"Enough of this Sunday stroll. Let's hurt a little."
-Barry The Cannibal Muzzin (American Flyers)
Saturday was the Illinois state championship cycling road race. A decent group of riders from my Wild Card Cycling team headed down to O'Fallon for the race. The hot weather and rolling hills should have provided a very challenging race. I wanted to do what I could to help my teammates out before dropping off the pace by the end.
We had five Wild Cards from Champaign in the cat 4 race (Jason, Tom, Luke, Scott, and me), along with one Wild Card from St. Louis (Mike). The races started a bit late, at which point the weather was already becoming a bit unbearable. The temperature was in the low 90's and the humidity was high. Fortunately the skies were still overcast at this point, though the sun would come out later.
I made a point to start near the front, after starting too far back in my last three races. The speed was moderately easy the first part of the race. Nobody pushed the pace, nobody broke away. The course had an awful lot of turns (I'm not sure there was more than one mile straight the entire 22.5 mile loop), which caused some accordion effect at the back of the group. Later in the first loop a few people tried to push the pace (mostly my teammate Luke) but nothing stuck. At one point I almost shouted out "Enough of this Sunday stroll. Let's hurt a little." but I didn't think anyone would get the American Flyers reference.
Scott put in a pretty good attack at the start of the second and final loop. I thought this would finally heat up the race, but it was not to be. The other teams chased him down and sat on his wheel the same as they had been doing to Luke the whole race. Scott and Luke alternated near the front trying to push the pace, but nobody else and any interest in working... but they also had no interest in letting Luke or Scott go.
Mid-way through the second lap Jason got a flat tire. He was probably our best chance for a win. The hills hadn't made as much of a difference in the race as I had hoped. First, they were all big ring climbs, not steep enough or long enough. Second, with narrow roads and slow riders in front, we climbed... the... hills... so... slow... and then slowed down even more once we reached the top. I don't think anyone dropped off the back.
At one point I passed a few guys on the right and, without trying, somehow ended up off the front of the slow-moving group. Whatever. Let's push the pace a little. I ramped it up to 25-26 mph and pulled for a mile or so to try to string the group out a little. I flicked my elbow for the next guy to pull through. Nothing. I pulled a little longer. Nothing. I slowed down. They slowed down with me. I slowed down more. They slowed down more. I stopped pedaling. Nobody passed me. By the time I was coasting at 16 mph someone eventually reluctantly passed me and I dropped back in a few places.
The last 10 miles of the race were 10 of the most frustrating miles I've ever ridden. We were going 16-17 mph. The whole group was still together. The group was all bunched up and nobody had any room to move up. I don't know who the hell was blocking the entire race or what the hell they were thinking, but I was pissed. 2000 meters to go, 18 mph. 1000 meters to go, under 20 mph. The last hill should have split the group, but again we took it incredibly slowly. I had no room to move. I had to stop pedaling several times to avoid running into slower riders.
800 meters from the finish line the race started. This final stretch was closed to traffic and the road was five lanes wide. 40 relatively fresh riders now decided to sprint to the finish. It was pandemonium. People were weaving all over the place. 500 meters from the finish I sat up and soft pedaled. I had no interest in dying for some shitty race.
We waited three hours (for a chip-timed bike race!) for the results to be posted, only to find out Luke & Tom (and about 10 other people) had been disqualified for crossing over the centerline of the road at some point during the race. Now, I'm sure they did cross over the center line. I certainly did a few times. Everyone in the race did a few times. The DQed riders can't really complain that they didn't break the rules, they did. I'm completely baffled at how a dozen riders were DQed and the many, may others who broke the same rule weren't DQed.
So, the good news is I had a decent training ride and got a chance to improve my group riding skills. I handled the heat surprisingly well. The hills were a non-issue despite no hill training. The bad news is that the race was frustratingly slow. I got caught in the middle of a 40 person bunch sprint, which was scary as hell. Jason got a flat. Luke & Tom got DQed. I'm not upset that I didn't win--I should have had no chance to win. I was far from the best rider in that race. I shouldn't even have finished with the lead pack. The race should have been a lot harder. More riders should have been dropped. That wasn't really even a race. It was more of a group ride that ended with a sprint finish.