Syracuse Race Weekend Cat 4

I'd never seen my name in red on the road-results predictor before, so I went into this race with a pressure for results I hadn't felt before. Even without race predictor, what was once a funny side note “nope, still a 4” was starting to get really old. I needed results this weekend.

Showing up for the hill climb Friday evening (which started right next door to the house of one of my former teammates, so you would have thought if know the terrain better), I didn't really have a plan. What do you do with a mass start, 16km race? Not only that, as I found out that afternoon, half of it was neutral as we roll down into the valley, and were racing with two masters divisions that are scored separately, so only half of the riders in the group really matter. We descend to the valley floor (55mph on that descent…), and turn right along the base of a massive wall. I have no idea where we turn up or when the racing begins, so I'm sitting in the middle third of the pack biding time. All of a sudden, there's a right turn and we're going straight up. Immediately a gap opens, and I realize that one of the rides ahead is in my field. I fight through traffic and lead the chase to close the gap, but I can't get there. As the climb wears on, no one helps, and the lead grows. Eventually, two more from my field pass me, and I cross the line 4th. Not the best start, but I was only you removed from an airplane, and it was such an odd event that I wrote it off as an outlier. Besides, no upgrade points available here.

The TT was a 10.7 mile loop out and back along the valley floor from the night before. It rolled steadily and was rarely flat, but nothing too treacherous. I spent the night before doing some self fitting in my parents basement to position meredith’s aerobars on my bike, so the morning of the TT was the first time I ever rode them. It went OK, I felt strong, passed two riders and wasn't passed myself, and came across the line in a controlled fashion, because the crit later in the afternoon was more on my mind. And besides, how often are time trials determined by a second or two I reasoned at the time. Well, it turns out the rider who won the hill climb beat me to 2nd by 1 second. Not sprinting for the TT line cost me a 6 Omnium point swing, and I now trailed by 12. It felt like I was fighting for 2nd in that competition, but the real prizes were the two races remaining, so I wasn't too worried yet.

There was about an 7 hour wait for the crit, during which I went back and forth from feeling great to terrible many times. I've done this race before… There's no real turns (wells-type turns) a small hill each lap, and a downhill run into a fast finish. It's a long finish stretch though, you can't go from the last bend and hope to hold on. The legs feel dead as I roll to the start, so after sitting in for a lap, I do the only natural thing… As the rider in front of my accelerates for an attack, I hold his wheel and go along for the ride. Eventually there are three of us, and the field doesn't chase. The other two riders are useless, and drop away. I consider dropping back to the field, but I've got almost a quarter lap on the field, so I decide to press on. Thankfully a prime bell rings… Hopefully an Omnium points sprint? Nope, just a tire. After 4 or 5 laps the field starts to chase and I'm reabsorbed. Then the bell rings for an Omnium sprint, because of course it does. Points are 2 and 1, and I'm third. Same with the second Omnium sprint with 5 to go, but fortunately the race leader didn't get anything either. On the final lap, I identify a rider moving to the front, follow his wheel, and end up second wheel over the top of the little hill, half a lap left. He holds on through the descent, and a group of three flies by on the right heading into the last bend. I go left around the rider ahead of my, catch the back of that move, and open up my sprint halfway down the finish stretch. I catch two of the three, but run out of room before catching the last rider. Second place. It's a good result, and looks even better when I realize the race leader finished outside the top ten. Once the points are calculated, I have a 6 point lead heading into the very climby 60mi RR the next day.

Dan's win at SyracuseSunday morning… Rain, cold, and two 30mi laps with one hard climb await. Omnium points are available on the top of the climb (3,2 and 1). Why didn't I pack arm warmers? It's a chilly and miserable start, compounded by the pace car leading us off course twice in the first 10 miles. We settle in eventually, and I'm keeping an eye on 3 other riders who are potentially in contention for the overall. One of them takes a solo into a headwind leading into the climb… No panic, he can't sustain that. We hit the climb for the first time, and immediately the rider who won the hill climb goes to the front and drills it. I scramble to hold his wheel as long as I can, but it's no use… I drop back and ride my pace. I keep him in sight, he doesn't quite catch the solo rider ahead, and I roll across the KOM line third, only losing one point. Immediately I'm in TT mode chasing, and within a few miles I've closed the gap. Eventually we have a group of 5 (3 cat4s and two masters 35+ who were also racing with us but scored separately). It's three of the top 4 in the Omnium, so it's a strong group. The field is out of sight, so I continue to work to drive the group on. Eventually, swing around into the headwind, cooperation in the group dissolves, and the pack catches us. This leads to a long stretch of somewhat downhill riding into a stiff headwind, which will drop us off at the base of the climb. Predictably, no one wants to work, so we slow to a crawl. At the final climb, a similar story unfolds. Former race leader accelerates away, this time with one other 4 and a masters rider. I am unable to match that pace, so I join the first chase group with three other riders. The leading 3 are in sight as we crest the final climb, and start trying to work together. Unfortunately, this group has little to no cohesion, and we’re not making any progress. I need to get up to the leading group in order to protect the race lead, so I drop back as we hit a rise in the road and attack the group I am in. One of the others is able to follow, and we immediately settle in to a good partnership and start closing the gap. At first it seems like too little, too late, but soon I can see the front group getting all kinds of disorganized with all three riders side by side… And now I know we can catch them. We make the juncture just before we turn off the loop and onto a 3 mile or so spur that takes us to the finish in the center of town. There are four of us cat 4s, and one masters rider. The masters rider tries to bully the 4s into driving the pace of the group (so no other masters riders catch us from behind), but I just laugh and tell him I won't help. After the crit the day before, I'm extremely confident that I have the best sprint of this group, and since they need to gain Omnium points on me, I opt to sit in and wait for the sprint. A few attacks come, I cover them easily, and go around the final bend with 500m to go in 3rd wheel. Former race leader, my main competition is second wheel. He opens his sprint around 150m, and I go shortly thereafter. It takes just a little more time to wind up the sprint than I thought, and for a moment I think I waited too long, but suddenly I'm flying by him mere meters to the line, with just enough time to get my hands up in celebration. I'm still not sure if I was feeling more excitement or relief...  First win on the road, first place in the overall, and (JD willing), the rest of the points needed to upgrade and then some.