Racing has become a lot of fun again. It’s surprising when you completely ignore things such as the need to get results and see a race for what it is – like a chess board with 60 pieces flying about. In road races, I’m always focusing on trying to make the best decisions (and learning how to improve this) to ensure the team wins, rather than being too results oriented. This SERRL road race threw up a couple of interesting tactical situations, one of which led to a decision (really trying not to write ‘snap decision’, but there it is) that ended up winning the race for Arlen.
Intro / course / SERRL
The RPR line-up was our May 3-Day stage race line-up: Damo, Arlen, Disco and myself. I was meant to be avoiding races to focus on just riding and avoiding too much ‘race stress’, but when 2, then 3 others want to do this road race I feel like I have to go along to be a part of the action.
I can’t remember whether I wrote about SERRL’s entry policy in a previous post, but their issues with pre-entry for non-affiliated riders has been sorted in a very sensible way. If you aren’t a member of a club affiliated to the league, you can enter on BC and find out if you have a ride way in advance of the day (subject to pre-emption for affiliated riders of course).
Weather on the day was cloudy, yet slightly chillier than previous weekends. A chilly NE breeze was blowing and temperatures were just cold enough for leg warmers to be a consideration. The course was new to all of us but a bit of recon confirmed nothing selective, a few slight drags and one narrow corner but the main feature was the 2.6mile dead straight, slightly downhill long roman road. One of those looming roads where the bunch can always see the breakaway. As it turned out, not always.. As a non-selective course, there’s a tendency for tactics to rule the day – or the end to be a messy bunch sprint.
The actual racing didn’t get underway for at least half an hour after the flag dropped. A few riders clipped off the front but the bunch was in full snooze mode, happy to let them dangle off in the distance. 175w average for the first half an hour was probably the easiest race beginning in the history of ..racing.
I think everyone had ideas of a bunch sprint on a potentially fast, flat course. Lots of people seemed happy to sit in the wheels and roll around, confident that no early break could get away. I think the early move of 2-3 riders got upwards of a minute on the first lap of 9 and stayed out front for a while as the pace remained low.
Arlen decided to put an end to that, in the way that only he can at the moment. One attack off the front by the small old guy on the yellow bike provoked a ‘bunch sprint reaction’ behind and sparked a series of attacks and flyers that lasted about another 20 minutes. The bunch was still fresh from the first half an hour of festivities and nothing really got away for longer than a few miles.
I started to learn the only ‘feature’ on the course was the sharp-ish left hander in Laughton that led into a brief drag up the narrow and slightly twisty Shortgate Lane. The bunch could only go in to the corner 2-abreast max so it got pretty lined out when people got on the gas out of the corner. When at the back, there was no way to respond to a move going off at the front, you just had to follow the wheels and hope it came back together. People tended to sit up as the road crested the drag which was worth noting for later in the race.
Interesting racing and some tactics
From 45 minutes in to about an hour in, Arlen was deciding to try and get into (or become) the breakaway, attacking continuously to form groups, and going again when it came back together. It was fun to watch, he was really burying himself and as it turned out, anyone who got on his wheel. Arlen got himself into a nice move with 4 or so other strong guys from a surge into to corner at Laughton. The bunch gave the move some space, before a few attacks from ASL dragged Damo and me off the front.
Seeing the gap, we decided to try and bridge up to the leading break as it would give us 3 RPR riders in a move of 8 and a decent situation to play the rest of the race from. Drilling it down the roman road was a big contrast to the general dawdling of the earlier sections of the race, pulling 450w-500w+ turns on the front (and almost nothing in the wheels) for almost 3 minutes bridged us to the front group. Once we arrived, I rotated through to see who else was here but couldn’t see Arlen – he must have attacked the break moments earlier.
Now we arrive at the interesting situation, with about 30 miles to go – a few others also bridged to form a lead group of 10 with a big gap over the peleton. Arlen was up the road and RPR had the option to:
- RPR work with the group, catching/chasing Arlen, and driving to the finish.
- RPR could sit on, wait for the group to catch Arlen, and then begin working.
I really didn’t consider it a possibility that Arlen would stay away – he would surely get caught by us or caught by the bunch eventually. Given the bunch would likely be active in chasing a sizeable group, it went through my mind that a possible investment of energy to work now (but chase down Arlen) could pay off in the long term, i.e. build a gap that has 3 RPR riders in it, rather than risk getting caught.
Luckily this was our decision to make. Someone in the move made a stupid comment about RPR moments later and that decided it there and then – I said to Damo we are not working with this group while Arlen is up the road. We rolled to the back and duly sat on, letting the break rotate smoothly. A couple of riders who should really know better gave me some flack but maybe they haven’t been following Arlen’s streak of solo breakaways from exactly this kind of range. Or watching the eact same tactics unfold for Boels-Domans whilst mopping up in the Ardennes classics with Anna van der Breggen solo off the front in the same way.
Anyway, our group of 10 would get swallowed up by the bunch after about a lap (~18 minutes) away. As tends to be the case, the bunch catches a group and thinks everyone is back together – if you can’t see the lead car… you’re not at the front of the race.
RPR were all stacked at the front of the bunch, soft-pedalling on the front and even coasting down the roman road at 20mph. Bizarrely nobody took up the chase. A chap from Dynamo asked me if Arlen was up the road and I pointed far into the distance as he went over a crest on the roman road, some 90s away – yep.
Arlen gained almost 2 minutes in 5 miles and with that kind of gap, he never came back. He solo’d away to the win from somewhere around 30 miles out. Impressive.
Damo, Disco and I spent the next few laps marking any moves with a couple of riders in. On the final lap, a few solos bridged up to each other to form a strong break with Catford, GSG and one other (basically the 2nd and 3rd riders at the 2nd Hackney Primavera crit). They gained a 15s gap pretty quickly and we had dropped the ball in letting this move get together, maybe a bit of complacency with Arlen so far up the road.
Coming out of Laughton and up the drag, I thought I’d try to bridge across (outrageously underestimating the gap I could bridge against 3 strong riders). I attacked the bunch over the crest of the hill, just as Disco on the front sat up (as did everyone else) – a nice coincidence gave me an instant gap – and from there it was a case of chase hard to the end to try and make up some places. The 3 man escape had about 15s on me going onto the roman road and despite riding flat out, I couldn’t bring down the gap.
I’d left it a bit too late to get across to the break that swept up 2nd, 3rd and 4th. I had to get on before the roman road to be in with a shout, instead I soloed through no man’s land for the final ~12mins just shy of 380w to come in clear of the bunch by 20-30s for 5th, still 20-30s behind the escape ahead! Damo would get 2nd in the bunch sprint behind for 7th, Disco having put him up into good position.
Overall, a good result and another RPR road race win. 4 out of 5 road races won so far this season (Dan was 2nd in the 5th of 5). As a team, we rode well to secure the win but probably should have done better than 5th and 7th with the upper hand. I’m not too worried as the race wasn’t a priority – it was a great test before the May 3-day stage race of our form and cohesion as a team. The stage race is a target for us as a team and we are against some well-drilled competition so it should be a really fun event on courses we are mostly familiar with. Maybe I could even target a more prompt write-up……………
Sat 29th April – Stage 1 – Dunsfold
Sun 30th April – Stage 2 – Barcombe
Mon 1st May – Stage 3 – Ditchling
Thanks for reading – hopefully back soon with more from RPR in the Surrey League. A big thanks to Sussex Revs for stepping in last minute to organise the race.
For the power/w’bal chart, I’ve put up horizontal lines for power indicating: first 30 minute average (175w), entire race average (240w), entire race Normalized (300w) and solo escape average power (378w).