This was my longest race of the year so far at 50+ miles. And it was on hilly roads. And it was in a women's open field. My main goal for the race was to flog myself as training for the Tour of Washington County, which is my A race for the year and comes up in three weeks. I wanted to hang with the main group for as long as possible, over all of the hills if possible. To that end, I made a RideWithGPS route based on the course map and race e-mails to review the night before. I even wrote down key features of the course and taped them to my top tube (with the words "GO FLOG YOURSELF! TOWC" at the bottom). One teammate also raced, but we decided in the pre-race to hang out and take the race as it came with no specific team plan.
The course was a preview of the USA Nationals course for 2018-2019. It runs over a loop of about 13 miles, repeated in our case 4 times (with the first one slightly different to avoid the "big" climb). The first half of the loop has some rolling hills, including one that steadily gains over about 1.5 miles, then a long stretch where the roads are mostly flat or downhill, with a short, steep climb towards the end of each loop. The finish line was . . . well, I'll save that for later.
The race started with about 25 women and stayed mostly together for the opening lap. There were a few women who took the pace hard on the hills, but most of the group was able to stay on. Going over the climb that had looked so big on the elevation map didn't feel that bad, either! I turned and asked another racer, "Was that the big hill?" The second lap was more of the same, but with a little more attrition through the hills and also some rain. I responded to an attack with a counter on one of the early downhills and covered a few more. My teammate floated off the front at one point and stayed away for a mile or two. A woman from Sweetspot-Cutaway stayed away for I think most of a lap. There were a flurry of attacks to bridge up to her, but enough of us covered those bridge attempts to bring the whole pack back together eventually.
In the penultimate lap, I was sitting second wheel to a woman I've seen (from the sidelines of the 1/2/3 races) to be strong. She took a short roller pretty hard, and I was able to match her pedalstroke for pedalstroke. So I figured, why not? And took the next roller as hard as I could. I went clear of the group and stayed away for I think 5 or 6 miles. I came around and got the bell for the final lap solo, which was pretty sweet; but I didn't really think I would be able to stay away for the 10+ remaining miles on my own. I had time gaps ranging from 20-30 seconds, and my goal was to make it over the "big" hill and into the descent before the group caught me. I figured I would be toast if the group caught me in the hills.
I finally came back to the group just before a sharp left turn, and I was surprised to get kudos from other riders! One of my buddies said she would give me the Most Courageous Rider jersey, if there were one for this race. I felt a little bit like I'd proved my mettle in terms of ability to hang with the 1/2/3 racers. I drifted to the back to recover, but didn't stay there for long. My legs still felt good, and I go downhill so fast that I naturally drifted back into the front 10 wheels.
My teammate and I found each other and discussed the finale. I said my legs were still feeling okay, so we agreed that she would do her best to lead me out. Around the peloton, other teams had similar ideas, and riders were showing up in pairs and trios of matching kit at the front. It was really cool to see! That almost never happens in a 4/5 race, where multiple teams coordinate their individual lead-outs!
Sweetspot-Cutaway and Haymarket were mostly patrolling the front with a pace that was not too high but certainly not soft. Somehow, my VWS teammate and I ended up driving the pace the final time up the short, steep hill, and boy was it hard! I barely hung on to my teammate's wheel for the climb! Neither of us was sure how far away the finish was; I was just going off of my bike computer and the improvised cue sheet I had taped to my top tube. I felt like it was too early to ramp up the effort, but I didn't say anything (why didn't I say anything? Lesson learned: if you're going to be the protected rider, SAY SOMETHING!) . . . I tried to communicate periodically to Robin that I was still on her wheel as she drove the pace forward, the lead-out for ABRT on her right side.
Turns out . . . it was too early. My teammate popped, and I had probably already done too much early in the race. My legs were toast and I plummeted backwards through the field as ABRT's sprinter went for the line and the swarm came around me. My teammate encouraged me to keep going for a good result, but I could not.
Except that we passed the red tent with the lap markers where the officials had been and there were no officials. And there was no camera. A few of us looked at each other quizzically. Then I remembered that the pre-race e-mail mentioned that the finish line would be up by the school, and we hadn't passed the school yet. About that time, the moto official came alongside us and told us that the line we sprinted to wasn't the finish line. I started accelerating, yelling that the finish line was still ahead. No one else responded in time, though, and I got way out front and crossed the finish line alone. Whee!
That was the end of the fun part, for a while. The women who had won the sprint to the first line were understandably upset at the confusion. The finish wasn't marked with signs (1k to go, 500m to go, 200m to go) and the fact that there were two lines with the finish beyond the bells-and-laps line wasn't adequately communicated. The officials asked me if I knew that the first line wasn't the finish line and I said, honestly, no. I'd sprinted with everyone else and (as I said before) did not do well. I was just the one who figured out what had happened first and responded to it before anyone else could. Actually, the fact that I'd done so poorly in the first sprint probably allowed me to do that; if I'd been more of a contender at the first line, I wouldn't have had the legs to go for the second.
It was a contentious half hour or so of back and forth between judges and racers, with the race director and a few neutral observers weighing in as well. In the end, the officials decided to take the results from the second finish line, and I got the win. It felt pretty rotten at first, and I'm sure there are still plenty of women who are angry about how it ended. But I'm proud of myself for meeting my goal of staying with the 1/2/3 women for a hilly 50+ miles and for keeping my head up and responding to the situation as I saw it. I won't be relying on that as a tactic to win races, but I will remember the importance of always maintaining that awareness.
Also, my action camera was an unfortunate casualty of this race. The case broke sometime during my breakaway. I remember hearing some flapping and feeling like something had dropped or flown behind me, but I thought it was the tape from my cue sheet blowing off. It wasn't until I was back in the group and someone asked if I'd gotten my breakaway on my GoPro that I realized it was gone. Fortunately, it wasn't an actual GoPro or a Garmin Virb or something else very expensive; it was a $50 knock-off from China (via Amazon). And by the time the thing with the finish line was sorted out, I was too tired to drive around looking for a tiny grey box in the grass on the side of the road. So if you see a camera out near Clear Spring, Maryland, please contact me. I hope a cow didn't eat it.
I have a break from racing for the next few weeks, then the Tour of Washington County (which I'm pretty sure will be my last race as a cat. 4)!