After suffering a total of three flats during Thursdays “race in the rough”, it did not leave me with a lot of confidence for Cone Azalia. However, after taking a ride around the course Saturday afternoon and finding the conditions to be much better than I expected my confidence grew a bit. In fact, the course conditions were so good that after our morning warm-up, Dan and I decided that an extra bottle in a jersey pocket would not be needed. As predicted the first two laps of the race were fast and furious with attack after attack and lots of failed breaks. What was not predicted was than Dan would lose a bottle three minutes into the race. Despite the looming threat of dehydration, Dan raced very aggressively, managing to make it into a few of the breaks, while I did my best to bust up the chase, all of the attempts to get him into a break were quickly shut down. I knew that for a race like this the best place to be was close to the front; however, my desire to stay close to the front of the race quickly resulted in me becoming the “work horse”. As the race progressed, the pelotons growing dependence on me and a couple of other guys to do all of the work became clear.
After working hard to bridge to a large break that had a real chance of working, only to have the break instantly brought back by those that seemed so unwilling to work with me when I was on the front, I decided I had enough and rolled back to mid-pack. When two guys went off of the front I left it up to someone else to bring them back, but with everyone’s plan for the day being to do as little work as possible, the gap quickly became a concern. After being spurred on by a couple of failed attempts to get across to the two guys, the peloton managed to close the gap, but to only one of the two guys, it seems that the other had decided to go it alone. Looking down the road I could see the solo leader making his way around a group about a minute ahead of the peloton and at that point I knew the move was dangerous. It seemed that only a couple of the others felt my concern, as it was nearly impossible to form any type of chase. I think some even questioned whether there was actually someone else down the road.
After putting up with nearly 5-miles of a peloton that seemed resolved to race for second place, Dan and another guy decided that they had enough, taking matters into their own hands and making a great move to bridge across. I was on the front and knew that if I could join the two, then the three of us would stand a great chance of getting across, putting Dan and I in a great position for a good finish. But I had to go across in such a way as not to screw up Dan’s move by bringing anyone with me. So I waited until they were a ways down the longest section of dirt and then went as hard as I could off of the front. My move managed to catch everyone off guard, and while there was one guy who was able to get on my wheel, I quickly rode him off. I then set out on one of the hardest five minute efforts of my life to get across to Dan, the work that I had already done combined with the initial jump and the bumps that seemed to shorten every breath of air that I desperately needed almost got the best of me. I managed to make it within twenty feet of Dan’s back wheel and my legs started to give out. I was actually able to yell up to Dan to slow up just a touch so I could make the final push to close the gap, hearing me he slowed for a second and I made the final push and got across. Once across I did the best I could to compose and then got to work.
Unfortunately, seeing that the race was falling apart in front of them, those with fresh legs began to make their way across to us in groups of twos and threes and it seemed that the more people that made it across the slower our pace became. Soon we were the same dysfunctional group that we had once been several miles prior, all be it a much smaller group as the mad dash left many people finishing the race solo off of the back. The rest of the race there were several other attempts to get something established, but it became real apparent that the theme of the day was dysfunction. At the turn of the last lap with my ankles and legs severely cramping and not having even seen the solo leader in nearly 20-miles, I began making plans to conserve energy and setup for a sprint finish for 2nd place. I made my way back to Dan and let him know my plan, hoping that he would be there at the end for a solid lead out, little did I know that lack of hydration combined with his very aggressive role during the race had taken its toll and that that would be the last time I would see him during the race.
With about 5 miles left to go, we actually brought the solo leader back into our sights, pulling the gap to within 30 seconds. Even with him dangling out there everyone seemed content on racing for 2nd or taking a free ride up to the leader, and I refused to be that free ride. With the last mile or so into a strong headwind it turned into a cat and mouse game of who could keep their nose out of the wind, I wasn’t playing it and just maintained a comfortable tempo on the front. Within the final 400 meters the attacks started. The plan was to be patient and hopefully find myself in a good position for the final 100-150 meters due to the headwind, but one strong move at about 250 meters tested my patience and I bit. Despite my hardest effort the wind combined with my cramping legs and ankles just proved too much and I came across the line in 5th in the very tight bunch sprint, taking 6th overall.
I would be lying if I said that I didn’t have my sights set on winning, but a 6th place finish in any race, let alone such a difficult, hard fought race is a good finish. I left feeling really good about how strong and aggressively both Dan and I rode, and most importantly I didn’t flat!!