Colossal Cave Road Race
This was a fun race and one of the first where we had enough guys to commit to a plan of action. We had five guys racing and the next biggest team was our friends Tolero who had three guys, the rest of the teams only had one or two guys apiece. Four of us developed a plan, the fifth guy doesn’t use Facebook so we spoke to him the day of the race and he said he wasn’t really feeling on form and was going to mostly sit in and wait for the last climb up Pistol Hill. We decided we really wanted to animate the race so we were going to attack on the 1st lap (Ryan), the 2nd lap (Chris), and then see how things pan out and that I would try and take a couple of guys with me for a break away in the later laps since I didn’t feel confident I could out sprint the skinny guys on the finishing climb of pistol hill.
Josh and I lined up right at the front of the start line while Chris, Ryan, and Matt were in the second row. We roll off the start down the first hill and Josh and I are on the front and after a short while the rest of the guys roll up and I ease up so they can get in out of the wind. I’m kinda worried that we’re already up there doing work, having the biggest team already sets the expectation in the group that your going to do work and here we were reinforcing that expectation with all of us up front. So after the first corner where we go from downhill to flat Ryan made the brilliant move to attack right from the front, Josh and Matt followed and I told Chris to ease up and we let a gap form. This forced several guys to sprint around us to close the gap and a short time later Josh counter attacked forcing them to do it again. These two attacks seemed to set the pace for the race, usually the first lap or two is super slow because nobody wants to work that early in a race. However with attacks going already it galvanize a number of people to go to the front and work so they wouldn’t be behind any splits thankfully this got us off the front for a while.
During the downhill at the start of the second lap I asked Chris where he wanted to launch his attack and he told me he wanted to go at the turn onto Old Spanish Trail. On the flat portion, Camino Loma Alta, we were going pretty slow and I knew that if everybody was fresh and Chris attacked they would quickly chase him down and the damage to the peloton would be minimal. So I decided that I would put in a little dig and force people to chase stringing it out allowing Chris to counter attack. I was on the side sheltered from the cross wind and used that to my slingshot myself off the front. I quickly put my arms on the bars to be as aero as possible and settled in to a pace I could sustain for a while. After about two minutes I looked back to see how things had played out and to my surprise Lynn from Tolero (a strong guy that I had considered getting in a break with later in the race) was bridging across. Since I simply wanted to string the field out I figured that I should wait for him and I could do it for a lot less energy so I eased up. After Lynn caught me three other guys bridged up to us and suddenly we had a strong group of 5 guys working. Now I had a bit of a conundrum on my hands, we were a strong group and we had guys in the break from the only two teams with more than three people meaning we had some guys to help slow down the pace of the peloton. At this point I was willing to commit and give it a shot, hoping my teammates could sit in, rest, and be ready to counter attack if I was caught.
However the cooperation didn’t last long after we turned onto Old Spanish Trail one of the unattached riders started sitting in saying that it wasn’t going to work. One rider pointed out that we had riders from both big teams represented but he wasn’t hearing it. At one point he said to someone complaining about him sitting in “That’s bike racing” and it’s true. It is so frustrating (probably because he is right), yes he has every right to be up there and yes he has every right to sit in, that is racing, but god is it annoying. The rest of us took a few more turns, and then some of us started to put in digs to try and dislodge him. Unfortunately this is when Ryan managed to bridge up to us, he had no way of knowing that the group was falling apart. If the group had been working it would have been a great thing to have another person up there with me but in the end he used up a lot of energy just to watch the group crumble. Me and a guy from Flagstaff kinda went off on our own but we quickly acknowledged that it was to far for the two of us to manage by ourselves. So we set an easy tempo to Pistol Hill so we’d have a chance to rest and get reabsorbed by the group on the hill.
As we were rolling down the backside of Pistol Hill I found Chris and asked him if he was still ready for his turn off the front and he said yes. Before he had a chance to 3 or 4 guys broke away up the road and instead of trying to go away on his own Chris bridged up to them. Matt and Ryan were up front and stopped working allowing the gap to grow. This played out for a few minutes the gap continuing to grow and I was sitting in about the third row watching for attacks and that is what Evan from O2 did. I yelled to Ryan telling him not to let him go but he didn’t have time to react missing his wheel, fortunately Travis from GEC was going too and I jumped on his wheel. With Chris up the road my job was to sit in either getting a free ride up to my teammate or slowing the bridge attempt, pulling it back to the peloton while tiring them out. After Travis pulled through he looked back at me for help but I couldn’t do anything for him and the bridge attempt started to stall when Karl from Octane made it up to us. He’s a real strong time trialist and he went to the front and eventually got us up to the break away. Once everything had settled down there were 18 or so guys in this move which was 1/2 the starting peloton, unfortunately two of our guys didn’t make it across after all the work they had already done.
With three laps to go Karl and two other guys broke away on the downhill, usually this sort of thing wouldn’t go anywhere but because the wind had picked up to 15mph making the downhill section almost as hard as the climb up Pistol Hill. Nobody wanted to work, I figured this move wouldn’t stick and didn’t bother bridging. Eventually I went to the front because we were going so slow it wouldn’t be any worse on the front. I didn’t kill myself but I did pick up the pace a bit. After the turn onto Loma Alta another three guys got away but we could see the 1st break and the 2nd group wasn’t really going anywhere, shortly after one of the guys from the initial break came back to the peloton. As we started the climbs on Old Spanish Trail we absorbed two more guys from the bridge attempt but one of them got up to the 1st break. They were still hanging out there very slowly increasing the gap.
Where they really opened up the gap was on the downhill, they were committed to the break attempt and we took the downhill really slow due to the wind. When we turned onto Loma Alto I told Chris that we needed to start working to bring them back, we got most of the group to start working but some really strong guys were sitting on not doing any work. I drifted back there telling them we should start working to bring back the move and they said they weren’t going to work. So after my next pull when they slotted in behind me instead of pulling through I eased up allowing a gap to grow. This forced them to either come around me or watch the group ride away them. I figured I’d keep doing this until either they started working or they exhausted themselves sprinting back on. Thankfully they realized what was happening the first time and started pulling through.
On the last descent to start the final lap, I found Chris to check in with him and see how he was doing. We decided he would attack on Loma Alta and if he got away he’d try and ride it out to the line if not he’d put in as many attacks as he could to set me up to try and get away. Chris then set about tearing the group apart, his first attack got him a decent sized gap and the group strung out chasing him down. At this point I could feel my calves getting ready to cramp (I have never cramped on the bike), I sprayed my legs with some water and it seemed to get a bit better. After a few minutes Chris was brought back and a couple of minutes later he attacked again. This time the gap was not as large and I could tell that Chris was starting to fatigue. So as soon as he was brought back the second time I counter attacked. Travis followed me and we quickly set out working together.
After a couple of miles a group of 6 guys made it up to us. I attacked again pulling Travis with me and we resumed working together but it wasn’t long until the guys caught us again. This is when Travis attacked, I didn’t follow and shook my head gambling that somebody else from the group would take up the chase. I was wrong and Travis did his triathlete thing and rolled away from us. We were now fighting for 4th place. I looked back for the first time and saw Matt sitting at the back of this little group. That is when I decided that I would continue attacking forcing the others to chase and allow Matt to sit in the draft and follow wheels. So I drifted to the back of the group and switched sides so I was on the side of the group sheltered from the wind. From here I shifted up a gear and then wound up a sprint that took me right by the guys on the front and by the time they realized what happened I had a good sized gap and tried to settle in so I wouldn’t blow up quite so quickly forcing the other guys to chase for longer. After what felt like an eternity but was probably only two or so minutes, the group had latched back onto my wheel. When I looked back I didn’t see Matt, later he told me that he was barely hanging on and when the acceleration came he just couldn’t hold onto their wheels. I was hoping him being at the back was a tactical move and not because he was struggling to hold on, I should have checked with him before I attacked thinking I was setting him up.
When the next acceleration came I was unable to hold on and went out the back. I tried to set a maintainable pace that would bring me back up to them but after all of the big efforts I’d made in the last 5 miles I was toast and just couldn’t muster enough to even keep the gap from growing. Eventually Matt caught me and I tried to hold his wheel but just couldn’t. After that I set out to keep my finishing position as another guy was trying to catch me before we reached the line but I was able to keep my finishing position of 11th.
The placing was not what we had hoped for but the entire team agreed that it was one of the funnest races we’d done. It was nice to exert a measure of control over the race instead of having it dictated to us by other people. We all agreed there were things that we could do better and it was really unfortunate that road racing season is pretty close to over here in Arizona.