Charge Pond Training Race

The year so far has been a good one on a number of fronts, and I’m happy to report that riding is among them. Since I resumed training in January I’ve managed to shed a few pounds – the thought of having to haul any excess weight up Mt. Washington in August has proved to be a powerful motivator – and I’ve been putting up numbers in training that put my about where I was in March of 2006. However, until today I didn’t really have any idea how I was really doing. Though I was eager to show off the new team kit emblazoned with the logo from our new sponsor, Harpoon Brewery, the sleet-turning-to-snow kept me from going down for the first Charge Pond race last weekend. Ah, Spring in New England.
Today’s forecast proved to be a bit more favorable, with nothing more than temps in the 30s and a stiff breeze to contend with, so I loaded up with a few of my teammates and went down to try out my legs. 50 or 60 other folks toed the line for the B race. Charge Pond is a training race, meaning that it is a fairly low-key event, offering no prizes to speak of and placings only to the top 5 or so. However, the “real” races don’t get going until next weekend, so it draws a good crowd. The course is a 2 Km clockwise loop in a state park, offering passable (if deteriorating) pavement, one short hill and one 90-degree corner. We rolled out at 10am sharp.
I started mid-pack but worked my way up to the front 10 or so after a couple laps. I had resolved to ride aggressively, and soon got a chance to cover a breakaway. I chased off the front of the group to bridge to two other riders that had a small gap, and we worked together for most of a lap before the bunch brought us back. I stayed near the front and might have covered a couple other small moves (funny how details fade so quickly under the pressure of heavy aerobic exercise), but was getting nowhere fast. I faded back to mid-pack to recover a bit.
About 15 or 20 minutes into the race I moved toward the front again, just in time to see my teammate Ari take a flyer off the front. I had momentum so I kept going and jumped to get on his wheel. He dragged me up to 2 other riders, and we maybe had 10 seconds on the main group. I cashed in a few chips to make that move, and I wasn’t worth much when we finally caught up. I pulled through a couple times, but the bunch swallowed us up again in a lap or so.
Our teammate JP was in position to make a counter-move as we came back, and he and 2 other riders got a gap. Ari and I were still more-or-less on the front; we stayed there and soft-pedaled as JP and his new friends went up the road. I expected some of the other teams to make a move, but nobody did. They let us sit on the front and control the pace while the gap widened. Eventually a couple guys woke up, but the damage was done.
A couple laps later I came around the corner and sprinted up the hill. It’s not much of a hill, but in a crit like this I have to apply max watts for a few seconds to maintain position. It also comes immediately after a fast downhill corner. I mention this to underscore the fact that at this point on the course, the race does a really good job of absorbing all my available brainpower. Anyway, I take the corner and sprint up the hill and as I’m sprinting, I notice a guy wearing my team jersey standing on the side of the road, fiddling with his bike. As we flashed by, I saw his sunglasses and the logo on his tights and felt a thought forming at the limits of my thoroughly lactated brain: hey, that looks like JP!
At that point, the only thing I was sure of was that my situational awareness was dangling around my ankles. One of the basic rules of bike racing is that when you have a teammate in a break, you never, ever do any work to catch that break. If there’s a group up the road, you’re coming to the end of the race and you don’t have a teammate in that break, you work just as hard as you can to bring them back. So we have a break up the road, but is my guy still in it? Dunno. By the time we came back around, whoever he was, was gone. So was that JP, and did he make it back in the race, and where is he now? Should I push the pace or sit in? I couldn’t answer any of those.
I decided to hang out in the bunch. We had about 15 minutes left in the race, our sprinter Ari was maintaining good position in the bunch and looked like his legs were pretty fresh. I stayed on or near the front until we heard the bell for 1 lap to go. We took our final sprint up the hill, and a lane opened up for me to get all the way to the front. I don’t have much of a sprint, and I didn’t have the legs to get away, but I figured I might have enough juice to set Ari up to take the bunch sprint. As I went by him, I managed to gasp out “let’s go!” Of course, everybody heard that, but only one other guy managed to get behind me before he muscled his way over to me and latched on. I continued to the front and drilled it as hard as I could – which admittedly was not very hard! I was pooped. With about 500m to go, I pulled off and watched Ari keep going. The guy we had sandwiched was nice enough to finish my leadout, and Ari took the bunch sprint.
I managed to really goof myself after pulling off. Because it’s a training race, lapped riders can rejoin the field but shouldn’t contest the finish. We roared down the final hill and caught a few lapped riders, who were in the middle of the road and not going so fast. I was moving backward in the bunch anyways, but I did get caught behind a couple of lapped riders and didn’t dare pull out beside them for fear of running into somebody else winding up for a sprint. So I took my lumps and finished well back.
After the race, I caught up with JP who related his story. He was working hard with two very strong riders in the break, and somehow his rear dérailleur jammed while going up the hill. His rear wheel locked and he skidded to a stop. He managed to clear it and jumped back in the race before the main group came around again, then caught up with the break. That’s some impressive riding! Crits have a free lap rule for mechanicals, so he finished third. Ari got 5th, and we’re not sure where #4 came from. I suspect that maybe the officials miscounted a lapped rider, but it’s entirely possible that I missed another guy who rolled off the front at some point.
Even though I feel like I should have done better in the finale, I’m pretty happy with our outcome. Putting two teammates in the top 5 is pretty cool, and I like to think that I did some useful work in helping JP get away and setting Ari up for his sprint. It sure did feel good to stomp the pedals in anger; it’s been a long winter, and last year wasn’t very satisfying from a riding point of view. Historically I’ve done fairly well in training races but not so well in the real thing, but I hope I can turn that around this year. We’ll find out in a few weeks!