Wednesday, March 5, 2014

La Drome Classic

The beauty of a pair of one-day races is that the second is a brand new race. The reset button has been pushed. Once again, we were given free rein to go on the attack. We would try to work harder at riding as a team when possible so that we could help each other in the event of trouble, or just to get into position for important points.

The race, La Drome Classic, was a bit shorter than the previous day at a mere 185km (114mi). The course had a lot of up and down, but no large climbs. We would do 3.5 laps of a big circuit with 2 categorized climbs—both less than a kilometer with large pitches at 17%+ gradients—before hitting 2 climbs of a couple kilometers on the way back to the finish. It was a windy day, and we knew that certain sections of the course would be exposed and could break the race apart.

The staging was more straightforward and the neutral section was long, so I was close to the front when racing began. The moment we passed KM0, it was as if somebody turned on the wind. I was in position to follow the first attack as the whole field strung out in the gutter. The winds kept it so that only the first 20 riders could be in the mix, and I was having a great time surfing wheels as one attack after another was launched.

It wasn’t long before we realized that the race was coming apart behind us, and the attacks became more urgent. Again, I really wanted to be in the break, but nothing was really getting clear. Finally a group had a 100m gap as we approached a small town, so I attacked to bridge to them knowing that the narrow and twisty roads through the town would help us establish a gap. It didn’t work, though, when we ran out of steam on the hill outside of town and a large group counter-attacked. Warren, after his strong ride on Saturday, was ready to go and pounced on the move. It was a big group of nearly 20 riders and I really wanted to be in it, but needed to recover for a moment and couldn’t follow.

The field didn’t want a group so large to get away, so the attacks continued with the break just 15 seconds up the road.

At this point, we were about 15km into the race. I was sprinting into a corner to follow a move and the perfect set of circumstances came together to spoil my day. I went from high cadence out of the saddle to suddenly stopping pedaling as I chucked the bike into hard right-hander. At the same moment, I hit a sizeable bump and the chain’s momentum combined with the angle of the bike and bump tossed my chain over the big ring when I resumed pedaling.

It only took a couple of pedal strokes to get the chain back on, but I quickly knew that a link had been twisted in the process. Every time I would try to go hard, the chain would skip every few pedal strokes. I thought that it would be okay and that I could still finish the race on it, so I kept going.

It wasn’t long after that we made a sharp turn and were slammed into the gutter by strong winds. Just that fast, the field exploded into the several echelons. I was in the same echelon as Thierry and Johannes, and we worked hard at the front to claw back to the lead group. The gap was just a couple of seconds when we made the turn onto the first climb and I realized how badly I’d messed up my chain.

Climbing a 17% grade is not a pretty sight--bodies flailing everywhere to keep the pedals turning over in a prolonged uphill sprint. I think my chain slipped two dozen times on the climb as I slipped further and further back in the field. I simply couldn’t get the power to the rear wheel and contemplated waiting at the top for the team car to get my spare bike. Unsure of the state of the field, though, I decided to hang on as long as I could until I was sure the car was there.

Things calmed down a bit on the backside, and a quick look back at the end of a long stretch of road revealed just how much damage the wind had done—no cars in sight. I would have to finesse my chain to last until I could get my spare bike.

My strategy was to hang at the back of the field (which was now only about 60 riders) to see if the cars returned. When we got closer to a climb or the crosswind section of the loop I would get back to the front so that I could 1) help keep Thierry and Johannes out of the wind and in good position and 2) sag climb to take it easier on my chain.

After a long wait, the cars finally showed up, but the race was too hot to risk a bike change. Groups were constantly attacking because the break was never much more than a minute ahead. Then there were the climbs and the crosswind section to deal with. Finally we calmed down a little bit and I decided to go for it. I tailgunned for 20 minutes gesturing to the commissaire to call our car up, but they never arrived. It seemed that it was only part of the caravan behind us. I would have to wait another lap.

At long last, after another trip up the climbs, the car arrived and I jumped on my spare bike. I had managed with a skipping chain for over 70km. A bit of motorpacing and I was back in the field. In the time I was tailgunning and changing bikes, Thierry had joined Warren in the group up the road, which was now a small peloton itself.

The next lap was very fast as a few teams desperately chased the lead group back, catching them just before another climb. Warren, unstoppable, joined the next move as well, which would go to the line.

Life was much better on my spare bike as I could now really sprint out of corners and up hills. My legs were already losing their snap, though. In contrast to the previous race, this one was less about constant power and more about the frequent surges and sprints.

There wasn’t much to be done, though. We weren’t going to attack or chase with Warren up the road, and the chasing teams had lost their steam. After exiting the circuit, they finally threw in the towel when we turned into a headwind. From that point on, it was a group ride to the finish over the final 2 climbs.

Warren, tired from a long day of attacking, managed a hard-fought 8th place.  There were a couple of smaller groups behind his, and the main field came in around 20th place, about 10 minutes later. Of the 150 or so starters, 85 finished the race and I’m pleased to say that I was one of them.

My weird mechanical put a damper on my race, but there was still a lot to be pleased with. I was doing well with positioning when I tried, and my legs never quit on me even though they were getting tired by the end. I’ll bounce back even stronger for this weekend’s 3 Days of West Flanders, which opens with a 7km prologue. I do love prologues.