Ah, the Ides of March. A perfect time for a bike race! I wasn't even planning on racing any of the Banana Belt series, as I really dislike all the going up, but for some mysterious reason my training plan last Monday went from "Sunday = Group Ride" to "Sunday = BB3". I won't argue with the coach because he'll make me do more intervals.
So all week I watched the weather report slowly deteriorate down from chance of rain to chance of seriously crappy weather. Sunday arrives and lo and behold, the weather report was right for once. Driving rain, and 20-30 mph wind gusts.
They have social group rides in this shit in Belgium right?
So we pack up the car and I open the garage door and stare out into the rainstorm for a few seconds questioning my sanity. The insane part of my brain justifies that there will be less folks out there in the race and no one will want to ride super hard. The financial part of my brain says shut up, we've paid for the race so we are going. The logical part of my brain tries to protest and is gang tackled by the other two parts and beaten into submission.
We drive to Hagg Lake and get the parking lot, finding the team fairly quickly. For as much resources as we have as a group, we neglected to get a tent which means my warm-ups on this day will consist of sitting in the car with the heater on while slathering embrocation on my legs. Compound this with the fact that I'm trying to do this in the drivers seat of a Mini Cooper and, well it was pretty funny.
At 9:00 the team makes its final checks of numbers and equipment, and rolls up towards the starting area. The squad today consists of myself, Cuz, B-Rat, Ron, Paul, and Alex. We've all ridden together for a few seasons and know our roles well. As this is my first road race of the season and first road race post surgery, my goal for today is to stay with the pack as long as possible and try to soften folks up in the final lap if I'm still around. We'll see how it goes. I've only raced BB once before, as a 5, and I made it to the last lap at Lee hill before I was spit out the back. As a 4, we'll be doing one more lap. One more climb up Lee in anger. Joy.
The race begins and we roll out. The road around Hagg is grimy, wet, and has rivers of water running along it. Bodies are cold and stiff and people are having issues holding their lines. The general pack feel is tense, but the pace is fairly relaxed. Folks are racing conservatively early on and are just trying to get used to the road spray. I've learned my lessons from previous years and stay near the center line on the first major descent, out of the way of the major potholes that dot the pavement fault where I flatted out .8 of a mile into the race last year. The equipment that decides to fail on my this time is my glasses. They quickly fog up and become useless, so I'm forced to tuck them into my vest.
The PV crew tosses the first attack of the day on the very first lap, with BRat and Ron going off the front. Truth be told I think they were both just opening up their legs a bit and quickly sat up once they saw no one wanted to go with them. It's early, and both of them know there is plenty of racing left.
I try to race smart, always trying to move towards the front. My coaches words constantly echo in my head. "If you aren't moving up, you are being passed." I'm not the strongest of climbers, so I have to pay attention to course and where I sit in the pack. I move towards the front on the descents, letting my mass work its magic past the lighter climbers who then pass me on the uphills as I drift slowly back at my own tempo. Descents are painful due to the road spray in the eyes. People weave in and out of drafts.
Lap 2 things heat up a bit and my body still hasn't completely warmed up. The climb up Lee taxes me a bit and I'm worried that I might not hold out to finish my task. I make sure to hydrate and chomp down some shot blocks. Lemon-Lime and Grime. Sounds cool, doesn't taste that good. Paul mixes it up a few times with a couple attacks.
Lap 3 the pack seems to slow a bit, and in a few places the tempo seems like a casual team ride. The rain calms down and the sun actually peaks out at us a few times. Up Lee for the third time I find myself near the front on the descent. I pass by Ron and tell him I'm going to string it out a bit. On the final downhill into the finish I attack and open a gap quickly. I hear the bell for our final lap as someone cheers for me by name. I stay off the front until the top of the steep punchy climb after the starting park where the pack catches up to me. I'm breathing hard from the effort, but I notice some of those on the front are as well. Ducking into the pack once again, I hydrate up and cram down a few more shot blocks and try to recover for the last bit of racing. The pace has heated up a bit, but I hang in there, trying to calculate the best time to send off another flyer.
That time comes on the big descent before the damn. We crest the last hill and 3 guys go off the front hard, Cuz moves over for me and I bridge quickly and go straight over the top of them and hammer down hill. This was a risky attack as this corner is bad in dry conditions, and we are navigating over this rain / oil / dirt mix. Pumping my brakes a few times to get the crud off the wheels I finally brake hard while sitting up as far as I can in the drops. My windvest turns into a small air brake and I can smell my brake pads. I decide I've scrubbed enough speed and hit the apex of the corner as straight as I could, powering out of it out of the saddle and on to the damn. Down in the drops and into the full howling headwind, I glance back over my shoulder and see a sizable gap, the pack strung out in a very long line.
I know I'm running on borrowed time. I'm roughly 4 miles from the finish and I know from my training I can only hold this pace for roughly 4 minutes. I have oxygen deprived delusions of soloing to the finish, a brilliant tactical escape. I glance back again and see no organization on the front, but I'm now across the damn and the road is slowly starting to pitch up. I drop back down to threshold and take on some water, the pack eats up the distance quickly and I soon find myself trying to integrate back in. The final charge up Lee looms in my mind, less than a minute away.
I'm on the right side of the pack, and I know that if I'm close enough to the front I can probably get a good run on the down hill and maybe drift through the pack to stay in contact this one last time, but as the descent starts those in front of me start breaking and my plan goes all to hell. An attack comes from the left and the pace picks up. I climb out of the saddle as people shoot past me, the race accelerating with me out of matches. I crest the top about 5 seconds after the tail end of the pack with nothing left. For the second year, BB ends for me on the last assault of Lee. I did what I set out to do, and must now leave it in the hands of my teammates.
As I roll down hill, my good friend Joel comes up from behind. Joel had a rough day and was working for his teammates as well. Cramping and tired, the two of us soft pedal into the finish a minute or so behind the pack. I find out a short bit later that Ron got a great lead out from Paul and BRat, and was able to take it to the line. The team set out with a plan and was able to pull it off. I'll call that a successful day.
All in all, I'm happy with my performance. Under better conditions the race would have been faster, but I might have felt better. The lack of warm-up definitely hurt, but most of the field was in the same boat as I. The two flyers hurt, and I didn't leave myself enough time to recover before the last charge, but I think that without those attacks I could have stayed in the mix to the end. For not planning or expecting to do this race, I'll call it a success.