Like Moore's Law the rate at which the phrases are coined is increasing exponentially. (Admittedly this is a long set up/lead in to a race report, but I'm getting there). Recent expressions of note been (blank)-ista, and the subject of this post... wait for it. As previously noted, concern has been growing about my fitness. Multiple races have unfolded where I've been left alone for half the race with no one to chase and no one to run from. Todd Burns hasn't been around, and he is usually nipping at my heels. Keith Gauvin has been kicking my a$$ with regularity and Mike Rowell is a second row call up kind of guy these days. Cross time trials are fun, but not as much fun as hanging with a group and trying to win the little battles to get the best possible result.
After the Lowell race where I blew up after 10 minutes and then glided home I wanted to change gears (wicked pun, fully intended) a bit and modify my race strategy. Go easy at the start and only burn matches if absolutely necessary for 15 minutes, then start racing. I'd only dip into the tank in the first third of the race if I could get a significant rest by jumping on someone's wheel to draft them for an extended time. I've tried this starting slow thing before but wasn't really committed to it and didn't have a plan, which led to me going too hard too soon. A story that Kurt Perham told me about one of the Ironman athletes he trains gave me the idea to set a fixed time to start "racing." He told the client to set the alarm on their watch for 2 pm and start racing when it went off. Maybe it wasn't Kurt who told me about that, but it sounds like something he'd say so he gets the credit. FYI... Ironman races start at 7 am.
I can't wait until the 7 hour mark to start racing in the master's cross field, but waiting 15 minutes seemed like a good mark. I figured that the front of the race wouldn't be too far ahead that early on, that anyone who rides like I used to would just be starting to fade so perhaps they could pull me around a bit, if I go hard from the 15 minute to 30 minute mark, I only have to hold on for the last 15 minutes to bring it home, and perhaps I'll find myself riding with others towards the end of the race... something I haven't been doing much off but that will only help me to improve.
With little fanfare I lined up third row on Saturday at Sterling. This was the first time Sterling has been two days and Saturday was the traditional Sterling course, around the track, up the run, over the horse jump, back and forth across the fields, some off camber work, and the long gradual climb along the road to the finishing straight. It was cold and very windy, but the sun was out and the course was surprisingly dry in the wake of a lot of rain the day prior. Course Designer Superstar Tom Stevens added a series of tight repetitive turns to two of the the normally long straight power sections that really made the course fun. Bravo Tom.
At the whistle I got going, but didn't hammer away like normal. "Sit tight, sit tight, sit tight" I had to say out loud... the temptation to go balls out is strong as (some of the ) guys (that normally are behind you the entire race) are flying past you. Rowell had popped a spoke on the start and was riding easy, but everyone else was killing it. The danger of a first lap crash is higher the further back you are, but I managed to stay safe around the first few turns and up the run. Down the hill and over the horse jump and I let more spots go... Still too early. I found a pace that was very comfortable about 30th spot and rode there for a while, getting warmed up and watching for any big opportunities up ahead. Not much was going on, so I rode a few laps with Brant Hornberger, Stephan Marcoux. The three of us moved up through the field comfortably, and the effort was not taxing at all. This was working out great so far.
At the start of lap 3, the watch said 15 minutes and it was time to go. I hit the track and told Brant to take my wheel, but he was unable and I began to ride away from the group and closed in on Aaron Millett. He was just a few seconds behind a group with John Foley, John Meerse, Jeff Ferraro, and Jeff Molongoski in it. I caught Aaron and rode with him for a bit, and after the barriers asked him if he was going to be able to close a gap that was opening up as the group started to increase the pace. "Nope" so I went around and off to crash the party up ahead. I got to them with 3 to go (which meant that I had used up about 7 minutes of my reserves) and then Molongoski basically pulled us around the course for two laps. This entire time we could see Mike Rowell coming back up to us, and it looked like he was bringing the entire race with him. We were running scared, and I was hoping that we would shake some one off the group to satisfy Rowell's appetite for crushing master's riders. I was sure we'd shake Ferraro as he hasn't been placing in the top 20 all year, but he was hanging very tough. I was mostly second wheel, and Molongoski would put in these monster efforts which required a full match-burning response each time. At some point Foley dropped off the pace, I'm happy he's racing more this year as he's a great guy and is super fun to ride with assuming you can keep up with him in the technical stuff.
Going into the last lap I was down to about 2 more efforts, one of which was going to have to be the sprint. We started to play reindeer games around the track at the bell, no one wanted to work too hard now, but Rowell was getting closer with each turn so Molongoski hit the gas again. Ferraro moved to the front with a half a lap to go, baited to that spot by Molongoski and I who took a turn near the pits super wide and left the far-too-tempting main line open for him. He brought us to the final turn and into the sprint. The strongest rider in the bunch got clear: Molongoski took 15th with ease. I tried to come around Ferraro but couldn't, and the half second lapse opened the door for Meerse to pip me at the post by a 1/4 of a wheel. Rowell had latched on just as we started to open up the sprint so he was unable to come around, but he had one hell of a ride to get up to us without any help at all.
So finishing 19th was about where I would normally be, but it was much more interesting and fun to be racing the entire time rather than taking a ride up to the front on every bit of effort I have in me and then trying to hang on to my spot once the rubber band snapped. I think the new approach will help me develop my fitness more completely, and I'll end up enjoying better results in the long run.