My first couple of race weekends were frustrating. I felt I had under-performed, and so I went into the x-pot weekend thinking I had something to prove, at least to myself. And I knew it would suit me, given the amount of climbing. It was time to make things happen.
Saturday began with a mercifully warm ITT. Having looked at last year’s results, I thought that around 18.00-18.15 would be close to a winning time for the C field, and I pushed hard to achieve it. I tried to restrain myself on the early hills to keep something for the flatter top section, and was pleased to come home in 18:16 after an enormous effort, passing 6 riders along the way. Actually, it’s a mark of my high hopes for this event that I was initially dissappointed that this “only” netted me fifth place, but I was reassured by the fact that this was due to the C field being stronger at the top than last year (the winning time was 17:30, mid-pack in men’s A!)
We then moved on to a mercifully warm and dry crit, complete with a steep and brutal hill. The first couple of laps were predictably chaotic, with about half the field attacking up the hill, and some “interesting” descending and cornering. I worked hard to stay near the front and look out for attacks. After a couple more laps it came down to a race of attrition, as we kept the pace up on the hill and people gradually dropped off. The end result was a break of five, which stayed together for the rest of the race, eventually joined by Ethan in a superb solo bridging effort. The race was a fantastic, if exhausting, experience. My boyfriend and various friends were on the climb to cheer me on, and teammates including Cory, Shaena and David were great at screaming encouragement (“get on that wheel!!”). I had to constantly fight to keep with the group after the top of the hill; the attacks were relentless, and the short loops gave very little time for recovery. I was more or less dropped on a couple of occasions, but fought my way back onto the group in the straight section. These sorts of short, punchy efforts don’t usually suit me, so I was happy to cling on until the final climb turned into a sprint finish and I came in fifth. In retrospect I think this may be the hardest I’ve ever worked in any sporting event in my life. I was constantly red-lining, fighting myself to stay in contention; I could hardly stand up at the end.
We arrived for a rain-soaked Sunday to find plans A, B, and C out of the window due to flooded roads. The organizers deserve enormous credit for putting together a great last-minute circuit race that provided plenty of excitement in the men’s C field. With seven strong riders in a field of fifty, we made lengthy team plans that were executed really well. Our idea was to drive the race at a fast pace to discourage attacks, and then constantly launch our own attacks in the hope that one would stick. Ethan and Matt made an early break with an RPI rider, and I had fun blocking at the front, enjoying the frustration of other teams. Despite some other attempted breaks, everyone came together again by the start of the second of three loops, as we approached the circuit’s steep climb. I was planning to attack here but found myself boxed in, in the middle of the pack, unable to pass anybody. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as we reached the top of the climb all together but at a fast pace, and I eventually wormed my way to near the front.
Acting almost on instinct, I quickly attacked hard and found myself in front of the pack with a sizeable gap. I was so shocked at this point that I hardly knew what to do, having assumed that someone would follow me. I decided there was nothing for it but to push onwards, and so I began a solo ride off the front that lasted almost a whole lap. I was pushing myself as hard as I could, shouting at myself for encouragement. I tried to look back as little as possible, but when I did, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I realized I could hardly see the pack.
I now realize why – notwithstanding my efforts, my teammates were by all accounts doing some incredible blocking, with Andrea, Adam and Anton at one point simply filling the road so that no-one could get past. Andrea, in particular, was apparently working his socks off to stay in second wheel and keep me in front.
Eventually an RPI rider bridged up to me on his own, which was actually a huge relief as I was rapidly tiring in the strong headwinds. We quickly agreed to work together, and kept the pace up for another couple of miles until a UNH rider also reached us, and we spent the rest of the final lap in a reasonably-organized TTT, with another bridger from Brown making it a break of four at the very end. As the finish line approached I was amazed to see that we were still away, but nervous about the final sprint. I tried to launch myself away on the front to no avail, eventually coming in a very tired fourth behind three better sprinters.
I’m particularly delighted with how this race went. I chose to attack at the right time, at the top of a hill when people were tired, and from about ten riders back, so that people didn’t see me coming. For me, the lesson is that being aggressive and taking your chances really pays off, and that smart tactics matter just as much in bike races as being strong. But more than that, it was a reminder of what an amazing team spirit we have; my break would never have survived without fantastic blocking. I’m incredibly grateful to my teammates for their hard and selfless work.
Above all, I think this weekend taught me to be much happier with my lot as a cyclist; I proved to myself that I can perform as I wanted when the races got hilly, even though my short power and sprinting remain frustratingly weak. Whilst it would easy to be disappointed about losing two sprints from breakaways, fourth or fifth in a break is infinitely more satisfying than 20th in a mass pack sprint, and I don’t think I could have tried harder than I did, or done more to put myself into contention. I went home very happy indeed, and excited about even hillier races to come.
Last but definitely not least, I must add a big thank you to Stef and everyone else who put in so much work to organize the weekend. I thought it was a huge success and showcase for the team, despite the weather Gods’ best efforts to make it otherwise. I’m already looking forward to next year, but can we order less rain please?