It was the 2011 version that I remembered most vividly this year and was most on my mind. I admit that I came into the race very intimidated.
The race got off with a bang with a crash in the first mile. The field rode through that horrible stinking cloud of melted brake pad. The pace felt fast, but I was never in any real difficulty. I looked up the road and saw groups of five making no headway, and thought, "What can I possibly accomplish if these guys can't get away?"
After the fast descent of Blenheim with 1.5 laps to go, I was pissed at myself for being so useless and fearful. I rolled up toward the front just as two 35+ guys rolled away. They went through a group that was dangling 50 m in front of the field and so did I. I made contact with them after the turn onto Secretarys Rd, but I was right at the limit. I took my pulls, and figured that I had enough gas to hang on on the uphill sections, but they popped me on (I think--I get pretty hazy when my HR gets up over 180bpm) on the second to last uphill section before the turn on the finishing straightaway on Carters Mountain Rd. It wasn't like they attacked me--they just throttled it when I was already at the limit.
At that point I was hoping that the field would sweep me up and end the agony, but the moto ref came up and told me that I had 45s on the field, so I put my head down and kept going. There was no way I was going to catch them, but I was all in--no going back.
Near the finish, a group of four with Mike Kingery, the DC velo guy and two 35+ guys caught me. I was really worried that I wouldn't be able to hang on, but I skipped a pull and recovered. I still died a thousand deaths on that stretch though. The DC Velo guy probed us several times, before the turn onto Blenheim, but it came back together each time. (Note--the photographic record disagrees with this recollection, but I distinctly remember the DC Velo in the group.)
|Dying a thousand deaths in the 2nd group. Photo credit to velogirl22|
Another group latched on on the climb over Blenheim. I thought it had mostly 35+ guys. I tried to explain to one of them (Dave Fuentes, I think) that their race was still up the road--figuring that they would give the 45+ guys a free ride to the finish. I think I was too incoherent, though. I was coherent enough, though, to count the 45+ guys in the group and think, "there goes my podium."
Over the top I refocused on a single thought: "Your job here is to not get dropped from this breakaway." I sat on the back for a while after the descent. At that point one of the 35+ guys decided to see where the field was, looked over his shoulder, rode right into the guy in front of him, and crashed hard. We gave it no further thought and left him for dead.
For the rest of the time on Secretarys Rd I kept thinking, "You have to be willing to lose in order to win," and I just sat at the back. If the field caught us, so be it. I was not going to be the deciding factor in keeping the group away, and if I contributed too much I would just get dropped.
On the final uphill stretch, yet another group caught us, but I was completely at the limit, and I went out the back door. I had been into the red zone for about 25 minutes at that point. Fortunately, the group contained a teammate, Brook Edinger. Unfortunately, it also contained several more 45+ guys. My overall placing was going to drop several more levels. Before the turn onto the finishing straight, the group started watching each other and I caught back on . After that it was just 100% damage control to get to the finish. I sat up when the sprint started.
For me, the moral of the story is something I learned 25 years ago, but struggle every race to put into practice. You have to take risks to do well. It doesn't matter how you motivate yourself to take that risk, but you have to do it. I still have no idea how it was that our little group was the decisive move. It seemed no different from the dozen others during the race.