One of my favorite things about road racing is how much time everyone spends talking about team tactics, just to have them all go directly out the window as soon as the race starts.
Take, for example, my internet friend Mr Steve Hopengarten, who went on a mountain bike ride with me a week ago and told me all about how Green Line Velo was going to be all over the Blue Hills Cat 3 field, and how victory was inevitable.
After the ride, this trash talk continued onto the internet. @shopengarten had already made it clear that he was not personally going to win the race, but one of his teammates surely would. And since cycling is a team sport, that would in turn make him a better human than I, regardless of our own personal placings.
In response to this challenge, we mobilized the Back Bay listserve and discovered that all of our riders are apparently Cat 4's. Potentially sandbagging Cat 4's (ahem, Kevin), but Cat 4's nonetheless.
But! I had another trick up my sleeve. My friends Andrew and Joe from MIT were recruited to "guest ride" for us (doesn't that sound PRO??) as part of my plan to fill our Cat 3 ranks from the greater Red Line region, assuming that they would fight their natural enemy, the GREEN LINE, for us.
Kits were hastily procured and we rolled out with 4 riders -- me, Mike, Andrew and Joe. Of course I lined up all the way at the back, and spent most of lap one moving up steadily while learning where all the holes were.
No one had a better idea of where the holes were than Cambridge Bikes, who lost two riders to flats in the first lap, including noted loudmouth and intermittent strongman RMM.
I did not have a plan other than to hide from the wind as much as possible, and hope that any breaks that actually stuck contained Mike, Andrew or Joe. Zero breaks were attempted in the first 2 laps. I was bored. But then, on the 2nd time up the finish climb, someone (Ride Studio, maybe?) rode into the shoulder and then crashed back into the road, making a ruckus and taking out several dudes. In response to this we drilled it, cuz hey, that's what you get for riding in the gutter at the back.
In related news, I didn't see Andrew and his bloody knee again until the parking lot at the finish line.
On the third time up the climb there was a lot of pressure and a lot of single file at the front. There were a few brief separations, but nothing that stuck. This didn't stop me from wasting a lot of energy to hold my position in 10th wheel -- and it's not like I wanted to be near the front to cover attacks, because on the next time up the climb...
...three Harvard guys and a Matt Mitchell from 545 Velo gapped us over the top and it stuck. I looked at the break and decided that I didn't have the legs to bridge to it AND stay in it for the 14 miles left, so I sat there dumbly like everyone else except Cosmo, who recognized a collegiate A TTT/winning move leaving.
But he didn't make it.
And then we chased. Joe and I had "fortunately" climbed well enough on that lap to be at the front and take some pulls, but let's face it -- when I'm driving the chase, the break is sticking. Especially when it's three guys on the same team. We held them at around 6-7 seconds for all of lap five, and for a while I thought we had cleverly gotten the 4 strongest guys in the race to kill themselves for naught -- but when they extended the gap up the finish climb instead of wilting, I realized that we were screwed and started thinking about racing for 5th.
Our only hope lay in Green Line Velo, who had eight riders in the race and hadn't been on the front en masse at any point. Maybe a glorious stream of college kids will roll to the front and chase down the other college kids! Oh yeah, that would be sweet! Man, I feel old.
But GLV never really showed. Steve made a brief appearance on the front, but enough of the field had given up that even his super domestique stylings couldn't really dent the break's advantage. They had fifteen seconds or so as we hit the gradual 2k climb to the finish line, and it was time to GET HURTY.
It's a long big-ring grind to the top which means there's still plenty of drafting to be found -- but you wouldn't know that from some of the surges guys put in as soon as the road pitched upward. Mike, Joe and I were all positioned outside the top fifteen, which was actually a good thing.
As we climbed, various dudes exploded (surely because they were leading out teammates, and not just because they couldn't pace themselves on the SIXTH TIME up the same hill) and other dudes surged forward. The gutter became a place of much yelling as boxed-in dudes got cranky with totally-smoked dudes. It was everything road racing should be.
Eventually the steam of smoked dudes vastly outnumbered the surging dudes, and I realized I had ridden into the top ten with one rise left to ride. Joe was just ahead, and apparently Mike was just behind. In true B2C2 Form we ignored this alignment and decided to all ride for ourselves.
But seriously, there were enough wheels to follow, enough lactic acid involved, and so little time left that a leadout was totally unnecessary. Instead I got boxed in one last time, then squeezed through a gap and HIT IT up the last rise and over the top.
I noticed with some concern that I was going so hard that steering was actually kind of difficult. Yes, this is the first time I've sprinted with carbon wheels. I passed Joe and, it turns out, everyone else, and won the field sprint 10 seconds behind the break. One of the Harvard guys in the break had cracked on the climb, so it was good for fourth place and $75, which I immediately took to the bank, converted to pennies, and filled a kiddie pool with. Obviously.
I still think road racing is kind of silly. And I noticed it's lot easier to have "great team tactics" when your team is three of the strongest guys in the race (Harvard) then when it's a smattering of ability levels and race smarts (everyone else).
But I grudgingly admit I had fun and want to do more road racing, especially if I have teammates to hang out with.