Lowell, like Canton and SBC, are becoming the bigger non-VERGE races on the calendar, with plump fields, great organization, and fantastic courses. The Lowell course starts on a cinder track that circles a baseball field, featured a series of concentric circles, a forced run up that was longer and harder than it looked, a series of switchbacks, a quick ride up, and several long straight sections through the wood... on that was gravelly/muddy but high speed none the less.
Arriving plenty early I got a few good laps in to warm up, then lined up for the start on the front row of the 35+ field. Yeah for me!!! Realize that the starting gate was soooo wiiiide.. the entire field was on the front row. Boo...
Gun goes off and I felt great. Super fresh and very fast. I stuck with the front group (P. Smith, K. Perham, B. Shattuck, R. Hult, J. Mosher and M. Gunsauls) and we started to pull away from a few NE masters studs (M. Rowell, R. Laroque). The racing seemed pretty easy, granted I was tailgunning, but the course offered enough turning that rest was available and the short efforts didn't hurt much. Three weeks off the bike thanks to H1N1 was paying dividends!
On lap two, about 10 minutes into the race we got to the run up and the rest of the group didn't wait for me at the top. They were gone in an instant and my best moments were now behind me. Ryan Laroque caught me on that second lap and we rode together for a while, seeing three to go and wondering out loud if that was right... It seemed short. Rowell was coming and when he made contact half way through lap three the two of them dropped the hammer and left me in the dust. I came through and saw two to go in 9th place, but was so far ahead of 10th I had no reason to go very hard. I rode hard enough to keep my place and didn't mind loosing 4-6 seconds per lap, nothing short of a mechanical would change the out come of this race for me.
With one to go I started to really back it off. This whole season has been like this with the exception of a few races. I spend the last 20 minutes of the event in no mans land, not getting the push of competition. I was feeling really tired and realized that the lack of riding hard for 45 minutes the entire year has cost me some late race fitness. I tried to put in a better effort but was so tired I had very little left. I was also scared that I had trained/raced myself into one of the better 12 minute cyclocross riders in the master's field.
None of this worry changed my race effort, and I cruised it in to the finish. Looking across the field at the finish I saw Rowell go through the line and keep on the gas. WTF?! why is he still going? Another effect of riding solo for the last 30 minutes of my races has allowed me to develop a nasty day dreaming habit. Seeing Mike still racing I panicked. I had already shut it down and Helicopter Matt and Doug Aspinwall a real threat if given an extra 6 minutes to catch me.
What happend? Had I counted off a lap during the middle of two to go? Was there a bell twice? Later I learned that everyone was confused, apparently they had given the front of the race (I was considered the front) the 1-to-go indication a lap early.
Facing an unexpected additional 6 minutes of racing, I got on the gas, taking care not to go to hard too soon, but needing to get a few seconds back to stop the bleeding and generally feel better about what I was doing. The group behind, unlike me, were racing hard. Battling each other, they were constantly attacking and in doing so were pulling me back. Fortunately, I locked down my advantage and rolled in for a lonely 9th place.
This same thing (racing solo, not the lap card fiasco) happened in day 2 in Maine, Putney, both days at Gloucester, and both days at Providence. No kidding... it really is a problem. This time of year, the races are your best training, and if you're only going for 15-20 of the 45 minutes, you're eventually going to loose that second half of the race speed.
Too late to change the fitness now though, I'm going to have to try a new strategy. Normally I would go as hard as possible for 10-15 minutes and then just hang on for deal life as the smart racers would blow by me. I haven't been able to race my competition after the first 15 minutes of a race in a long time.
I'd try my new approach at Sterling.