Went out this morning to the local 'warrior of the north' bike race - a supposedly 32 mile (i clocked 31) local road race in grand forks, ND (my hometown). it was intended as a stand in for my weekend training session. There wasn't a huge field, but UND (university of north dakota) was represented by 3 team riders (who intended to break away early), the local bike shop had a couple of good riders out, and several guys i didn't recognize from fargo looked like they meant business. There was also a pretty dedicated local triathlete, aerobars and all, at the start line. All in all about 20 lined up at the start line.
I've only done a handful of group races but knew that you've got to work harder than you want to in the first 10 minutes - this is where the guys who have come to win make sure they get separated from the guys who just come to ride. My first reaction when i look down at my computer to see that we're going more than 29 miles an hour - into a slight headwind - is to think - hell, i don't belong with these guys, i better slow down. I'm lucky to (through years of practice) be able to effectively ignore this voice and just make it my solitary mission to 'stay with the group', even when i feel like i'm going to vomit only 3 minutes into the race.
And so i did. gradually the starting field shrunk to 12. Then the fargo guys broke away, followed successfully by one UND rider. initially i tried to follow as well, but found myself redlined about 20 feet behind the UND riders wheel gaining on them at a snails pace. Thinking that since there were three of them and one of me they'd certainly outlast, and that the group of 7 now 50 yards behind would easily be able to organize and catch them (after all, weren't all the UND guys planning to work together to win this thing?), i slowed up to save my energy to be able to contribute to the group effort.
We never saw the group of three again.
it took the 8 of us a while to organize, and of the 8 only 6 of us were working full time. The two UND riders would occasionally give a good pull, but more often than not their time at the front would see the speed from from 23-35 mph down to below 20. We'd get on them about it, they'd do better for a few minutes, then gradually slow again. Pat White, one of the bike store riders (and a very experienced rider) tried to pull them off or hang them out, but they stuck with us. i couldn't figure out what they were up to, but then around 3/4 of the way through the ride, as i pulled off the front after a pull, they (in positions 1 and 2) took off. We'd lost the triathlete off the back and so now were down to 5. then 4. we couldn't get them back, although they were always within a few hundred yards. Bastards (:
I'm a terrible sprinter and so had to settle with 3rd out of our final group of 4. 8th overall across the line with an average speed of 22.8. Although there were definitely moments when i was pushing quite intensely, for the most part i felt we could have gone significantly faster - our 'group speed' wasn't really very demanding, and on average (except in a few instances) not any faster than i'd have likely been able to go on my own - the problem was that had i been on my own i'd have been working significantly harder..... this type of cycling truly measures more than just athletic ability.
All in all a nice way to spend the morning.