Ah, spring, or at least technically it is. Most of my recent rides still include winter tights, lobster gloves, and constant concern for ice in the road, so if it weren’t for the spring road races starting up it sure wouldn’t feel like it! There have been a couple races in Connecticut over the past weekends, but the Brinkerhoff Memorial (formally Johnny Cake) in New York was the first to draw out the Cafe Racers. The category 3/4 field does 48 miles on a new hilly (for March) 12-mile circuit, so you get a little more bang for your buck than you would with a one-hour crit.
Jonathan Sussman and I represented the studio. It was cold at the start, just above freezing, but with strong winds and some intense gusts. This course is especially exposed to the wind, so it would play an even bigger factor than usual.
Our thinking was that a hilly 48 mile race would feel long in March, so we’d be better off saving our efforts for the second half of the race. There were 100 racers in the field, so it was less likely that a small group would go early on. The bigger concern for the early race would be field splits which are common in mixed category races and early season races.
We were running behind schedule and ended up starting at the back of the field. With 100 people and narrow roads, this meant we would have our work cut out for us to move up.
The race went live and started with a tailwind, so there was less drafting benefit as a the attacks from the gun went. Our speed rocketed up to over 30mph over the pancake flat tarmac and there was a crash not 10 minutes in. I was 2 wheels behind the crash and ended up riding in the ditch for 100 meters to avoid it. The back of the field had to brake hard, and with the attacks continuing on the front, the field became hugely fragmented. Large gaps were everywhere.
So, like everyone else that started near the back, I chased. And it hurt. A lot. So much for my plan to warm up in the first half of the race. Coming off a rest week, this was my first time going hard in a while so that made it just that much worse.
The timing of this was especially nasty, because after 3 minutes or so of chasing we hit one of the courses hills (although small). Racers were going up in flames everywhere.
Luckily I was able to reconnect with the leaders, but it was a good 10 minutes before I made it, and I just barely made it. If the leaders were going just a little bit faster I would have been packing up my bags early. There only looked to be about 40 or 50 people left out of 100 and I had chased back on with just one other person. We must have passed 20 or 30 other racers who were going up in flames over that time. Unfortunately John was caught up behind this as well and did not reattach.
I felt like death once I did rejoin the leaders. We hadn’t even been racing for 20 minutes at this point and it’s a 2- hour race, so I settled in and did everything I could to be as lazy as possible.
The problem with being lazy in a road race is that it can be hard to get yourself going again. My legs felt like junk until the half way point, and I forced myself to save everything for the final lap.
There were a few people (5-7?) off the front this whole time holding a ~1 minute gap. You’d think the strong winds would make it difficult for them to stay away, but I think it just discouraged an organized chase. I certainly wasn’t going to help the chase effort and a 1-minute gap seemed too big to bridge, so sitting back and praying for it all to come back together seemed to be my best option.
So on the last lap I stopped sitting in and started to position myself. At first it seemed like mission impossible. Part of the problem was that I was too comfortable. Another issue was that everyone else was trying to get position too, but this was on the first half of the course when we had a tailwind. It was easy to move up there. I was sitting pretty much on the very back of the remaining 40-man group with 10 miles to go.
When the race turned to the west and went over the punchy climb coming out of Athens we got all strung out. The wind was a hard cross wind on the right and everyone was looking to the left for shelter. I felt good and was able to gun it and go from 40th to 10th in about a minute. Booya! Crisis averted.
The course turns north into the NW headwind for the last 5 miles. Staying to the right of the field was easier, but the left side was where you had to be to move up. Not wanting to give back the positions I’d just gained, I spent most of my time to the left.
At 1k to go the break was obviously going to stay away, but we were still packing in for the sprint, handlebar to handlebar. I was in a decent spot, maybe 10-15th, but 5 or 10 people had to break the rules and ride well over the yellow line to pass. I have no respect for this. The people at the front had done extra work in the wind to get there and deserved their position.
I sprinted with the bunch and finished somewhere in the middle, right where I was positioned going into it. The last 300 meters after a 90 degree left turn were tricky due to the wind. Again, it was less work and faster to be on the sheltered right side.
The new course was awesome. Let's do it again!