Yesterday I survived the Jefferson Cup in Charlottesville, VA, my second cycling road race, and my first as a member of Full Spectrum Racing.
I managed to arrive in time to get numbers pinned (with help) and have my teammates strip my bike of unnecessary bits (lights & seat-bag), but not in time to get a warm-up ride. My goal for the day was not to win, not even to place particularly well, but to finish. Three laps of that course adds up to 2500 feet of climbing, and I have never done that much climbing in 30 miles. Three laps of one looooong slow climb followed by a steep .4 mile 110' ascent and a couple of beastly rollers was a harrowing thought. Survive. That was all I wanted. And as a Cat 5 racer, it's honestly all I needed.
But just as we were about to roll out for the 2-mile neutral zone, race control stopped us in the parking lot and announced that a power outage along the route was going to force the race to drop from 3 laps to 2.
And in the blink of an eye, strategy changed across the field. The roll-out was actually as punchy as the William & Mary road race, with teammates trying to find each other and folks jockeying for position. I took up a spot near the back of the group, ready to just ride with a group for as long as my legs would carry me, but it became clear, even in the roll-out, that the field was divided between racers and survivors. With 2 laps and only ~1500 feet to climb, maybe--just maybe--I could be a racer. So I moved up.
And I am glad I did.
Once across the start line, the pace quickly jumped from 17mph to 25mph...uphill. We rounded the turn onto Blenheim at 19.5mph and hammered up the hill. And at only 1.5 miles into the race, it was already decided. The field split with 20 bikes off the front, and my choice to move up during the neutral zone was the only thing that kept me in contact with them.
I watched the tete de la course get about a 15 second advantage over me at the start of the descent, and broke out the super tuck, hitting 45.4 mph on the downhill and carrying one other rider with me back to the front. I am really glad I took the time to learn how to do that.
Once back with the lead group, the ride held a strong average speed of 23.7 mph for 8 miles, including the long grind up Carter's Mountain Rd. There were a couple of small incidents, including one of the lead riders wildly veering left in the bunch and going off the road. Fortunately, nobody was taken out. During the Carter's Mountain climb, a rider to my left dropped his water bottle under the wheels of the three following bikes, including that of my teammate Matt.
Then came that beast of a climb again, and this time there was no hanging on. I made it up 2/3 of the way with Matt, but I'd spent too much and fell back 15 seconds again. Only this time the super tuck wasn't enough, as the leaders pedaled hard down the other side. I stayed 20 seconds adrift for about a mile, then two other riders caught me up and we tried in vain to reel the group back in.
After 3 more miles, our little 3-man group broke up on a climb, and having nothing left to spend, I sat up and waited for them. Only one came, and he and I worked hard just to make it to the final turn. A couple of glances back revealed that there was nobody within half a mile, so I let that guy go and decided not to hurt myself any further, riding in at a painful, if somewhat more relaxed, 18.5 mph average.
Only after crossing the finish line did I look down and realize I hadn't had any water in the entire 2nd lap. That is a quick and stupid way to burn out.
I don't know how I finished. I want to say I'm somewhere in the top 20, of 65. I lost the leaders, but I never saw the peloton. By Strava's reckoning, I finished the race in 50:59 at 23.3 mph average. So I achieved my goal, and arguably exceeded it.
I do know that I hurt myself. There is a deep searing pain at the base of my spine that *could* be from a bump while super-tucked, but could also be something muscular or worse. Either way, I'm off the bike for at least a week.
***UPDATE*** Results are in: I came in 16th of 64. That's the same position as last time, but in a bigger field. Right on the outside edge of the top 25%