It's the biggest race in the area. Climbing 400' per lap, with some really nice rollers and a nice fast descent. We've been planning this race for weeks. The team has the plan to make it hurt... starting on the first climb.
So, my day starts out with a call at 6:30... "Are you on the road yet?" Uh, no...should I be? I'm planning on leaving at 7. Then I get nervous... did I misstep my timing? Get the kids in the van, make the obligatory breakfast stop at McD's... and it's a typical "Race to the Race, Race at the Race, Race home." The whole way there, I'm counting the time... Shoot. I hate this type of race prep, which is why I usually try to leave PLENTY of time to get there and get kitted up.
Arrive at 8:00 for an 8:30 start time. Point the kids to the race, and the field and the non-existent playground I thought was there... sorry guys. Fortunately they brought books that they were interested in. Get dressed, signed in, numbers pinned, and I've still got 20 whole minutes to get some kind of warm up. Nice.
On the line we've got 9... yes 9 SBR racers in a field of 30. Woah, we've got numbers. Ray, Pete S., Peter R., Rick, Gary, Jason, Jeff, Bob and myself. I haven't seen Bob since early last year. Looking around, there are the usual smattering of jerseys. Stark has the most. Then there's some Orrville, Spin, Summit and a bunch of singles. You can never tell when the singles are racing together... we've got a plan, and we're off to work.
From the gun, the two Orrville take up the pace making heading into the rollers. With so many SBR, it was easy to put the team all over the front. Into the rollers and we swarm around Orrville, and they are never to be seen again. TV time maybe?
Into the first descent Jason and Rick move to the front, and bomb the downhill. We're off! Gary, Ray, Pete and I are up there. On the flat before the turn Peter R. comes flying around and starts the pull into the hill. Unfortunately, right after the turn he threw his chain. Casualty number one as he can't get it back in time to catch on to the tail of the field.
Ray and Pete hit the front up over the steep part, a couple get away right at the start of the hill. But they ramp up the pace over the top and they come back quick... let the carnage begin.
Over the top I know it's Ray, Pete and I.. I have no idea how it's going behind us. We keep a decent pace going into the rollers, though I find I'm hitting the brakes more than I like... then working the little humps. Into the second descent, and I move to the front to do the pace making.
So it begins... and repeat this for 4 laps. Ray and Pete on the front pushing it up the hill through the first turn. I'd come through to take the pace on the descent, and maybe some on the rollers. Knowing how aggressive Ray and Pete planned on being, I assigned myself the "protected rider" job. I will not wasted energy unless it's necessary. I'll just be staying near the front, keeping ready for the attacks on the last climb.
Third lap on the rollers, I look back to see what's happening in the field. The group is down to about 15-20, but I see Gary is still with us, Cool! So we've got 4. I moved to the front again to pull the descent, at the bottom, Jason comes around me to pull the corner. Where did he come from? Was he hiding? Turns out, he lost contact on the first climb, chased back on... TWICE! Then he just got to the front and was ready to work again. Nice. Unfortunately he wasn't able to chase back again. Ouch.
Third time up the climb, Pete and Ray again do their damage. This time, I decide to play a little, and I let a gap open up, knowing it will get closed by a swarm around me... and might just cause a few more to get popped. If not this lap, maybe next. Pete and Ray have a couple with them, as about 4 come around me. I jump back to the group at the line, and notice we have about 10-15 together. This could be the race! I say "This is it! Let's GO!" but I guess everyone thought we were going fast enough... cause no one else moved. Soon the group had grown again and that chance was gone.
Fourth time up the hill, and Ray gets a gap. By the time we get to the crest, it's significant, and we haven't done anything to help it. I moved onto the front and try to slow the pace further. Pete and I are on it, and the gap opens more. Through the rollers a Stark and the unaccompanied UPMC rider do a little work, but mostly the field is confident Ray will be back. He does seem to struggle some over the larger rollers. As we hit the descent, it becomes obvious that the field was right. By the top of the fifth climb, Ray is back in the field.
Without Ray pushing the pace, it is significantly slower over the fifth and sixth lap. Which actually worked to our benefit as it gave Ray plenty of time to sit in and recover. Ray, Pete, Gary and I stayed near the front. The fifth lap, things stayed reasonably quick. Sixth time up and it starts to bog down. It's almost comical how slowly we went through the rollers. No one really wanted to move. I pulled over one of the rises, just so I wouldn't have to hit my brakes so often. We've still got a field of 20 heading to the finish. Now again, it is imperative to stay near the front. I know that legs will be dying that last time up the hill.
Over the last rise, I hear a Summit ask very politely if he can come up on the right. They've got a little train going. As soon as the three of them are clear, they accelerate toward the decent. Gary gets in front of Ray, Pete is just behind, and I'm on Pete's wheel. It so looked like competing lead out trains in the Pro ranks. Summit was at the front and we were mostly sitting in their wake bidding our time to do our own damage.
The first Summit pulled off before down hill. Gary was pretty cooked at this point also. Ray, Pete and I were still following the train. The second Summit pulls to the turn, then we hit the final hill. The last Summit is left alone at the bottom of the climb. We've still got three.
Ray somehow finds the legs to start the climb at the lead and opens a bit of a gap again. I'm sitting in about 5th wheel behind the UPMC rider as we come around Pete. Half way up the steep part, the UPMC rider jumps between two to make the move. I see another unaccompanied rider go with, and I jump also. As I make my jump the two guys that had the opening start closing in on me. I do my best Robbie Mac with elbows out, shouting for space, and squeak through... but now UPMC and friend have a gap on me as they close in on Ray.
I'm fourth over the crest, and Ray keeps looking back. I tell him to just go... thinking I'll speed up on the false flat, and catch him. It's not to be, as my legs are crying uncle. At 200 meters, a Stark rider comes around me and I dig in to hold his wheel... I tell myself I will not let go, but my legs say otherwise. At about 100 meters another Stark comes by... and I give up the chase at 20 meters knowing I will not make it over him.
So I saw the right move, just didn't have it to go with it. Even if the UPMC was beaten to the line. Ray managed to hold his gap for third, I came across in sixth. Pete and Gary rolled in somewhere behind in the field.
So with one third of the field in SBR colors, we took one third the payout places. Another good day of team racing, even if the tactics didn't play out as hoped or we didn't get the results we wanted. That's bike racing. We did the best we could with what we could. We were aggressive, I think we raced smart, and we took out a couple more very nice results... and we had fun doing it.
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