|Spoiler photo! Now you know how the story ends!|
Twenty-two women lined up at the start. We made note of the wheels we needed to mark--a rider from Blue Ridge Cyclery in Charlottesville who won the sprint at Jeff Cup and another from New York who took second at Carl Dolan. My teammate took off from the gun with just enough vigor to string the field out. They gave her space and she got a small gap right away. There weren't many individuals willing to put their noses in the wind to chase, and only a few teams showed up with more than one rider. My VWS comrade wasn't the only one who tried a solo attack, either; there were multiple women who casually floated off the front in the first half of the race.
In between attacks, the pack ran mostly at tea party pace. Digs from a few key players were enough to stretch the field but not break it. The woman from Blue Ridge that we'd marked at the beginning made a comment about how easy it felt--sort of boring! Hmm . . . Maybe the two of us can make things more interesting? With 7 laps to go, my teammate put in a genuine attack up the left side of the climb. I saw the woman from New York and the woman from Blue Ridge start to bridge up together. I knew I needed to mark that move, so I accelerated to get on their wheels. As I did, I looked back and saw that I had also gapped the field--this was it! This was the move! I shouted up the road that we had a gap and to go! go! go! The Blue Ridge rider heard me and dug in, and we both blew right by the other two. I caught her wheel and we accelerated down the back stretch. I heard "15 seconds!" on the next lap, and it grew from there. My breakaway companion asked if my teammate in the pack would disrupt the chase. "Oh yeah," I replied. VWS ladies have become pros at that this season!
As we took turns in the break, I was realizing that my companion was stronger than me. Her pulls were much harder than mine. Trying to match the speed she carried on her pulls was pushing me dangerously into the red. I started calculating my approach to the finish of the race. It was clear by 3 laps to go that first and second place were in our group; it was just a question of who could outwit and outride the other person. I started to ease off my pulls a little bit, trying to conserve some energy for the end. I allowed my struggle to show; I wanted to telegraph that she was stronger than me and I was doing my best. We took turns pulling the hill to the finish line, and I exaggerated my suffering on each subsequent round to project some weakness.
She took my bait and attacked me on the hill coming into the bell lap. I knew I needed to get back to her ASAP, because I didn't want a repeat of Bunny Hop where my breakaway companion completely rode me off her wheel. So I put in what was probably my biggest effort of the day and caught back on just as we started the downhill on the backside. She flicked her elbow for me to come around and take my turn. Haha! No. Don't think so. I just got the lead-out I was looking for.
I knew she was going to have to jump from the front, and she knew it too. It was my race to lose. She started her sprint near the barriers, but I was ready to accelerate with her. I followed her wheel and kept driving around her. I realized at that moment that I'd left it too late, stayed in her draft too long, and wasn't going to get all the way around her. I threw my bike at the line in a desperate (and kind of silly) attempt to get the win, but I did not. The race was already hers at that point and I came away second-best.
I played the game right, just left the sprint a little too late. Ah well. At least I got second in a different way this time! I think this was the first time I've been in a situation where I needed to time my sprint just right to win. I know if I had started my sprint just a little bit sooner, I would have come around her and won. I'm not sure where I should have started it, though, and how I'll know next time. Fortunately, I have this race video that I can review endlessly to obsess over how I could have done better!
My VWS teammate won the field sprint to take third place and grab another double podium for the VWS ladies!
I'm grateful to be on a team where we can have fun with tactics and race plans in the women's 4/5 field--it makes the racing so interesting and fun!
As an aside, if you are reading this race report to decide whether or not you should race this course, I recommend it, especially if you are a beginner. The course isn't technical, the climb isn't steep, the roads are wide enough to move around through a pack, and the vibe is great. The only downside is the rough pavement, but it's not so rough that you need to worry about it; just stay relaxed and keep your head up and you'll be fine. The race (Kelly Cup) is part of a cycling festival (BikeJam) so it has a festival atmosphere with food trucks and an outdoor cafe and crafts and races for kids. Not many road races have an environment that encourages people to hang out and watch after their own race is done, but this one did. I stayed well after my race (the first of the day) to watch teammates race and to enjoy the vibe.
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