It is done. I have returned to the peloton. Today I completed my first official cycling race in several years. I came to the line with trepidation and left with confidence that the field hasn’t passed me by. There is a little left in the old man after all.
I’ll just break this down lap-by-lap as best I can. If anyone reading this watched the race or was in it with me, I’m very interested to hear if your experience matched mine. I’m often amazed at how people can be in the same race and their accounts can vary.
My family was spread out all over the place. My wife and daughter were heading up to Charlotte for a wedding shower. My oldest son was already in Charlotte for a conference. I was left with my youngest son who I ended up taking to his cousins house before packing up the bike for the race.
Getting signed in and warmed up was uneventful. I was able to get in a full lap, some stretching, and a potty break before coming to the line. I’m thinking about 40 guys (and two gals). We all gathered by the start for about five minutes hearing announcements and waiting to get the command to go.
There really isn’t a lot to say here. The group started out at an okay pace. I settled in about mid-field and tried to stay out of the wind. It seemed everyone was pretty content to just get warmed up. Thankfully the pace was constant and there was no need to alter my line or brake.
Perimeter road was awesome! The majority of it is newly paved. It was a joy to ride. The temperature was also great. Starting off it was a little cool, but it was absolutely perfect racing temps by the end. The only environmental challenge was the wind which was a crosswind and headwind for most of the event.
As usual, the field started to spread out once we got over the railroad tracks. Then is was a high speed dip before the climb up the the start finish. The field was starting to string out and by the time we got through the start finish, a break had started to form.
I started the second lap on Rodney Dender’s wheel. The Trappe Door guys were out in force and later that would have a big effect on the race. As a matter for fact, it started to make a difference during this second lap.
Once Trappe Door established a mate in the break, they began controlling the field. The primary break ultimately was Shane Martin, from Harrisburg, NC, Patrick Waddell, of West Jefferson, NC, Erik Peterson, of Greenville, SC, and Todd Mion, of Greenville, SC.
Seeing the gap growing and realizing there was no organization to chase, I decided to move to the front and actually began to make some headway in bringing them back. Most of this was in a crosswind the entire length of the railroad track stretch of the course.
Having done my work, I wanted to let someone else move in to help nail back the break. I flicked my elbow for the rider behind me to pull through. He didn’t come. So, I looked back to find Chris Knetsche of Trappe Door.
So much for that idea. He had no obligation to move to the front. That being the case, I continued to pull down into the dip and then back up the climb toward the finish. It was at this point, I saw a flash of black, red, yellow coming by me on the left. It was Darrin Marhanka who was setting up Rodney to launch and bridge over to the break. Darrin, seeing Rodney successfully get away, settled back in the field to get ready for later damage.
I continued to pull in hopes of motivating some response, but no one came. I knew if I kept this up I would not make it to the end. If this was the way the field would race, then I would race in kind. It was on the climb up by the golf course that I faded back into the field to live to fight another day.
The point is, I knew I was not in shape to bridge over to the break. If I managed it, I would be slobber knocked and they would spit me out. That wasn’t my objective. Getting racy is fun, but not at the expense of cracking and ending up finishing a tough windy course alone!
So, I settled into the top 10 to 15 of the field and tried to recover for a final effort near the end of the race. The field slowed which was frustrating, but it also worked to help me recover. It also put us in a position where we were neutralized as another classification group (a two-man break) caught and passed us.
This lap was pretty much a repeat of the third one. The break was still up there though by the end of this lap Rodney Dender replaced Todd Mion for Trappe Door. Marhanka and Knetsche continued to cover most everything else that moved.
I made no big efforts and settled in just trying to stay near the middle of the field — which by this time was beginning to shrink. There were a few times where I watched an acceleration in front of me and had to put out an effort to catch the wheel in front of me.
I got a shock when I glanced back once to find I was on the tail of the field! Out of the 41 starters there were now only about 25 of us in the break and “chasing” field. However, I was hanging on and actually starting to feel stronger.
The feeling became fools gold when I got in a pace line that formed about halfway through the lap. “Ah,” I thought to myself, “now we can get somewhere.” It was probably too late, but if people were willing to work, I would do my part. The line fell apart on 3M hill and I was feeling a little worse for wear. So, back into the field to recover.
By this lap, I had definitely burned at least two matches. Once again I was starting to dangle toward the back. Then before I knew it, I was back at the front heading into the golf course climb. I decided to soft pedal and fade toward the back to conserve some energy. I knew I would get back closer to the front as we descended off the hill.
Unfortunately, it was right then that I lost the battery in my rear GoPro. The front GoPro would soon follow suit. I hate it that they did not last through the entire race.
The pace was still good during this lap. The biggest challenge was making sure you got in the right position for avoiding the wind which had begun to pick up as the day warmed. I think I did a decent job of it and once again started to feel good as we began the sixth and final lap.
I felt I had been smart on the fifth lap. I didn’t do any pulling and for the most part had not needed to close any gaps that had formed. As I came into the final lap I was starting to feel racy again.
I had set three objectives for the race: 1) start, 2) race near the front, and 3) finish with the field. The first two were pretty much already accomplished. Barring an accident, I didn’t see me missing the third one either. My mind began to think that I might even get a better finished than I had imagined.
I settled down to conserve as much energy as possible. As I did I began to feel better and better about the finish. Sure, I wouldn’t take someone like Marhanka or Knetsche, but if I played my cards right I might land a top 10 out of the field sprint.
As we came off of golf course hill, one of the riders (who had been in the pace line and had attempted at least one flyer) started to taunt us for not coming to the front. I shared in his frustration that there hadn’t been a lot of racing, but I was not going to be his sacrificial lamb. In my mind I thought, “Where were you when I was trying close down the break?”
As we came over the railroad tracks, I settled in behind Knetsche. I figured he would be a good wheel to hold in the finish. I stayed there until we started down into the dip. Then I found myself coming up along the left side of the front of the field. A crazy thought came to my head.
What if I attacked early? I knew at least four riders were in the break — maybe five. I didn’t think there were any chasers between them and us. If I could push the speed up enough to compensate for the bigger wattage guys, maybe I could hold on for a few places and land a top ten.
I was confident I could do it. I knew I was good for 600+ watts for 800 meters. The field sprint would begin in earnest about 400 meters out at the fire station. I would need to get a jump, a surprise, and then make people work to come around me.
I set my sights on a large tree on the right of the road. I knew this was within the 1K to go. I stayed in about 10th position until that point. I launched. I went up to 800 watts and was feeling pretty good! I was excited!
Then it happened. It was a dull ache at first. My left calf muscle was starting to cramp. Looking back, I can see my wattage dropping to around 600 watts. Then, right as we were starting to reach level ground with the finish right around a slight right turn my muscle seized. This was not one I was going to be able to spin through. It was like rolling along and then sticking a post down a hole. I was stopped cold. I could not turn my leg.
I yelled, “I’m out!”, raised my hand and moved as quickly as I could out of the way. I watched the field come around me. I was coasting. Finally, I took my left foot out of the pedal and used my right leg to propel me across the line.
Just like that I dropped from around fifth place to twenty-fourth.
I’m happy. I met my objectives — even with the problem at the finish I came across the line just off the wheel of the last rider in the field. Then when I went and looked at the rear facing video of my big pull on lap two I had to chuckle to myself. I really put a hurt on the field with that. Riders were strung out in a long line and I could see multiple gaps form. That was fun.
Yes, I finished twenty-fourth. Yes, the overall pace of the race worked in my favor. Yes, I’m sure I wasn’t as tactically astute as I could have been.
But you know what? I had fun. I can also bet you that people knew I was there. I was a participant and not merely field fodder.
It was a good day.