Hey, there. I'm Patrick and this is how I spent my Sunday morning. I took a trip to the other side of the Beltway this past weekend to race the Bunny Hop Crit in Suitland, MD. I had no goals for this race, although I was slightly confident after having a good week on the bike. I arrived an hour before the race with the usual pre-race routine: pick up my number, pin it, pull out the bike, check my pressure, lay out my pit wheels, dunk a Nuun tablet, and put in a few warm up laps. The course was suited for me: flat and fast with wide open turns and potholes-a-plenty.
As the race started, I lined up with the usual bunch who would rather have a spot in the front line than get in an extra warm up lap or two. At the whistle, I grabbed the closest wheel to the front I could and let the pace set in. I found myself in the third position for the first two laps, sitting nonchalantly on the wheels of an NCVC and WWVC ride. They both traded turns at the front. There were a few fruitless breakaway attempts during the first few laps. Finally, a WWVC rider made a breakaway that stuck. Everyone at the front of the pack just looked at each other, while the solo rider made his escape. He was finally caught after 6 laps.
With 8 laps to go a friend who rides with Raw Talent Life, affectionately known as Hood Ornament, sprung out from the pack and rode away from the front. I panicked because I knew he was strong enough to make it stick, while I knew he is prone to bonking hard when he pushes himself too far. I made an attempt to bridge. I chased for a lap, making up nearly half the gap. Hood managed to add more of a gap. I could feel myself fading, although I wasn't fully cooked just yet. I then did what a bike racer should probably never do: I started thinking. I weighed the risk of burning all my matches to bridge the gap and it sticking vs. the risk of Hoodie fading and the pack catching up to him. I bet on the latter. I stopped pedaling, took a sip from my bottle, and let the pack overtake me.
This is when the race got dangerous. More people were taking the insides of turns and sweeping to the outside, swerving to avoid potholes, and all that Cat 5 goodness. Luckily, I have the reflexes of a cat! I even received compliments on my ability to not be coaxed into a crash. With 3 laps to go, I came to the side of a friend from another team who was also riding without teammates. I asked him if he wanted to give a last lap bridge a try and he agreed. The only problem was I never got to fully communicate the plan with him as he moved up in the second to last lap. I pulled up beside him and tried to tell him to hold off until the second turn, but before we even passed the start line for the bell lap, he took off like a rocket. I did my best to hang on his wheel, but the front group anticipated his move. He was quickly caught and consequentially kicked up the pace of the pack for the last lap. A chase at this point was no use. Hoodie managed to stay away and took the win. I found myself in the middle front of the pack coming around the last corner. I lost one spot in the sprint, finishing 14th out of 41. Not a disappointing finish considering I'm still in my first few road races.
This weekend's lesson: I still have a lot to learn when it comes to tactics. As the nuances become more apparent, I hope to apply these lessons in future races. I'm content with my 14th place, but there is a slight sense of disappointment in my decision to give up the chase. I've had a few races that've played out for the worst based on my bad racing decisions. The lesson of this season so far has been "stop thinking, stop worrying, and just race."