Today should have been amazing. I signed up for this year's W&M road race as a Cat 5, but after doing some magic with USA Cycling managed to get my resume re-re-reviewed, and was upgraded to Cat 4 last weekend. It took my projected finish of 1st down to 11th and meant I couldn't get away with any nervous rider shenanigans, but it also meant I got to sleep in a little later, since the 4's race starts at a reasonable hour of 10 am.
And the race started with real promise. After the 2-mile neutral roll-out, the pace leaped to 30mph within 2/10 of a mile and pushed hard to the first run up the KOA climb, where the flatlanders popped and everybody jeered as the freight train accordioned.
Back on flat(ter) ground, the race picked back up to the fever pace for a while, with minimal centerline enforcement. I'd see guys go wide and hear a moto admonish them, but nobody got sent backward.
After the first turn off Fenton Mill Rd, M. Lipka did is Leeroy Jenkins move and took one hopeful soul with him. They held out for about a half a mile before the group decided to run it back down, catching him well before the first lap marker on Riverview. But then his teammate N. McKinnon countered, and I guess the group figured it was another throw-away effort, because NOBODY chased. In fact, if anything, they actually slowed down. Wherease we'd been seeing 30mph on the outlap, I was barely seeing 22mph this time through.
By the time we made the turn to Newman Rd, he'd worked up over a 20-second lead. I found a hole on the right and jumped to the front to chase.
A group of about 5 were leading a middling charge, and I took up 2nd wheel. When the leader peeled off, I put out a 1-mile threshold interval to take back about 1/3 of the gap. As we dropped to the base of the KOA climb, I was reabsorbed into the group and we caught the only decent break-away of the day.
And then it just turned into a parade. For the next 10 miles or so, I just stayed on the right side and watched the occasional surge from one side or the other, but ultimately the jerseys never really changed and the speed continued to drop. At one point on Riverview I looked down and saw 17.8mph. Guys were starting to yell out from the group to pick up the pace or get out of the way, but it never happened, and what should have been a blistering run up the KOA climb for the last lap was more of a casual Saturday group ride pace.
And so they stopped us.
The moto dropped back to the leader and motioned us to the side of the road to let the faster chase group past. Suddenly what had gone from 57 bunched riders to a long train was now, once again, about 50 guys all clamoring for a shot at glory.
Zero space for error, itchy trigger fingers, but nothing. A few guys decided the centerline rule was for pansies, and nobody enforced it to the contrary, so the last several miles were exceptionally messy, and it's a wonder nobody wrecked.
We made the final turn into the park, where last year the 5 race just turned into an open 1-mile sprint fest, and...again...nothing. The group sped up to about 30 and held station, gradually widening to take the whole road and shallowing as riders packed up the rear, but the front line was like a military column and not a damn soul would break from it.
We even passed the 200m marker without ANY action, but when it came, it came hard. Formation broke as a few guys dropped the hammer, and I was in the 3rd row back. I hunted and clawed for a way through, finding a teensy gap on the left side--exactly where I'd seen a dude get seriously hurt at the end of last year's 4 race. I took the chance, and right as I got to it the guy ahead started yawing his bike around like a cartoon exaggeration of a sprint. I gave him a moment and he did it again. I yelled--twice--and he finally curtailed it and gave me an inch of pavement. With 50m to go, I got out and threw down everything I had, expecting to see the leaders well off into the distance. But as I counted the jerseys ahead of me, I could see only 5, and the moto was not far off.
So just as anti-climactic as the neutralization was the realization that I'd scored points in my first Cat 4 road race. Huzzah.