After Tuesday’s breakaway win at the Velopark my legs were ruined. Really, really ruined. I was up the next morning at 5am for an RPR session that I would usually find relatively easy, however it was a struggle to not get dropped averaging 240-260w. Whilst the pain was terrible, it was strangely satisfying. I’d given everything, won a race and now I had a reminder of all the emotions of the night before. The funniest part of the week was a comment I saw (likely tongue in cheek) about me riding ‘700km a week’ and how ‘training like a pro is kinda cheating’ for a race…
Wednesday, Thursday and Friday were also days of having shot legs. I wasn’t sure if I’d recover in time for Saturday’s race, so I took it easy and spun around the park.
I thought the forecast for rain would put off other riders, leading to a slightly smaller field. I’m generally very comfortable managing bunches of ~30-40 now and Hog Hill is an easier circuit than the Velopark to move around the group. We had ~50 starters so a lot of people were clearly ready to battle with the wind, the rain and the punctures.
The race started hard as usual, with a little cagy-ness creeping in as an early breakaway of 6-8 wasn’t allowed to get a gap. A few laps of recovery followed – the wind on the day gave a tailwind on the hill and a headwind on the back straight, leading to a lot of sitting up.
I noticed Normalized Power (NP) is a great guide to the intensity and state of the race – if my NP ever reached above a certain level, the bunch slowed down. It’s almost like there is a ceiling of the bunch’s collective ability to ride hard, with tactics taken into account – I.e the strongest guys could ride harder than this but not without disregarding tactics and dragging everyone round. Anyway, the hardest 40 minute NP was 340w, and this was difficult but still quite a bit below what I can do.
Making the selection
The lull that let me think about such trivial things as NP led to the big race-deciding selection. The ever-active Colin Ward spent 2 laps drilling it on the front, stringing the bunch out and laying down the hurt. Gaps formed – especially in the crosswinds – and I scrambled across the gaps to make the front group of about 15 riders. As the racing got harder, and getting around dropped riders became more crucial, you can see the power spiking up to 700-900w over and over to get into the winning move and maintain position.
Arguments started about who should do the work in the lead group causing the tactics to switch to some surge and regroup racing. The headwind on the back straight made it almost suicidal to work due to the little time to recover before hitting the hill again for a 30s hit at 600w. Luckily the race behind was blown to pieces and no one was going to get back on. A few riders dropped and we entered the final 5 laps with 9 riders remaining and this meant a lot of looking around. I maybe got too involved staring someone down and veered onto the grass…
The final laps
I chose to follow Colin Ward’s wheel as he was the series leader, and I understand, a super time-triallist. He hit out at 3 laps to go over the top of the hill and I was in a great position to respond to his attack right away. If he got a gap, he would almost certainly stay away, so I had to chase to neutralise his attack.
Responding involved hitting 1000w to get his wheel and 700w+ to stay on level terms. 1 minute @ 500w kept me at the front of the race, stopped his attack and was considerably less of an effort than others in a worse position had to put out to stay in the front.
1 lap to go saw 2 riders try the same attack and these guys got a couple of seconds. It looked like a doomed move and I put my chips on the race coming back together, sitting at the back of the bunch. Working to bring the race back together here wasn’t an option if I wanted to win. This sounds counter-intuitive (if no-one works the break wins by default) but I think working into the headwind just before the hill sprint would have been wrong tactically. I might still get 5th/6th/7th place, but there was no chance of a win by working. Sitting in gave me a guaranteed shot at 3rd, with a win possible if the break blows-up or the race comes back together (both fairly likely). Overall, it was a +EV decision and if the situation played out 10 times, I’d win 7-8 out of 10 in that situation.
The final sprint
The two leaders dangled out ahead and had a 5s gap at the final hill. I had the wheel of a strong Dulwich rider, who kicked off the sprint at the bottom of the final hill. It was a tailwind finish so I jumped up to his wheel and waited for the steepest section to kick again. He left the inside line open and I gave it everything from there (10s @ 965w), catching one of the breakaway (who was almost going backwards) in the process.
I could see the lone leader just ahead and I was closing him down so quickly (24 v 16mph), but I just ran out of road to catch him. He crossed the line first and I was second by a bike length or two.
Maybe I could have launched my final sprint earlier, maybe I could have overhauled him, I’ll never know. GC says I had w’ left and I felt like I had more to give. I’d won the bunch sprint and came away with 2nd after feeling terrible the last few days of the week. 1st and 2nd in a week is a huge turnaround from last year where my single best result was 9th – so I can’t complain as I’m still learning and should have more confidence at the end of a race. The races this week gave me power records (both AP/NP) for the longer durations, which is a clear sign that the training is paying off as I’m able to absorb the hardest parts of the race and still have matches left.
2nd has given me a further 8 points, bringing my 3rd cat total to 31. 9 more points to 2nd cat. That could be just one race…
See the ride on Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/492536251