This was probably the most fun I've had racing bikes all year.
I showed up late, with no time to warm up, signed up last minute, so my legs weren't properly "seasoned" for the day, and just figured I'd see what I could see.
Though we use half of it every Tuesday night in the Bryan Park Training Series, I'd never ridden the course at speed. I'd scouted it a bit on commutes, but decided it was probably not anything I wanted to race on because of some seriously choppy bits.
But at race pace, I didn't notice the chop.
The first corner on this course is undeniably terrifying. It's a 90-degree right hand turn through a metal gate. Get it wrong and risk serious injury, and stalking Strava profiles revealed that the fastest of the fast could only manage it at about 16 mph, and even then only once in a race.
From there, the course ran downhill to a relatively tight but sweeping left that is ironically called "the hairpin". It allows speeds up to 26 mph, but nobody usually hits it much faster than 22 or 23 in the Tuesday night races. Then it's an uphill run to a 45-degree bumpy left bend onto the back straight, which then opens to a glorious sweeping downhill 180 onto the start-finish "straight", where the worst of the chop can be found. The 1.4 mile course, from Strava-stalking, should take somewhere just north of 3.5 minutes per lap.
After just one run through that puckering first turn, I knew I needed to be up front. I put down a quick early effort and found myself on the front, and with nobody really challenging me, just hung out there for about 6 laps. Occasionally a guy would run out, but I'd jump on the wheel instantly and stay within the first 5 or 6 riders.
But at the mid-way point, I realized I needed to save a bit for the finish, so I faded into the group. Huge mistake. That turn, scary up front, is both scary and exhausting toward the back, with speeds dropping to about 10 mph and then rocketing back to 25+ before the next turn. The farther back you are, the more energy it takes to avoid crashing and catch back on.
Within 2 laps I knew I couldn't circle around back there, and moved up just in time to watch a solo effort run off the front. Fortunately it's a guy we've watched all season in the training races, and most of the front guys knew he didn't have more than 2 or 3 laps in him, so we let him sit out there in the wind until he blew up, eliminating his chances in the sprint.
As we came up toward the back straight on the last lap, I got swallowed by the group and nearly merged over onto a teammate, who told me to stay on the wheel in front, since that rider is usually on the podium. I did, for a moment, but when he jigged right, a rider ahead of him hit a pothole and slowed the entire right pace line, leaving just left & center into the sweeper.
I was pretty gassed, but rolled into it hard and wide to prevent an outside pass, then just punched it for all I was worth. I pulled back 6 or 7 riders before running right into a pinch-point and had to back off. With less than 50 meters to go, I had nowhere to go and had to settle for 7th.
But it was so much fun controlling the pace, working with teammates, trying little runs, setting guys up, that I couldn't wait to do it all again Tuesday night.