In the last installment of "Tales From a Tail Gunner" I lamented on how I'd been viciously dropped at the Black Hill Circuit Race and that I had every intention of doing whatever it took to make sure I stayed in the pack in my next race, the Carl Dolan Memorial Circuit Race, which took place Sunday, April 17, 2011. So Sunday morning I got up at 0530 to eat and get packed for the race, having planned to meet my teammate Tom at the site at 0700 for a course recon. Once there, we suited up and headed out for a couple of laps before the Juniors' races started at 0800. The first thing we noted was the wind: there was an abundance of it and it seemed to be in our face on every portion of the 2.1 mile course.
Let me describe the course which uses the main road through an industrial park in which most businesses are closed on the weekend, meaning very little traffic. This allows the promoter to close the lanes for traffic in a clockwise direction for the race. Leaving the start/finish line the course has a gradual right hand turn with slight undulating hills for about 1.25 miles; this entire section had either a direct headwind or nearly direct crosswind. At about this point on the course begins a gradual downhill into the only real corner on the course, which opened up into three lanes and continued downhill until about 1.5 miles into the course; this downhill section after the turn was the only portion of the course where we had a tailwind. At 1.5 miles in began the climb to the finish line. This finish climb began more steeply before leveling off into a slight uphill, the whole thing totaling about half a mile before a gradual downhill to the finish line.
During out recon I noted where I needed to be in relation to the group on certain parts of the course in order to be shielded from the wind. After two laps we returned to our vehicles, pinned on numbers and other various things to prepare for our race which started at 0845. Once done we headed out for some warm-up laps in reverse on the course. At 0845 the Cat 5s were amassing and waiting to be called to the line and I was there, ready to go, with three of my teammates. When we got the call I positioned myself on the front row, left side, in preparation for the head/crosswind coming from the right that we would encounter first. The whistle blew and we were off.
Immediately two lines formed with me on the head of the line on the left. I felt like this was the perfect position to be in but once we encountered the wind it was almost full on in my face. I slowed a little to bring myself even with the third wheel of the right line but the wind persisted. Eventually I had to ease up or blow up, and when I did the former I fell the back of the line rapidly. I had flashbacks of being popped and dropped on the first lap as I had been at Black Hills so when the end of the line came by I stood up and put in an effort to latch onto the back and get some shelter. There I was able to recover to the corner. This corner could easily be taken at full speed, but at the end of the line I was braking considerably to avoid colliding with riders in front of me who were also braking. The result of that was having to sprint nearly full out on the exit of the corner to get back up to the main group to do the climb sheltered from the headwind; if you were on your own when you started the climb, you were in trouble. With the exception last lap (and the details of the start) this was repeated eight times, requiring an 1100w peak sprint exiting the turn and a 50 second 350w climb of me each lap. As much as I tried to move up towards the front of the group before the corner, I always found myself near the back of the line, sometimes dead last.
On the last lap the pace picked up but the herd didn't thin too much. We hit the corner with around 40 riders I'd guess and again I came out near the back of the line. Once around the corner I could see that the front of the group had definitely opened it up and the line was strung out quite a bit. I hustled up to a group of five guys and recovered for a few seconds when I noticed people starting to fade bad. I picked up my pace a little bit and got by about 20 riders before the end of the steepest part of the climb, at which point I backed of a hair and prepared for the next move. At the top of the hill, just as it starts to go slightly downhill to the finish, approximately 200 meters away, I stood up briefly to sprint but only got in a few revolutions of the crank before I had to sit down and just go as hard as I could. Riders were still slowing and I managed to get by several before lunging for the line neck-and-neck with one other rider. All told, I think I was only a few bike lengths behind the winner and on the same time. I was confident I had a top-15 and maybe a top-10 but not really sure.
About 90 minutes after the race, results were finally posted; my teammate Charles had taken 3rd and I finished 8th. This result was far more than I expected or even thought myself capable of, but there were a lot of things, not the least of which was luck, that went my way. For starters, the wind prevented any breakaways from sticking for more than a couple of minutes because people weren't willing to work together. Secondly, the course was not that hilly, or at least it didn't seem to be; I can't get seem to get a similar number from any website or my GPS. Lastly, aside from my stint on the front at the start, I was mostly able to sit in the pack and conserve most of the race (as did most of the riders in my race I'd guess) which allowed me to have a good spurt of energy for the finish.
Average pace for the race was 22.7mph with the last lap averaging 25mph exactly; race data is here. No one hit the pavement, but there was one near accident I narrowly avoided about six laps in.
So that's it, my second race. An overwhelming success in my opinion. Next up is the Turkey Hill Country Classic Circuit Race in Lancaster, PA on May 7th. Karrie and boys are heading up with me and I'll have five teammates in my race with me so it should be interesting.