Monday, April 03, 2006

Race Report: Lexington Circuit Race

First of all, the "Lexington Circuit Race" is really just a glorified crit. The course is a 1.2 mile loop with one corner just off the highway on the outskirts of the city. With the direction they had the race going this year, it was a slight uphill from the start/finish line, then the corner, then downhill around the loop until you hit the gradual rise back to the line. With the wind coming from the Northwest, there was a tailwind at the bottom of the rise, enough to give everyone some speed going into the final uphill sprint, if there was one.

The plan was to ride both the 3/4 and 4/5 races, so the team showed up early on Saturday morning. The weather was nice if a little chilly at first, but it warmed up and we ended up doing the first race without arm or leg warmers.

The 3/4 race was first, and it went nuclear from the start. Hands down, it was the toughest race I've done all season. I'm not sure what everyone was thinking, but the pace was around 30 mph non-stop for the first five or so laps, with attacks shooting off the front and dropped riders shooting off the back. Total chaos. For a while our team made a great showing up front, alternately driving the pace and trying to attack, but nothing could get away, at least not off the front. Off the back was another story. On the fifth or sixth lap, I took a pull up front for a while, trying to slip away and get a gap, but to no avail. When I pulled off I drifted back a few spots, and then a few more spots, and then clean off the back when somebody up front jacked the pace again. Sure enough, I too got dropped.

With two DNF's in the previous two races, I was determined to finish, even if I had to ride alone for the last 20 minutes. I put my head down and shifted to TT mode, concentrating on keeping my cadence smooth and my breathing steady. A couple of laps went by and the group pulled further away from me. Before long, more riders started dropping off, including the majority of my team, most of whom pulled out of the race completely. Undeterred, I kept riding along, periodically linking up with other dropped riders from other teams and sharing the pacing duties. Eventually, I got lapped by two breakaway riders and then the group, but the finish was on the very next lap. I managed 22nd out of 37 or so. We had two guys in the top 10, but the three of us were the only ones to really finish the race, I believe---one or two guys on our team took advantage of the sleeping course referees and managed to place without actually completing the race...

The 4/5 race later on was another story, as far as getting dropped is concerned. As in, I didn't. It's kind of a wonder, though, since the 4/5 race was even faster than the 3/4, at least at times. We hit 35 mph at some point on the almost-flat course. That's pretty impressive.

What was also impressive was the fact that no one crashed. The field was around 70 riders, which is completely unheard of in this part of the country. Seventy nervous, inexperienced bike racers barely able to ride in a straight line let alone in the middle of a dense, fast peloton. I didn't really have a goal for this race, so I spent most of my time policing the back of the pack, periodically moving up to test the legs and my ability to read the group. The laps flew by. On the second-to-last lap, a teammate was in the back with me when we both decided to move outside and up in the group. I told him to go first, and to jack it if he had the legs. As we rounded the curve at the bottom of the uphill rise to the finish, he took off like a bullet in one of the most impressive attacks I've ever seen. He also completely shattered the pack, with guys shooting off the back faster than he shot off the front. It was a beautiful sight!

By the top of the rise just past the finish, my teammate had spent his legs, but the damage had been done. The pack was visibly smaller. We took the corner and headed back around the loop for the final time, with guys really getting anxious. I moved up a few places. Finally we rounded the bend again and started the climb up the rise to the finish. Up front, young Clayton from the Papa John's team shot off in one of the best sprints I've seen in a 4/5 race, and crushed the pack to win by a few bike lengths. I was third for our team, somewhere in the low 20s in placing, I believe. I'd know for sure if the race refs had actually watched the video of the finish, because only one guy on our team was even placed in the final results, and he was behind the three of us who finished in the main pack. Disappointing to not know my actual result, but reassuring that I was able to survive two hard races in the same day.

All in all, not a bad day. The 3/4 race was frustrating, but the 4/5 turned out pretty well. Now the Spring Series is over and the rest of the season can get going.