Saturday Men's A road race
Saturday started out chilly, maybe 35 degrees or so. On top of that, there was light snow all day. Here's what happened while my beard slowly collected ice over the next 3.5 hours.
There was confusion about the exact race course, and before the race we agreed to 4 laps around the "flat" loop followed by a ~4 mile killer climb up a mountain. On lap 1, everything stayed more or less together through the first 7 rolling miles. However, the backside of the "flat" loop was not at all flat: On the first uphill section, I found myself at the very back of the peloton and set to work picking my way through riders who were quickly melting down....
I kept a good pace and soon was up to the front and through about half of the rolling, uphill terrain. I was just fighting to get to the lead guys (not a break yet), and when I looked back to take stock of the situation, I realized that there was distance between the 6 lead guys and the rest of the field.
Luckily Mulvihill was there, giving us 2 of 6, and we rolled fast. Payne Griffin (AU) and Kevin Gottlieb (UVA) were both in the break, making this a serious threat to stay away. By the end of the first lap, we were getting moto-reports of a 4:00+ gap (I doubt this was accurate), and we kept rolling strong for the next lap. We rode as though we needed to work together to keep the gap, but all seemed confident in the fact that this was the race. I was lucky enough to sit on for significant chunks of laps 2 and 3 without disrupting the breakaway rotation.
By the 4th lap, it was colder and snowing harder than when we started. I pulled a couple of hand warmer packets, which Kaleb had brought, out of my jersey pocket and wiggled them down my gloves. The NCSU guy looked at me shaking my hands around and said, "your's are numb too??" The break riders were somewhat dismayed when I cheerily responded, "no! I'm just trying to get my hand warmers into the right position. My fingers are toasty!"
As we rounded the turnoff for the final climb, we all knew that we were well away from the shattered peloton and that the final climb was about to hurt. The group became fairly relaxed and chatty in the first low-grade mile of the climb. As the slopes kicked up, we nodded at each other to acknowledge that there were not really any tricky strategy to play out, but rather a strong man's 2 mile heave to the finish. The VT rider was the first to go out the back, and I was next. I watched the NCSU rider set the pace for the other 4 for a bit, then drop back as Mulvihill, Gottlieb, and Griffin pulled away. About halfway up the climb, at ~11-12%, the NCSU rider managed to claw his way back to Mulvihill; the other 2 had gone ahead to battle for the win. With about 1200m to go, Mulvihill sat on the back wheel of the NCSU rider, and I tried desperately to find any watts that would help me bridge the massive 75m gap to them. I maybe closed it to 50m, but never got closer than that.
Within 200m of the line, I was doing all I could to move forward. If I had had mental bandwidth for emotions at that point, I would have been furious that I wasn't catching the NCSU rider. I also would have been ecstatic when I saw Mulvihill ditch him and sprint the last 100m to the line for 3rd. But the only thought going through my head at that point was "FORWARD. FASTER." I wasn't really able to assess the situation with any clarity after crossing the line either -- I was gassed and cold. Someone grabbed my bike, and I headed for a minivan to chow down on bagels. There were some congratulations in there. Mulvihill and I learned that most other riders were out of the race before the big climb (either being pulled or having mechanical'd out), but that Howe made it up in the top 10 also. It was kind of disappointing that only 3 Duke riders finished up the mountain stage. Then again, on a mediocre day, Duke still took 3rd, 5th, and 9th in the race. Not bad.
Sunday Men's A crit
After a 3.5 hour road race in snow and frigid temperatures the day before, I was certain that Sunday would be better. It turned out to be the same snow and cold that we soldiered through on Saturday, with an additional stiff wind (maybe 12-14 mph?). Today's chilly assignment: 1 hour of aggressive crit racing. The course: a 4-corners layout with a cross-wind stout uphill finish, a tailwind plateau through straight 2, a downhill headwind 3rd straight, and flat headwind straight through straight 4 leading back to the uphill kick.
I don't think that I attacked from the gun, but I might have. Duke got out to an awesome start. Whenever I wasn't trying to get away off the front, I swear 2-3 other Duke jerseys were sticking it to the peloton, demanding that someone try to hang with us. Maybe 10 minutes into the race, I took an easy sprint for a prime, and decided to continue the pressure with an attack. Either this lap or the next, the field gave me and a Hopkins rider some rope, but my breakaway companion couldn't hang off the front. I was left off the front by about 5-10s. I like to suffer and I like to ride hard, so I kept powering through the course, seeing if the peloton might be lax enough to let me out of sight. Unfortunately they did not, and I had to dial it back a bit to keep from blowing up.
As the field closed in, Jacob Miller and at least 1 other Duke rider threw in a hard counter-attack. I managed to keep in the top 10-12 riders, and maneuvered around until I found the wheel of Gottlieb (UVA). Gottlieb and Griffin (AU) were the two riders in the field I was most concerned with keeping in my sights. Both are strong riders and capable of making a breakaway succeed if they are present. Within a lap, Gottlieb was off the front and I was right there on his wheel. Even better news: the peloton granted us a 10-15s gap.
We worked hard together for a several laps, but couldn't break the elastic. At some point, the field must have given up. All of the sudden, the gap went from ~15-20s to a long enough distance that we were no longer in sight around any of the turns. My task now shifted from "staying away" to "figuring out how to beat Gottlieb".
Kevin Gottlieb is a taller, bigger individual (by cyclist standards). He puts out a lot of power, and also happens to get very little draft off of me. During the first half of our breakaway, I tried to keep it even distance, 50-50, that I was pulling. As the race went on, I realized that I would drop myself out of the breakaway if I tried to keep this up, and so it gradually shifted to maybe a ~70-30 split of work. Even still, I was working hard to stay with Gottlieb up the finishing climb each lap. Knowing that Gottlieb is a very good time trialist, but may not have a strong sprint kick, I determined that my task was to stay with him no matter what and be fresh enough to leap out of the final corner and outsprint him to the line.
Gottlieb must have figured the same thing. To further set the stage for the final events of the crit, at about 5 laps to go, Rusty gave us the news that two Duke teammates were clear of the field and heading our direction. Great news for me -- all I had to do was sit on Gottlieb's wheel and not get dropped. No pulling necessary, and I'd have my chance to sprint for the win. Here's how it played out:
4 laps to go: Gottlieb attacked hard up the finishing hill in an effort to shed me before the sprint. I fought hard to stay near, drifting maybe 10m back from his back wheel. It took half a lap or more, but I managed to chase back onto his wheel. Bullet # 1, dodged. 3 to go: I tried to sneak around Gottlieb at the line for prime points, but just missed getting around him. I paid for this move by ending up in front of him for the next lap. With 2 to go, Gottlieb again tried to drop me, and I was ready. I didn't get gapped as badly as the previous move, and I was able to set up in ideal position directly behind my competition. 1 to go: I could see Mulvihill and Rob Ferris clear of the field coming toward us. Gottlieb knew better than to sit up, and instead kept an easy pace through the lap. Coming through the final corner, I prepped to jump, and matched the first 2 pedal strokes of sprint that Gottlieb produced while sitting in his draft. I then hopped out and dove hard for the left side of the course (the "shielded" wind side). Gottlieb stayed on the far right edge of the road. It took 16s from the start of the sprint, and I was able to power over the hill and win the dash to the line by about a bike length or so. Mulvihill and Ferris swept up the points for 3rd and 4th and Matt Howe took 5th in the field sprint.
How did we manage to win the race, place 4 in the top 10, and all 8 of our racers in the top 20? We raced aggressively. We attacked at every good opportunity and kept the pressure on. We looked for ways to get advantages as individuals, and then raced smart as a team to stack the odds in our favor.