There comes a point in every race where you have two choices: apply more power, or head swiftly backwards and wave the peloton goodbye. Two weeks ago in Killington, I got to wave them goodbye not once, but twice. That’s stage racing for you! Today was my first race back, and unlike Killington with its endless hills, it was a flat, five-lap affair round Prospect Park. I was keen to see the gains I’d made in the run-up to GFNY and Killington, and this would be the first comparable race where I’d get to find out.
For those of you that haven’t ridden round PP, it’s the opposite of Killington – the course is a 3.4 mile loop, and the one hill is more of a gentle bump than an actual hill. Of course, being a gentle bump, that doesn’t mean the peloton takes it easy over it. Au contraire, mes aim, au contraire! But, before we get to the hill, let’s rewind just a little.
4AM. There it is, the familiar bleep of my alarm clock. I’ve started to work out that I’m better on race day if I string together my early starts, so I got up at 5AM on Friday for some openers. 4AM doesn’t seem so bad now… Admittedly, it’s still a struggle, but the familiar race morning routine is way easier in the summer than in the winter. For starters, that weather check moment ends way quicker with the conclusion “it’s warm, yeah!” than those cold, dark winter days.
Fast forward a couple of hours, and we’re all signed-in, warmed up, and lined up behind the 3/4 Masters field. Unlike our last PP race, Ethan and I were on the left side of the front row, which is always a nice place to be. Pre-race nerves were quelled with the quick ingestion of an Untapped 100% Vermont Maple Syrup shot, and our race strategy discussion was gloriously brief: “we’re not leading out early, stay up front, don’t get dropped, let’s see what happens”. Whistle blows, and we’re off.
Of course, our race planning was all well and good, but then the field decided to line up behind us. And technically, behind me. OK, OK, there’s no headwind, and it’s flat, but still, I’m the little guy so really people, really! Being the wise and savvy racer that I am (ha ha!), I opt for a relatively moderate 21-22mph lead out, hoping for someone to take up the reins before we hit turn #1. There’s no one on my left, and over to the right but three wheels back are another pair who just seem to be hanging out by themselves. Weirdly inefficient, but hey, it’s only 18 miles so maybe they like the fresh air? Half-a-mile in, 210W on the dial, 22mph and a nice manageable heart rate of 160bpm, and I’m still on the front. Weird, but, well, it’s nice to be leading the race for a while, isn’t it!
Coming around turn #1, I have two choices – hug the white line in the quest for efficiency and not let anyone come down the inside, or maybe take a different approach to get back on track strategically… so I gently drift right, moving the peloton with me, and voila! I finally entice a couple of racers to go on the attack, swiftly followed by another trio trying to bridge up. I glance down at the key metrics – 160bpm, 220W, feeling comfortable, so I figure that I can either go with them or wait for the peloton to do something. So, I wait. One second; nothing. Two seconds; nothing. Three seconds; nothing. Hang on a second… this is Cat 5… no-one lets a break go… Turn round, quick glance, oh yeah, I’m in no man’s land. If you can call it that, with a five bike-length gap ahead and maybe 5 behind. Oh well, time to inject some power and join the break. Light up the afterburners for the first time, and quickly get up to the front five. Except the fifth guy is struggling to hold on, and before I know it, I need to light them up again to go around him and join the front four. Job done, here I am, in the break again, and…
Oh wait. This is a Prospect Park Cat 5 race, where a break is practically non-existent… All that effort, and before I know it, we’re “Gruppo Compacto” again. Except we’re almost at the base of the hill, and my heart rate after those two little efforts is now up in the 170-175bpm range. Oops. Maybe not my best plan.
At some point during that short burst, and for reasons as yet unknown, my Garmin changed pages to the lovely one that shows my Intensity Factor (IF). For those of you that don’t know, IF is a great measure of how hard you’ve been working relative to FTP. Anything below 0.8 is “barely”, 0.9-0.95 is “quite hard”, and 1-1.1 is “probably too hard to survive for too long”. As I look down, I see 1.25. Hmm. I don’t have a mental categorization for 1.25, but let’s just call it “eyeball popping” for now. And we’re not on the steeper bit of the hill yet.
As we start the steeper section of the hill, my options are limited – either go backward, or ignore the pain and push on. Looking at my companions, I realize that they’re all in the same place as I am, and they’ve been getting a free tow. This is comforting. Temporarily. As we ascend at a somewhat less than calm and leisurely 20mph, I start to sense I’m slipping backward. Oh dear. So, I send that first message to the engine room: “MORE POWER”. The message comes back “we’re at 125% on the reactor already, Sir. 150% advisable, but not recommended”. To hell with it, I order an extra few watts, because I’m not going to be dropped on the first lap after all that effort. Unlike previous races, I feel the Killington effect kicking in, and my legs shockingly comply and add more power. Yeah training! (and yeah, rest!). I’m still in the pack, there’s the KOM sign, and we’re heading down into the start/finish where I can recover a little. Lap 1 done, four more to go, and life is good…
After my brief sojourn at the front, I decided that I shall spend the next three laps hiding out. This was definitely a smart plan, as I got my heart rate back down to something reasonable, had fun spinning up the hill at 110-120rpm (just like my team-mate Juan does!), and averaged a trifling 160W over these laps, as compared to the 220W average of lap one. Much, much better. Come the final lap, and I sense the speed increasing just a mite, but, well, there’s only three miles to go, so the chances of the front letting a break go away are practically zero. That doesn’t mean that no-one tried: kudos to the two of you who did attempt to go up the right side, but I was on you like a shot, because I’d rested for a couple of laps just for that moment. Although you lose points for attempting to get away just before the downhill… that’s just foolish!
Before we knew it, there’s that hill again. In previous laps, we’d gone up at a mighty 20mph. Final lap, well, the peloton decided that 20mph was positively pedestrian, so there we were doing 25mph. Cue another request to the engine room for a little more power, this time for 175%. And, lo and behold, the engine room complied again, keeping me safely in the pack all the way to the finish. The Killington effect is definitely there!