Monday, February 27, 2006

Race Report: Mentor/Maysville RR

On Sunday, my teammates and I traveled to rural California, KY for the first race of the year, the Mentor/Maysville Road Race, a 70-mile out-and-back trip on a relatively flat highway along the Ohio River. With temperatures predicted to be no higher than the very low 30s, I knew the day would be challenging.

We arrived at the staging area for the race almost three hours early, since the organizers had moved the start time back one hour so as to launch the groups in slightly warmer conditions. Regardless, it was still extremely uncomfortable.

Prior to the race, a teammate and I found ourselves using a considerably less-than-regal outdoor bathroom, complete with wooden toilet seats, open windows, waste pits instead of plumbing, and toilet paper that was nothing more than rough brown paper towels. The whole time I wondered if Erik Zabel ever had to endure such conditions when he was an amateur, or if he had always had tour buses, nightly massages, free food and decent bathrooms.

Finally the start time arrived and the very large group of racers that had amassed rolled out to the start line, a full five hilly miles away from the staging area. Chit chat was normal, if not a little preoccupied with the extremely cold winds. At least it was sunny.

We reached the start line with the Cat 1/2/3 race about to take off. Five minutes later, the Cat 3/4 race (my team's race) was launched. Heading downhill from the start, I noticed the fact that our team was at least a quarter of the field, which wasn't a surprise considering we had 12 racers present. The field, I estimate, was about 40.

Almost immediately the attacks started, and our captain ordered us to the front to police them. For the most part none were successful in getting away. Periodically a guy or two would get a gap, but within a mile be reeled back in. The pace stayed fairly high for a while.

About ten miles in, a break of five got loose, with one of our teammates in the mix. The rest of us did our best to sit on the front and block for him, slowing the pace considerably in an effort to extend the gap. Apparently up in the break, my teammate wasn't making any new friends by sitting on and refusing to work. Good tactics when you have eleven teammates behind you policing the pack, but not good if you prefer to race without hearing personal insults from your break partners.

At any rate, that break was absorbed after about fifteen or twenty miles as we neared the turn-around point. I moved to the front and started setting the pace, pushing up the speed a mile an hour or two at a time, trying to keep the attacks at bay. We hit a steady climb of about 150 meters and I stomped the pedals, stretching out the field behind me. Despite my efforts, after the climb a guy tried to jump off the front, which was chased down by a teammate, but just as he was caught, another guy jumped, and I had no choice but to follow him. I looked behind and saw that we had gotten a gap, but the original attacker didn't have the legs and dropped back, leaving just me and a Cycle Dots rider alone up front. I sat on his wheel for a second, and when he motioned for me to come through and work, I told him I wasn't interested. We were going pretty slow at that point, but I looked back and realized my entire team was up front blocking, so I changed my mind and decided to take a risk.

As we neared the turn-around, Cycle Dots and I had a gap of about fifteen seconds, and knowing that we had enjoyed a tailwind the whole way to the half-way mark, I decided to hit the gas and plow through the headwind on the way back, knowing the wind would help my team keep any chase efforts to a minimum. I did my best to keep the pace up, but the wind and the lack of work from my break partner kept us going pretty slow. Somehow, though, our lead on the pack kept growing. Despite the high winds, my lack of early-season form and an exhausted break partner, we managed to stay away for ten long miles. Along the way we picked up a guy that had been dropped from the 1/2/3 race. We tried to make him work, but the race ref pulled alongside us and told him not to help, since they didn't want to mix the categories. Oh well.

After ten miles, two guys passed us moving pretty fast. I thought it was the pack catching up, but the dropped 1/2/3 rider behind me said "it's just two guys." We had been chased down by another break allowed off the front of the pack! Unfortunately, none of my other teammates were in this chase group, so I was stuck alone in a now four-man break, pretty tired from my initial efforts. I tried my best to stay on the wheel of the two new break members, but I had little energy left and they dropped me. Before long the pack, led by my teammates, caught me and I slid to the back for some rest.

The rest of the race, some 25 miles, was spent chasing down the break that had initially caught me. All but one of the guys was absorbed by my chasing teammates, but somehow one guy stayed away. He actually made it to the finish just ahead of a surging group of five that attacked on the final climb before the end. Unfortunately, my team missed that move and we settled for winning the sprint for seventh. I finished back in the pack, probably 25th or so.

Despite the cold the race was an excellent one, and good early-season training. I was glad to have been in such a long break, but I know I'll need to focus more on my steady tempo efforts if I ever want something like that to be successful. Our team was a little disappointed by our results, considering our dominance of the field for much of the race. If anything it was a good learning experience.

Next race is this Saturday, much closer to home and about 15 miles shorter in length. The field in the Cat 3/4 race should be much smaller, too, so hopefully our strength in numbers will result in a win or at least a podium spot.