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First, a moment of silence for the teammate of a good friend of mine, who suffered a heart attack and passed away in a criterium elsewhere this weekend.
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A bit over 80km of racing featured a rolling circuit with a total of about 1100m of elevation gain; no long, sustained climbs were featured, but two serious “bergs” on each lap would be sure to split the field. It had been cool and grey all day, but on the start line, it began to drizzle. By the first lap, it would be a light but ceaseless rain that lasted the length of the race.

As we’d be doing six full laps, plus a portion of a seventh to finish atop a small rise, I expected the group would take things pretty easy for the first portion of the race. As we went up the first climb, my legs were still feeling the hard effort from <a href=http://argentius.blogspot.com/2006/04/championship-games-or-i-cant-drop-them.html>the unofficial race</a> I’d done two days ago, so I sat in the middle of the pack to save my energy and waited. It almost cost me any chance of a decent finish.

On the start of the second lap, the pack begins to string out from hard effort at the front, but the road is still too crowded to easily advance. As we get over the first climb, a strong attack off the front sends about five riders up the road. Two more join them, and they quickly gain an advantage. Still mired in the middle on the peloton, I watch everyone hesitate, looking at each other. The two strongest teams present have someone up the road, and everyone else is disjointed. The break eases away as I struggle to get to the front, expending too much energy just fighting through traffic.

By the next climb, they have at least a minute’s advantage, and I briefly think it’s over. Then I kick myself – while only a figurative kick, it’s pretty hard. “NO.”

I put my head down and launch one of the strongest attacks I’ve seen from myself. I hammer up the hill, tuck low and hammer down the back, turn myself inside out on the into-the-headwind false flat of the backstretch. I looked up and saw the break no more than 15 seconds up the road. A glance below my arm revealed no one. Wow. One more, I tell myself, and you’re on.

This is the start of the third lap, and I power up the next climb with everything I have. I pass two riders who either failed to bridge or are coming back from the break as I continue to push myself into the red. By the bottom of the descent, I find myself tagged onto the back of the break, and that alone feels like a victory. I rest in the back for a couple of turns, then begin taking turns in the rotation. There are eight riders in the break, and I notice one team has three riders, and another has two.

For the next two laps, there are a couple of small attacks, but the team with three riders controls the break pretty well. The follow car comes up beside us to tell us we’ve got two minutes, then three. I cannot even see the peloton behind us. At this point, I’m sure we’re going to stay away. I remind myself to refuel, fight my lacking handling skills as the break continues to rotate on the long, shallow descents. With two laps to go I take a slight dig on the second climb; not a full-on attack, but an acceleration to size up the break.

Two riders come after me in short order; the rest are left gasping. One of them cracks and drops out completely. At the start of the last lap, I’m at the back of the rotation when the rider in second wheel attacks hard; his teammate on the front does nothing. Out of the saddle, I’m going up the climb in my big ring as I take it anaerobic one more time to hook on this guy’s wheel. The legs burn, and I feel drained. Sprinting isn’t going to be easy. Another rider has taken my wheel, and it’s a group of four rocketing through the final flat. As we crest the final climb, it’s clear that it’s between the four of us. The final few kilometers of the race go quickly, and we’re at the 1k to go sign. The follow car pulls off, we turn down the finishing road – a small climb we’ve yet to see – and as we hit the 200m to go sign, the sprint begins.

I hold back a moment, thinking I’ve only got perhaps 100m of uphill sprint in my tired legs, but then I see the line is much closer than I expected. I dig in, passing one of the riders, but the first two – teammates who hosted the race – are too far ahead.

All in all, third place is better than most, but still not a win. I re-ride the last “200 meters” and find, according to my cyclocomputer, that it’s 110. Oh, well. I later find out that over a third of the field simply dropped out, and that the break finished with about five minute’s advantage on what remained of the peloton. The winners and I exchange congratulations, and I’m satisfied with myself if a little frustrated.

Now’s where I wish I had a <I>soigneur</I> at the finish with some dry clothes; I’m shivering like mad as I ride the 4km, mostly downhill, back to the staging area.
 

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nicely done

this course sounds way too familiar...I did the circuit race at the Sea Otter classic on the same day. Tough course. A third of the field didn't even finish my race as well. Thanks for the commentary. I was on the edge of my seat reading on to see how you did.
 
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