few more guys to help us put time on the peloton. He’s got the big power to win a drag race to the line and I’m pretty sure that I’m better off in a breakaway than dukeing it out in a category 5 bunch sprint. Remember the second goal is to benefit training and a crash is pretty much the worst plan for benefiting training.
We’re racing 65 people in our category and the speed theory team makes up 15 of them. So far as we know they’re the only team that has been doing race strategy practice workouts and we’re sure they’ve got something up their sleeves. At the line-up they’ve got 14 people at the back row and 1 dude perched nicely on stefan’s wheel. We roll out of the community center and out through town, I’m working to sit in the 5th row approximately and want to stick near Stefan’s rear wheel. The roll out starts out fine and we roll along but I quickly realize that maintaining position in the pack is trickier than it might seem. I’m sticking with the guys around me but riders are continuously scooting up the sides of the pack. That makes for a net-drift back through the pack. I loose stefan’s wheel just as we’re getting to the first corner and the motorbike that we’re following goes off down the road meaning that the neutral start has ended. Stefan immediately goes on the breakaway from the start and a couple people give chase but no-one with enough gusto to actually close the gap which is at perhaps 50 meters.
We roll along through some of the first rolling hills basically directly into a headwind and Stefan’s lead grows to about 100 meters at the largest before they reel him in on a downhill back to about 50m and it seems like he’s going to be caught. I’ve started to figure out how to maintain position in the pack and am making basically zero effort with my legs, lots of thinking though and watching all of the people move around through the group. The Speed Theory guy who was set up in the front to follow Stefan makes a few attempts at a break but is always drawn in by a Bicisport rider who counterattacks on a few occasions. The headwind is keeping the group packed quite closely together and I stick myself two or three rows deep, about a dozen guys up in front.
We reel in Stefan at the corner turning north onto a slightly bigger road. The speed theory team arrives at the front of the pack together suddenly. Their dedication to sticking at the back of the pack is over and I suppose their practice at group riding strategy pays off as they’re quite quickly all there, it’s not a trickle of black and red, they all come together. Stefan merges with the front of the pack and chats a bit with some of the guys right in front of me but so far as I know he has no idea where I am. One thing it’s impossible to do in a pack of riders like this is really to look over your shoulder, you can be a master handler and ride no hands on your rollers while taking off your shirt and eating a banana but it’s not a matter of staying in a straight line while looking over your shoulder to see who’s behind. It’s a matter of knowing exactly where the people ahead of you are so you don’t run into anyone. Stefan doesn’t know where I’m at as we cruise down a hill and around the corner into our first stretch of tailwind for the day. “The hill” looms ahead even though it’s not very steep nor is it very long. It is the only real hill of note on the course and the group splinters a bit as we climb it. It’s not like the hill splits things up rather it just spreads them out slightly allowing people to move around a bit. I’m free to move and come up over the crest in good shape, heart rate totally controlled and not having lost any position within the group. Some really little guys think it’s their job to show off how light they are and make an attack on the hill but their show ends at the crest when people who took the hill conservatively blow right by them. Onto the downhill I’m pushing 53×12 (biggest gear) and it makes a couple clicks, I don’t want any funny stuff with my gears so I back off to 53×13 and cruise off down the hill tucked in behind one of the Bicisport guys who also has some mass. We’re doing mid sixties and things are spreading out a bit. An ERTC rider makes an attack and is matched by Stefan, the Bicisport guy and one from Pedalhead Roadworks. I follow Stefan as the five of us snap the elastic with the rest of the group. Stefan pulls over to the side to see who else will pull through and I look over to see a huge smile on his face to see that I’m right there. We’re really pushing here for a minute or two as I take a turn and then Stefan is back on the front. We take the corner and it’s clear that we’ve got a solid gap on the group. The other three don’t seem to want to pull through when there are two guys from the same team out front with them. Stefan gestures to the ERTC guy to take a turn and when he declines I take it out hard ensuring Stefan is second wheel and push for a few minutes. As I begin to fade Stefan cruises by and I’m in the draft trying to recover as fast as I can. As soon as I sense him fading I come around and together we really push hard alternating for about 10 kms as we start the second lap again. Once into the curvy section of the road we’re out of sight and Stefan suggests that we back it off a bit, that we don’t need to overdo it into the headwind. We stay away and I’m focusing on keeping myself relatively aerodynamic when pulling as well as getting my bottle of Gatorade down. Those two tasks are about all I’ve got.
As we turn north again there is no-one in sight and Stefan says he can’t wait to read the speed theory blog about the race. I laugh a little but I’m working pretty hard to stay with him here. Back into the tailwind and up the hill. Off we go again, things are a lot calmer without 65 guys baring down on us and we’re free to use the whole road and move freely. The drafting is efficient and we really do our best to take advantage of the tailwind while we’ve got it.
We roll south and off of the lap. I mention to Stefan that I can taste blood and he laughs, ‘it means you’re going hard enough’ he says and we’re onto the home stretch. We’re following the lead motorcycle and come to a junction where he signals a right hand turn that looks like he’s trying to question the intersection volunteers for directions. The volunteers probably see his signal and then don’t think for themselves and point us south. We’re supposed to go straight and I mention this to Stefan but we can’t very well argue with both the volunteers and the motorcycle driver who is maintaining a 50 yard lead on us. We take the long route around the last block of the race into the finish and nearly beat the peloton to the finish line after covering about 2.5 kms extra. We pull around the finish line and discuss the problem with the comissaire who hears the story from the motorcycle driver. Stefan is going to be upgraded from Cat 5 based on either result so we decide that he’ll get the money for first place and points for second place ($140 and 20 pts) and I will get the points for first place ($80 and 25 pts). That’s a pretty good deal considering if it were to amount to a sprint he would have won with probably 80% certainty even though he probably did 60% of the work for the breakaway and I contributed 40%. That puts me in a good position to hopefully upgrade next weekend at the racing the ring ITT if I can place in the top 5 and get more than 5 pts otherwise I would only upgrade if I place top three… who knows, that might be enough either way or it might be enough neither way. If the difference actually helps it would be totally worth it as that would put me into the Cat4 team in time for the Devon Grand Prix and I could then race with Stefan, Dave and Mike from Hardcore with a bit more a complete team for the road race. I’ll otherwise be relegated to riding Cat 5 along with Jon Clark and maybe Albert if he comes out to do another race which wouldn’t be all bad, but Cat4 would be more fun.