I'll start this blog post with something I'd never thought I'd write. What a beautiful April day in Illinois. Sunny, clear skies, 65˚, calm winds, perfect.
Yesterday I participated in my first cycling race of the year in Hillsboro, Illinois, about half way between Springfield and St. Louis. Long time readers may recall I also did this race last year. Hillsboro Roubaix has two distinguishing features. First, it has some hills. They're not huge, but they're far larger than anything we have around Champaign-Urbana. Second, about half of the finishing circuit takes place on brick roads.
This was my first race as a category 4 rider, as I upgraded from cat 5 over the winter. My Wild Card Cycling teammates and I started in good position near the front. The speed was quick, but reasonable at the beginning. I stayed in the second quarter of the riders for most of the first lap (of two laps total). Not much exciting happened. I was concentrating mostly on staying upright in such a large group of riders. Our field did a pretty good job at respecting the yellow line rule (the roads were open to traffic, so we were supposed to stay on the right half of the road) for the first 2/3 or so of the first lap, then all hell broke loose when dozens and dozens of riders started moving up through the field on the far left side. So much for rules.
At the end of the first lap there were two good sized hills and the finishing brick road circuit. This is where the race really heated up. I rode well up the hills, miraculously dodging the dozens of slower riders who started the climbs ahead of me. I was in terrific position (about 15 riders back) as the leaders hammered through the brick roads, down the hill, and back out of town.
The next several miles we had a slight tailwind and many riders tried to escape off the front. Miles 20-30 were the hardest of the race, aside from the final 2 miles. I maintained my position, closing gaps as they arose. The attacks decreased when we turned into the crosswind. I couldn't see any of my teammates, so I wasn't sure who was still in the lead group. Eventually I found Tom, and a while later I found Luke still there.
On the way back into town I tried to move up through the field to be in good position for the final two hills. Unfortunately, everyone else was trying to do the same thing, so it was kind of a wash. The first hill went reasonably well, lots of riders fell off the pace and I was able to move up quite a bit. As we sped up between the two hills there was somewhat dangerous situation as a car stopped in the middle of our lane just as everyone was ready to race really hard. We all swerved around it at the base of the final hill.
The last hill started well enough, but mid-way up I had to slow way down. I just got stuck behind the wrong people. They were going so much slower than me and I couldn't get around them. I had to completely stop pedaling three times and slow down to avoid running into them. Then I would be in the wrong gear for the slower speed. It was incredibly frustrating. Meanwhile a group of 10 or so riders (including Tom) were pulling away and I would have no chance of catching them.
We reached the top of the hill, hit a hard left turn, then hammered down the final descent onto the brick roads. I was pushing a monster gear down this hill at well over 40 mph. I made the mistake of taking the next turn on the inside. I had to slow way down but I didn't shift out of my huge gear, so couldn't accelerate fast enough out of the corner. I lost contact with the small pack I was riding with (including Luke) at this point, and I was several seconds ahead of the next group. Since I was completely isolated I wasn't able to catch back up to the group ahead of me (who were all working together). I think I may have passed a couple of them who sat up before the finish line.
I finished 19th place out of 100 riders. The race was much harder for me than the race last year for a number of reasons, mostly because the field was very large and all the riders were very good. Last year's field was much smaller and had a much lower percentage of strong riders. Here's a quick comparison:
|Distance||22 miles||44 miles|
|Avg speed||20.6 mph||22.8 mph|
|Avg heart rate||151*||156|
|Max heart rate||181||184|
* Hmm. I thought my average heart rate was much lower last year. Once I caught back up with the lead pack I was unable to move up through the group and hence sat on the back doing very little work. I distinctly remember looking down at my heart rate monitor during the middle part of the race and reading 110.
Since all the races were going on at the same time I missed the finish of the cat 5 race (four teammates) and the Women's cat 4 race (two teammates), both of which did one lap. I was able to catch the finish of the Masters division (three teammates), which raced three laps (66 miles).
As far as Wild Card Cycling goes, we didn't dominate this race like we did in last year's cat 5, but it was fairly solid. I was pleased with my performance, even if I could have placed a few positions higher with better luck. Here's the full team results:
Mens cat 5: ----------- 5 Alexei Perelet 9 Scott Dahman 19 Nick Hand 31 Art Hess Womens cat 4: ------------- 11 Becky Chan 15 Anona Whitley Mens cat 4: ----------- 9 Tom Carlson 17 Luke Taggart 19 Rob Raguet-Schofield 38 Mark French DNF Dan Sochacki DNF Karl Crapse Mens masters 40+ ---------------- 38 Martin Gruebele 44 Gene McDowell Mens masters 50+ ---------------- 17 Greg Youngen