Let me start by saying that this week was a really depressing training week so I had little hope of a good race today.
I did a time trial on Sunday while suffering from a cold (I had committed to my neighbors that I would do the bike leg of a triathlon relay and really didn't want to let them down) and it sucked bigtime. By Tuesday my cold was gone but my sprint intervals hurt like getting stabbed; Wednesday my two measly FTP intervals were WAAYYY more miserable than they should have been; Thursday I was supposed to ride 2.5 hours easy but after only 1 hour I was wasted so I limped home feeling like total crap and very depressed about how bad I suck at high intensity stuff. To make matters worse, I got very little sleep and I had a boss in town to visit so I didn't get to do any sort of recovery (sleeping or riding easy) on Friday.
It should come as no surprise that my goal for the Saturday morning Cat5 35+ road race was simply to survive. I would sit in and do as little work as possible. If a break got away, someone else would have to pull me up to it or I would just let it go. When a group of guys at the front started a rotating paceline, I would hang back and refuse to take a turn. On rolling hills, rather than sprint to stay with the easily-agitated group I would try to steadily apply power even if it meant losing a few spots in line. I'm still learning how to figure out which way the wind is blowing, but where possible I would try to be smart about that as well. If I somehow ended up on the front I would softpedal and let someone come around.
With that strategy, the race itself was pretty boring. I just stayed near the front and sat in. The course was essentially rolling hills and turns so there were the inevitable anaerobic surges and since I'm still gun-shy after missing a corner in a crit last season and ending up in the hospital I tried to move up a few spots just before the corners to avoid trouble. With about 5 miles to go, the pace increased noticeably--especially on the hills--but the group stayed together.
With about a mile to go I found myself in about 15th place. I knew that the run-in to the finish was fairly technical for someone of my (lack of) skill, with a sharp left turn, up and and down a little rise, around a corner to the right and uphill to the line, so my feeling was that I would need to move up several spots before the left hand turn to be able to have any chance of finishing with the leaders. The last few miles had stretched things out single file along the left-hand side (i.e. the yellow line in the middle of the road), so I moved to the right shoulder and sped up.
My intention was to put in a quick burst or two and sneak into a spot where I could follow a wheel to the line but I instead found myself moving right up to the front much faster than I had expected. I hestitated for a split second and then decided that the best thing would be to try to get a gap on the field before the left hand turn and then hold it all the way to the line. Having the freedom to take the two last turns using my own line and without other cyclists was worth the risk of letting the train follow my wheel to the finishing straighaway.
I went with all I had, hit the left-hand turn as hard as I dared and glanced under my legs to see if anyone was behind me. Nope, I was on my own but the obvious question was wether or not I'd be able to hold the gap long enough to reach the finish. I went around the last turn thinking "just don't crash, just don't crash" and then tried to convince my legs to keep powering to the line. I glanced under once more and could tell I was going to make it across for the win. My breakaway effort lasted only two minutes at 460 watts but with a little luck and a conducive finishing run-in it was enough for the win.
After examining the ride file, I can see why there was an opportunity to get away. My normalized power over the last 15 minutes was about 325 watts even sitting in so the guys up front may have been somewhat gassed by the end. Or maybe I went early enough that nobody wanted to be the one to do the work of bringing be back in for fear of being too tired out of the sprint.
Or mabye it was simply that almost nobody saw me get away. After the results were posted I overheard a couple of guys arguing with the judges saying something like "but I thought I came in 4th?" and "yeah, I came in 5th, why do you have me listed as 6th!?" And the judges said "no, there was a Spin Cycle guy who got away from the field and was about 50 yards ahead of the pack at the finish line" and they said "no there wasn't, it was a field sprint" or something like that. I just hope the guy who came in 2nd didn't race both arms at the line. That would have been so very Boonen of him.