It might seem odd for an endurance mountain bike specialist to be doing short road races, and I rather suppose it is, but there were several reasons to do it.
1) Historically, I've always managed to race at least one of these Greenville Spring Training Series Races. It's really where I got my start racing 5 or 6 years ago.
2) It can be great training.
3) I wanted to. Maybe just to complete my comeback from injury - just to be sure I felt comfortable in a motivated pack of experienced riders, or maybe just because I watched too many YouTube road races videos during all my training indoors since August.
This year worked out to where the one race of the 8-race series that fit my schedule was the shortest road race (bad), but had a significant uphill finish (good).
I hadn't been doing any handle bar to handle bar riding in a long time, but I knew enough to start near the front. I was racing masters 40+. Masters is not like category racing. The masters racers usually have teams - and therefore, team tactics. The pace starts out hard until there is a break. Often, riders are dropped off the back never to see the peloton again on these early surges of the race. I didn't want to be that guy. I very nearly was.
The first lap was hard. For a little while. From what I could tell, Three riders eventually went off the front. The rest of the pack then slowed. In fact, we slowed so much that racers in the rear were yelling to pick up the pace. Apparently there was some concern that the women's field that startted a few minutes behind us would catch us.
The laps are short at River Falls. Less that 6 miles. When we hit the one big climb of the course, the shouters got their wish: The peloton went full gas. Now, I'm a pretty small guy compared to most of the field. I don't have the big power of the bigger riders, but I do go uphill pretty well. But this hill wasn't long enough to wreak havoc on the big guys and when they went full gas, I was not ready for that kind of effort. They pulled a gap on me (and others) over the top and pulled away on the descent that follows immediately after cresting the climb.
There was no way I was getting dropped on lap #1. I gave chase. Eventually three of us grouped together. I was doing the lion's share of the work, but I wasn't going to make it on my own. One of the rider's says, "that's it. We're done." I had other plans. I kept digging. And somehow we caught back on. I recovered as much as I could, as the 2nd time up the hill was about to begin...
I felt like, no matter what happened up the hill this time, I had already done my best to hang to the peloton as long as I could. But this time we hit the climb at a pace that suited me. Plus, this time I was ready for it. To my surprise, I made it up the hill much better than most of the competition.
The next few laps went by quite rapidly with some surges here and there, but a pace I could sustain. Until lap 5. On lap five we hit it the climb pretty hard. I'm not sure exactly how it happened, but the group I was in got separated a bit and we had to chase back on (again). I was pretty gassed for the penultimate climb. Apparently, so was everyone else because we eased up it to get the bell lap.
On the final lap there were more surges, but I stayed didligent and always managed to stay in contact. By now we are catching groups of dropped women and masters riders. In fact, the closer we get to the finish, the more we seem to catch. For the last run up the climb we had to pass a large group of riders, and while we were doing that, at least one of the women riders was keeping pace with us, shouting at everyone to "keep right". It was rather chaotic. I lost some momentum a few times, getting trapped behind other riders, but I fared pretty well.
In the end it turns out that 6 riders were ahead of our group. I ended up 12th, so I feel like I fared pretty well in the peloton and overall, especially with the extra chasing I had to do. It was a hard day, but certainly good training for me to be forced to ride a pace well out of my comfort zone. Sort of a stepping out of the boat experience.
Tomorrow's another day. A moutain bike day.
See you on the trails!