Monday, April 17, 2006

Race Report: Ceraland

It's hard to believe that Ceraland is the usually the first race of the year for many of the big teams in central Indiana. I'd already done six races so far this year by the time I lined up with my teammates at the start of the Cat 4 crit. With a good amount of racing already in our legs, we were expecting a solid result.

The weather couldn't have been any better. The sky was clear and sunny and the wind was light, with temperatures in the mid-80s. Obviously, with conditions so favorable, the turnout for every race was huge. Our field had at least 50 guys, and the Cat 1/2/3 race just afterwards had a field of 80 riders. 80!

Our team was nine strong, but some others like MOB Squad and Tortuga also had sizeable contingents at the start. We had our work cut out for us, that was for sure.

The pace was fast right at the gun, and the pack took a couple of laps to get comfortable with the course, a winding, only slightly-hilly little loop of just over a mile in length with a nice, short climb to the finish line. The turns, though gradual for the most part, surprised more than a few guys in the pack and almost sent some to the ground. Jerks had a tough time keeping their heads up, apparently, so after a lap or two I just started calling out all the bends in the road for everyone else. More a case of self-preservation than concern for my fellow racers. Right turn! Left turn! Hard right! It seemed to help.

For the first half of the 50-minute crit, the pack stayed together with only a couple of weak efforts to get away. In my usual rookie fashion, I sat near the back of the peloton for the most part, periodically trying to move up and then getting boxed in by the guys in front of me. That said, my spot in the rear provided me an excellent view of the first big break of the day---three of my teammates together off the front! They seemed to be working well together, with nobody else with them, so I immediately did whatever I could to get up front and help the blocking effort. It took me half a lap but I finally made it. Of course, this was just in time to see them get reeled back in.

Not two seconds after they got pulled back, another teammate attacked! I was right on the front at this point, holding the wheel of some guy trying to chase the break, which put me in perfect position to attack as soon as he bridged up. Sure enough, thirty seconds later I was off the front solo going up the power climb and through the start/finish all alone. I looked back and saw a big gap behind me and tried to dig in deep, but lord knows I suck at time trials, so my big solo effort lasted all of about a minute and a half. Before I knew it, three guys had bridged to me, and my legs were fading fast. I called back for them to pull through, but they claimed to be wasted as well, so we pitifully struggled along and the group caught us shortly after.

Luckily, yet another teammate attacked as soon as I was caught, and the attacks by our team continued all the way until the last couple of laps. By that time the pace had increased so much that nobody was getting away. On the final lap I got boxed in again somewhere in the middle of the pack, leaving me down and out for the final sprint up the hill to the finish. The sprint was insane, with guys so bunched up that riders (including a teammate or two) were off in the grass to avoid crashing. Total chaos.

Unfortunately we only managed to pull eighth and ninth out of the top ten, but eighth was in the money so we didn't go home totally empty-handed. I finished 25th. The team overall performed extremely well, with a ton of big attacks one after another that really put a hurtin' on the peloton. All in all, a great race! I'll definitely be looking forward to Ceraland next year.

(Links to come)