Saturday morning I got up bright and (dark and) early at 5:50am, loaded a sleepy boy into the car, and headed down to Williamsburg for my first ever road race. The morning was cold--24F when we left the house, and predicted to be only 30F at the 8am start time--though the day was supposed to warm up considerably. The car had been packed the night before with all the necessaries and sundries to keep a bike, a boy, and his bike in running order through a long day, and yet somehow we still managed to take a 1-hour drive and turn it into a 95-minute panic attack.
We arrived with only the barest of time left to unpack and get to registration, so it was with great relief that I heard the start had been pushed back to 8:15. I got my bike ready, made sure Alastair was warm enough and knew where to be to watch the race, and gathered at the start for the neutral roll-out.
The pre-race briefing was very difficult to hear, but I heard the guy mention "centerline", which was a term I'd learned literally just the night before while watching race videos. The "centerline" rule means the double yellow line on the road is inviolable, just as for cars, and within 3 miles of the start, I learned just how inviolable it was.
Just past the neutral roll-out, I found myself in the left side paceline, tight on the wheel of the guy in front. We'll call him Yellow Armwarmer Guy, or YAG, because he comes back later on. The group in front accordions, and YAG zigs left across the double yellow to avoid a collision. Only instead of tucking back in, he breaks and charges up to the front. His break comes maybe 100m from a right turn, and I follow as other riders fight for space on the right (really? nobody wants to widen out that first turn?). Only instead of crossing a double yellow, I'm charging behind him in an unmarked area, and there is no line past the turn. Right as we get to the front (with 1 rider way out front trying to make something for himself), up comes the motorcycle, beeping like crazy. YAG gets dressed down and told to go to the back, and I quickly drop back into the paceline.
YAG is pissed.
The race continued uneventfully for the next couple of miles, with that one lone rider eventually getting reeled in and another pair trying to break at the first climb. This time I was closer to the front and bridged with enough momentum to continue the break on my own. I was hoping they'd chase and make a 3-man break, but they didn't, and after a mile or two out in the air, I sat up.
When the group caught me, I went pretty far back into the pack, pinned down on the right shoulder. Amazingly, for the next 6 miles, nothing happened. Nothing at all. No attacks, no breaks, no nothing. Just a parade of 50 bikes in a tight peloton. I managed to work back up to within sight of the leaders--maybe 20 riders from the front.
Then course is only 9.44 miles, repeated twice, with a 1-mile road off to the left at the end. So as we began the 2nd lap and approached the first climb again, it was clear that everybody had exactly the same strategy: make a break at the climb. But the trouble with the centerline rule is that, because you can only use one half of the road, if the group is still together, the whole group can only move at the speed of the slowest riders up front. So again: no break. I realized I was too far back to effectively counter a break if it happened, so I spent the next couple of miles working back up to the front.
I made it my only goal in life to suck wheel off the lead rider. When any attack started, I'd rob the 2nd rider of the wheel. I must have done it 10 times in that last lap, when YAG came back. First he tried to break on the right, but the lead rider (6'+, 200lb+) moved right, and YAG went off onto the shoulder. He fought back, now extra super pissed, and decided to try to steal my spot.
This was the first time in my life I've ever rolled 20mph+ and had someone intentionally run into me, and YAG had me by at least 30lbs. But I knew it was coming, so I put myself a few inches ahead of him, making my position more stable and lower on the bike. YAG did not win that battle, but he tried and tried and tried for the last 1/2 mile to the final turn. It was frankly terrifying, but with each failed attempt, I gained a bit more confidence at holding my position.
And even though there was just about a solid mile left at the turn, that's when it happened: everyone broke en masse. My coveted 2nd position was swamped by two pace lines, then 4, then 6. Riders everywhere, all abandoning any sense of teamwork or even wheel-suck, just hammering like lunatics for the final mile to the finish.
And I'd over-spent. I watched about 20 riders pull ahead and was just on the verge of saying "screw it" when we got to the last short climb to the finish. And riders started bonking. Within sight of the finish line, five riders just dropped their pace and slogged up, and I got them all. I'm not sure, but I *think* YAG was one of them. I hope he was.
I was credited with a 16th place finish out of a field of 50, and I learned a TON. I cannot wait to do it again.