VeloWorks/Spokes, Etc. team continued it’s hot streak with great performances at the cool, damp, sloppy Poolesville Road Race.
Category 4/5 Women
First of all, major kudos for the tough VWS cat 4 women, who all showed up to race Poolesville. I don’t think any of us were especially excited about riding in the rain and in the mud (except maybe Jamie, who must be part Belgian), but we did it anyway! Our race plan was to keep it hard from the start, with Jamie, Sarah and me doing pacemaking and attacking, and Beth and Kim looking after Cinnamon as our A.
Of course, as racing often goes, our plan changed almost immediately on Lap 1. Cinnamon lost touch with the group in the gravel, which we didn’t realize until later, and Beth got a flat in it. (The gravel also claimed Jamie’s tire on lap 2). Gah! The peloton rode on, and I put in a couple attacks after the short steep hill on Elmer School. I got a small gap of maybe 5 or 10 seconds, but was gradually floating back to the field when a rider from Bike Rack rode past me. I knew from past races that she was pretty strong, so I followed her wheel to not let her get away.
The Bike Rack rider and I worked together a little while, but those attacks had me tired and struggling to keep up the pace. I ended up dropping back a bit, and spent several miles trying to close a small gap between us. Eventually I caught up to her again and we started working, but I didn’t think we’d be able to stay away for 2 more laps together. However, the moto came by at several points to give us time gaps, and they were steadily increasing. Midway through the final lap he told us we were up to 2 minutes, which is when we knew the break going to stick.
I had no doubt this was the result of VWS women doing work to manage the pack, and knowing the rest of the women were now essentially putting their race on the line for me gave me the extra motivation I needed to keep pushing those last few miles. I wasn’t sure, though, how I should try and lose my breakaway companion… my legs were feeling a little heavy, so I didn’t want to leave it down to a sprint.
Fortunately, the opportunity presented itself after the final turn onto Westerly. I saw she was starting to fall behind, so I decided to take off. When I was gasping for air and thinking I was almost done, though, I saw the 1K to go sign, ahhhhh!! Thankfully, I managed to not die before getting across the line. I then watched Sarah take 3rd in an incredible sprint, and Kim finish seconds later in a reduced group of 5 or 6 women. Cinnamon cheerfully joined the finishers not long thereafter.
I was stunned by the result, and cannot thank the Cat 4 women enough for making it happen. Even though any one of them could have been on the top step, they made a choice to race selflessly in support of a teammate — a teammate who was not even supposed to be on the podium that day! That. Is. AWESOME. I look forward to repaying that goodwill, and to getting all the VWS women the results they have earned and deserve this season.
Category 3 Men
Sean, Eric, MT and I lined up in a field of about 40 along with the 1/2/3 women. NCVC was well represented in the group as well as District Velocity and District Taco. With the long stretch of gravel for each of the six laps, we took a wait and see approach given the unpredictability of the course, with the potential of setting up Sean on the flat to slightly downhill finish.
The pace was tame from the start with a measured push through the gravel as riders were getting their confidence on the surface. After this stretch and a series of rollers, two riders went off the front. With about two miles left in the first lap I put in a modest chase effort to keep the riders in sight while letting them dangle a bit on their own. I’m guessing I had pulled for two minutes or so when another rider came around me. I took a glance back and saw the peloton had given us 200 feet or so. At this point, I decided to bridge to the riders off the front to see if we could establish a four man break. As we started the second lap, the other rider and I really drilled the downhill of Willard road until we caught the two of the front. I immediately began pushing the pace to ensure we consolidated our lead. The moto then informed us we had 25 seconds on the chase. Looking back there was nobody in sight.
With 45 or so miles to go and 5 more passes through the gravel, I figured our chances were slim to be able to stay away. On the bright side, I knew MT, Sean and Eric would use their abilities to try and break up coordination of a chase. Additionally, both District Taco and District Velocity were represented in the break, cutting down the number of teams that would be willing to drive the peloton. My main goal at this point was to increase the gap quickly in hopes of sinking the morale of the chase group. Over the course of the next couple laps, I put in work on a good portion of the flat and downhill sections to ensure we didn’t lose time. On the flip side, the other three riders did a great job leading the way on the gravel as I did not feel particularly comfortable on the slick stuff. Somewhere on the third lap the moto told us we had a fifty second gap. I knew this wasn’t enough and just kept driving the break as hard as I could. Everyone appeared to be tired at this point but we all took our turns at the front. On the fourth lap I flagged the moto down to get an idea of the gap and he said he wasn’t getting radio communication at this point. While I felt this was a good sign, I knew we still had a lot of work to do.
By the sixth lap everyone in the break was running on fumes but continued to do their part. The last time through the gravel seemed like it would never end as the other riders did their best at the front. I kept looking back thinking we were going to be caught. As we hit the last couple of miles of the race with no chase in sight, the truce faded as everyone was posturing for the final push. This was very similar to the Turkey Hill finish last week where I pulled a tempo pace towards the end with riders on my wheel, who proceeded to come me around me in the last 100m. I knew I had to do something differently this time. I was able to shed two of the riders with a hard pace up the false flat into the last kilometer, with one rider still on my wheel. I put in a quick attack at this point with the rider still directly behind me. Knowing I had to create a gap before the finish, I put in another attack with about 400m left. This time I was able to get some separation and as I began my sprint with 200m left, the other rider sat up and I was able to cross the finish line with a smile rather than having to fight the last few meters. In the end we had gapped the peloton by over four minutes.
I had an amazing time with the other three riders in the break. As tired as everyone looked and felt, even with forty miles left, I was so impressed that they all put in the necessary work when it was their turn. Equally important, however, was the effort that was put in to break up the chase. While being in the break was an incredibly hard, we were not going so fast that we were uncatchable. Without the help of teammates putting in this critical work, I’m am sure we would have been reeled in at some point. After the race, riders from other teams told me the nice job they did in this and I thank you all so much for being willing to do this for me. Additionally, I really appreciate all of you in the VWS cheering section by the finish line. While I could only hear you all for a couple of seconds each lap, it really kept me in good spirits to know you were there.