Just a quick update today.
So, racing over here is still humbling! No surprise, I guess, but just when I thought I was ready to cash in some learning chips and ace (and by “ace,” I mean make the lead group!) a kermis I got thrown a curveball.
The course on Sunday was short, only about five km long. The home straight was wide open, about three lanes wide, but quickly we were routed onto narrow farm roads, much smaller than anything you would race on in the states… If two cars come in opposite directions, they will each have to dump a couple tires into the grass to sneak by (which of course they would do at 70 kph!). The back-roads wove around with a few turns before dumping the race back on the main drag for the last 500 meters.
I came into this one hoping to race really smart and save my energy for the critical moments. My mantra for the day was Patience! in hopes of compensating for my overly-aggressive tendencies. I felt, after my last race, that “What I have really learned about my own racing style is that for me to make the winning move, I really need to hold back…” WRONG! In retrospect, that attitude is completely off-base. Patience and smarts are definitely key, but you will never make a winning move here doing anything resembling “holding back.”
In a nutshell I thought I had figured out that the race usually takes at least 30 km to develop and for serious splits to start. I took the first laps mellow, but I rode in a good spot, about 15-20 wheels back. I knew stuff was going off the front, but was not concerned - I was really relaxed and was able to ride in a very comfortable zone. The second lap it was back together, but the pace had gotten very high and I could tell things were heating up! I was a bit too far back to respond to attacks that went in the middle of that lap and watched as I saw quality rider after quality rider jump away from a gassed, hesitant peloton. With about 10 guys ahead I really got the feeling that this was a key move - maybe not the move, but a move not to be ignored! So, feeling like today had to be the day to make the move, I panicked and tried to jump across right away, before the gap was too big. Mistake #1 was getting caught a little out of place waiting for the race to “develop” and mistake #2 was trying to bridge to 10 of the strongest riders, solo!
I got two-thirds of the way there before I blew. The pack behind didn’t react at first, but two more guys jumped away from the pack and came up to me. I saw them coming and accelerated with them, but I didn’t have the pop to get on their wheels. They made it across without me and I sank back to the pack, defeated. I should have been in a better spot and more attentive, then I should have waited to try and make it across with others rather than trying alone (it rarely gets you far out here). A big thing out here is to “race with you head and not with your heart,” meaning to think tactically rather than have your race be dictated by emotion and adrenaline. Very good advice, but hard to take to heart (or mind) right away! I need to work on this a lot - it may actually be more of the problem I identified in being too aggressive… Maybe I am being aggressive for the wrong reasons (ie heart, not mind).
The gaps were very small, the front group splitting in two but remaining just 20 seconds ahead of a chase group, which was another 15 seconds ahead of us. But that was the race. 15 guys were gone, 10 km into 115km. Go figure.
My race almost ended disastrously as I lost my rear wheel going into a hard corner over cobbles. It felt really weird, like something was seriously wrong with my wheel or like I was going to roll a tire - I really lost my nerve after that. Two laps later my rear wheel was almost totally flat - slow leak. That was the end of my race, in a group of about 20 guys fighting for 16th place with 40 km left. Could’ve still been a decent result, but hey, that’s bike racin’. Truth be told I actually wished for a flat out of pure frustration once I missed the split… So, I got what I deserved, I guess.
Tons more racing to come soon, and maybe more pictures and less block text next time!