The prefatory might get a bit long here, so if you just want to read about the race, scroll down to "Race Report."
I think if you crack open the dictionary and look up "morning person," my picture should be somewhere there. But even I don't particularly enjoy getting up at 3:30 a.m. for a race, especially knowing there is a chance it could be in the snow. Luckily, I forced myself asleep by 9:30 the night before, so getting up that early wasn't too painful. I was also delighted to see that the skies were more or less clear and it appeared that chances of snow fell by the wayside. I had the foresight to pack everything I needed the night before, so the only thing left to do in the morning was to get dressed and throw my bike on the rack. And so I was off.
I got to registration at about 6:45 and to my surprise, everything was set and ready to go - a very nice change from Pine Flat where registration opened half an hour later than scheduled. So I got my number and having plenty of time (which is exactly how I like it), I began setting up my trainer and my bike, secretly hoping that by the time I had to change it would slightly warm up from 31 degrees. My saddle was covered in frost from the drive to the race and it was definitely the coldest staging I had to do, even after racing cyclocross.
I changed into my cold racing gear, which consisted of ski socks, two base layers (one sleeveless, one sleeved), arm warmers, leg warmers, neoprene booties with a toe warmer in between the shoe and the shoe cover and the regular bibs and jersey. Tip of the day: if you're going to be applying both embrocation and chamois cream, apply the chamois cream first! No, there was no disaster that brought me to my knees, as between the time I applied the embro and the time I applied the chamois cream, so much time passed that most of it was gone from my hands, but I did get a slight tingling sensation, and I imagine it could have been a lot worse. I guess I got off with a slight scare this time around.
The DZ Nuts Medium Embrocation was just what the doctor ordered for that chilly morning, as my leg muscles were getting warmed up before I even got on the trainer. Another little trick taught to me by my teammates was to use M3 77 Spray Adhesive to attach my number to my jersey instead of pinning it. It save me a ton of time, and the number doesn't flap around. I'm sure some of you are scratching your head wondering doesn't this screw up your jersey? And I know at least one of you has had problems with it before (don't worry, your secret is safe with me). The first time I used it was last week, and I did end up getting a bit much glue on the number which then stuck to my jersey. However, that was easily removed with spray Goo Gone and a dab of a towel. Yesterday, however, I was flawless in execution and the number stuck, yet peeled off without issue or residue.
Here's the technique: First, I carry a piece of cardboard around which is about twice the size of the number. I place the number of the cardboard face down and stick a couple pins in it to hold it in place. Second, from a distance of about 12 inches, I fan the number with spray adhesive just once and leave it to set for a couple of minutes. Third, unpin the number and apply to the correct side of the jersey (oh, and make sure it's not upside down - at each race I see at least one guy with an upside down number, and not always a Cat. 5 guy). Because under the official rules you're still supposed to have pins in the number, I suggest sticking a few in there just so you don't get DQed. Oh, and lastly, make sure to remove the number from the jersey as soon as the race is over.
Alright, so enough of that. Let's get to the good stuff.
I made sure to stage near the front, as I intended to spend the majority of the race there because if the group was to split, I definitely wanted to be in the front end of the split. I also knew there were going to be a lot of twisty turns in this race and it's always better to be closer to the front - less of a slingshot effect and less people to crash in front of you. I was afraid this race might go the way of Cantua Creek with a mass roll around for 4 laps and a speedy fifth lap with chaotic finish. Luckily, I was wrong.
After the three mile promenade through the town of Snelling, we were off and the attacks came in immediately. There were a few teams there with good numbers in the field: Roaring Mouse, Webcor/AltoVelo, Tri Vello and Rio Strada. Roaring Mouse mainly hung out in the back, but the other three were responsible for a few digs early in the race. Terence drove the pace early, then I countered, then another guy came around and we were off to a pretty speedy start.
After the initial few miles, the pace had settled down and I was able to figure out what the heck was going on in the peloton and who my competition would be. I raced against many of the guys in the past, so I knew what some could and couldn't do. Also, this being a relatively flat race, a lot of big (not fat) guys came out, the types who typically power through crits and maybe even on the track. And somehow, seeing all of that, a thought went through my mind, "I'd really like this race to have a nice mile-long hill." That thought was immediately followed by, "Who said that?!?"
The first break attempt came early with two guys going off and a Webcor guy jumping on their tail. What happened next kind of surprised me - the other Webcor guys got to the front and picked up the pace. I don't know why they wanted to chase down their own guy, but they did. The break didn't last longer than a mile or so. All of this time, I'm at the front, either countering or pulling. As we approached the end of lap one, I knew this was not the idea strategy for this race for several reasons.
One, I don't have any teammates in the race and no one is really eager to share the workload at the front. Two, there are many strong guys in the field perfectly capable of countering attacks and as long as I stay in the first 15 to 20 at the front, I should be just fine. So for lap two, I settled in behind a wheel near the front of the race and watched things develop. All breaks that happened on that lap went pretty much the same way - a group would break away, the peloton would scratch their heads for a while, then someone decided they were going to bridge and the peloton would just jump on their tail and bring the break right back. There was no one to shut the field down as none of the teams had enough numbers in the race to do that.
Before the race, Terence and I briefly talked about a possibility of going into a break since we ride for different teams and perhaps the peloton would let us go. In the middle of lap three, right after the feed zone hill, Terence attacked. I was third wheel out and as he was about 200 meters away, I gunned it and went to bridge. I probably had to push about 500+ to catch him, but I also brought about five or six other guys with me, which was fine, provided that the second I bridged one of them would come around and continue to pull. But it took a little bit for us to get organized and Terence could only sustain his power output for so long, and I was pretty gassed from the bridge, so by the time we got settled into a rotation, we lost precious seconds. After a few rotations, we suffered the fate of all other breaks - we got caught.
That dig I put in to bridge to Terence and the work I did in the first lap, well, I was about to start paying for that. My left quad began having the sensation of "I'm about to cramp up." I knew I was well hydrated, I had taken electrolytes, I've been eating and drinking the whole way, so why I was cramping up was totally puzzling to me. At that point, I thought my race was done. I settled in about 30 back and made an effort to recover - as little pedaling as possible, stay out of the wind, eat and drink, and I did pound my leg a bit with my fist. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Luckily, the penultimate lap was rather mellow, with a couple attacks, but no major surges. Even with onset of cramps I was able to stay with the lead pack. I also made sure to decrease the torque on my legs by increasing the cadence. All of this helped and by lap five I started to feel okay, at least enough to counter the attacks and stay in the lead group of 20 or so.
I knew the last lap would be fast (in fact, it was the fastest) and perhaps a bit dangerous at the end if the entire group was there at the finish, which is why I was happy that the pace picked up and that I was able to hang on. The field became strung out with some people getting dropped.
The final two miles of the race were on black tarmac which was extremely bumpy (probably from farm equipment). With one mile to go, I hit a bump, and wouldn't you know it - another Fizik Antares saddle was ready to go into the trash. I was lucky that I had less than a mile to go to the finish, because the immediate sag in the saddle was quite drastic. The black, bumpy tarmac ended at a hard right about 500 meters from the finish. As we made the turn, the speeds went way high, I ended up passing a few guys going into the finish, as people were getting spit out the back one by one. My efforts for the day would be rewarded with 19th place finish out of 63 starters.
Summing up: A higher up finish would have been nice, but I'm not the type to dwell on what could have been. I'm still trying to figure out these flatter races where the group is more difficult to break up and no team has enough numbers to truly drive the pace - a work in progress, I guess. I probably should have positioned myself better coming into the final turn before the finish, that's for sure, but with my legs having just stopped cramping, I wasn't confident I could attack from that far back. I am happy that the lead pack could not drop me even with cramps and again, it looks like the fitness is coming along just fine. I'm also puzzled by the fact that out of the last three races, I got cramps in two of them - I NEVER get cramps. I'm not sure why that's happening, but hydration was definitely not an issue in this race. Any suggestions?