I have some feelings about this race.
We got up before dawn, crammed down a quick breakfast, and rolled west at 6:15 am, getting to Charlottesville early enough to drive most of the course. It's beautiful rolling country tucked into little valleys, with only a few punchy climbs and a couple of longer ascents that aren't steep enough for categorization.
I'd heard there were no signature climbs for this race, and while the climb at the start was nasty, it was early enough that it really wasn't going to split the group. More likely, the longer grind toward the end of the course would see the attack, and the uphill multi-pitch finish would secure the win.
Neither Alastair nor I ended up having even a moment to warm up, and I choked down a Larabar on the rollout. Quite literally choked it down, having to use precious water before the race even started.
The first lap was one attack after the next, from the first downhill to the end. I stayed near the front to respond, but never with any intent to form a break-away. None of the attacks were particularly strong, except for one brief one about 7 miles into the race, but that was too early to make something stick in a strong group.
The second and final lap started a bit slower than the first, and the first climb became almost neutral. Worried about a repeat of W&M neutralization, I ran off the front and paced it up for most of the run on Dick Woods Rd.
After the first turn, I backed way off and dropped like a rock through the group. My rear derailleur chose this moment to start acting squirrelly again, refusing to up-shift from time to time. This continued for about the next 3 miles, and left me in a crap position buried in the group on the inside line for a super sharp uphill turn, and only 6 miles or so to work back to where I wanted to be.
The last road comprises a bunch of rollers, false flats, one long grinder of a climb, and a fast fast fast downhill 1.5 mile run to the final turn. I was patient. I worked my way very cautiously over to the left side of the group, taking little jumps as they became available, and conserving for that grinder. I knew the attack would come there, and I wanted to be in position to respond when it did.
I even let a couple of attacks go, trusting that the group wasn't going to let anything go before the climb.
We started up the climb 5 wide. I was about 4 riders deep on the far left, and starting to see stars. The group was chugging hard, and riders were starting to wither to my right. I was glued to the wheel ahead, but a quick glance up the road revealed the attack had been missed.
Four riders were off the front, their margin growing with every stroke. A small group of 3 was trying valiantly to chase, and then there was the rest of us.
I jumped left and rolled hard with the top in sight, quickly reaching the 3 riders. I motioned for them to jump on my wheel and continued my assault, just slightly and slowly bringing the leaders closer. We flew downhill in super-tuck, trading places when a pull was necessary, but now definitely closing the gap. More riders had caught up, and we were on full attack, close enough now to read the backs of the jerseys ahead, but with almost no time left before the final turn and climb to the finish.
The four ahead never looked back, but sat up into the final turn, presumably assured of their break-away's success. In doing so, they fanned out across the face of the turn, each taking full wind and losing pace. I pounced, went as far left as possible, railed the turn at 30mph, and nearly ran straight into a truck that was hidden 100' back from the intersection.
I was pulling parallel with the 4 ahead when I had to slam on brakes down to 13mph, watch the entire group that I'd just pulled down the hill roll past, and had to start over basically from scratch, uphill, fully gassed out.
With less than a half mile, and all of it uphill, I had no chance to regroup, and was only able to grab 2 positions back, finishing 14th.
I was furious. I went straight to the officials and reprimanded the moto for letting a car sit hidden from view on the most important turn on the course, and doing nothing to call it out.
On the one hand, I'm alive, uninjured, I brought my whole bike home, and I finished within the lead group. On the other hand, the guy behind me into that turn finished 4th. A podium position was within reach. My race had been as perfect as I could have asked until poor marshaling took away my finish.
That truck would have been no issue for me or anyone else if it had been sitting at the actual intersection. That truck would have been no issue if it had been 50' farther back. But 100' from the corner was the exact perfect spot to ruin the turn and nearly end my whole year. Again.
There's something wrong with my racing year. My first race, as mentioned, was neutralized. I crashed and broke a rib preparing for the next one, then crashed and broke a rib again in the RIR race. I missed Jeff Cup because of that broken rib.
I was starting to get a good run going with Bryan Park, but even that seems to have kind of run dry. I'm watching the same group of guys run the same races and win over and over again, and I know I'm right with them on power, endurance, and even strategy, but I just can't seem to put it all together.
The guy who finished 4th yesterday got his Cat 3 upgrade out of the race. I wouldn't have been in position for that, but points would have been nice. Upgrade points were to be my main focus for the year.
But no more whining: I'm still pissed, but I'm going to try to use that anger to focus, tighten up, and look for opportunities that I might be missing out there. Others are figuring out how to win--I have to do the same.
Alastair's race was never really a race. With only 22 juniors registered (and probably only 18 present) across 5 racing classes, there was no peloton. His race broke apart on the first hill, the teams from up north working together to pull their riders to a strong finish. He ended up riding alone between two groups, and was ultimately caught by the chase group right before the finish. While he finished last in his age group, he was only 15 seconds behind the leaders (according to timing & scoring reports--haven't seen his Garmin data yet), and he had just spent the prior week at camp with no access to a bike. Even so, a 4th place finish in VA Cycling's Jr Men 11/12 still netted him 40 points, and he still holds a 45 point lead in the BAR competition, so it was definitely worth the effort.