So I lost a race last week. Well, about 30 of us did. But I was one of them and it’s been sort of bothering me all week. It was the Speedway criterium in Indianapolis. It was a fairly large Masters field of about 30 riders in the 50+ group, and no team had more than 3 riders in it, so there would likely be no dominating squad establishing the race pattern of attacks, counter attacks and parrys. It was fast in the final analysis. 21 miles in 48 minutes for an average speed of over 26mph. But that’s not so remarkable. Anyone, well not anyone, but most of us can turn that over on our own and certainly in a group without too much trouble. It’s the attacks, accelerations and their frequency and the math that create the chaos. While I am not a disciple of numbers I am certainly a believer. It was a relatively benign 4 corner course, most wide and sweeping. You could pedal through them, but we didn’t really have to. We leave that technique for the learning categories, and digging a pedal into the ground is a lesson you only have to learn once. I don’t say that out of any disrespect, just observation. So we did about 25 laps in under 2 minutes each, which amounts to 100 corners coming roughly every 30 seconds. Now the thing about corners is that if you have to accelerate out of them, your day is going to be pretty short. So if you’re poorly placed let’s say, and the back of the group is like a Slinky stretching and coming together ever corner then it’s gonna hurt after a while. Fortunately for our group, we were strung out just enough to be in a smooth flowing group going into each corner. Within a couple of laps, we were setting up efficiently and entering and exiting at speed. So in the sometimes reverse logic of bicycle racing, the faster you go, the easier it is. We had our moments, for sure, where we had to check our speed and line and sprint out of a few corners, but this was the exception and caused little issues. Most of us have been racing 20+ years and we know our way around a crit course in heavy traffic and know enough not to take the sort of risks that would endanger our group.
The first several laps were relatively easy, as we collectively got a sense for the course and our adrenaline was high enough that not much was going to get away anyway. By the 4th time through though, riders were beginning to test the bunch in one’s and twos. A small group of four riders representing different teams fired off a signal to the group to chase. Gary Palmer and I moved up to the break and immediately another group of 5 formed and I being on Gary’s wheel let the group go by letting a gap open behind him, thus splitting the group. But this was child’s play and the group was captured in the next lap. Gary was able to use this as a springboard to roll off the front, but he was just testing the mettle of the group in hopes that he would be joined by the next break, but the timing wasn’t exactly right as the horsepower in the pack was high. A few laps later, another formed after the first corner and two riders managed to distance the group by about 50 meters, and held that, slightly advancing. Zipp took over at the front and singlehandedly and impressively brought the escapees back into the fold with about ten laps to go.
From here it was just ridiculously fast as we tried to monitor the front for the penultimate set up that would establish the final, frenetic laps, and we weren’t disappointed. It was the sort of fast where you’re near your limit but you know you’ll be asked for one more effort. With two to go Gary and I had moved up as if on signal, during the one moment when this was possible, he on the inside and me on the outside, and the speed of the group was near 30mph. The pace remained high and I lost only a few hard earned places on the second and third turns being boxed in along the curb. As we passed the line and heard the bell there was just a slight lull in the field and I was able to find a slot along the outside edge of the envelope moving all the way up to the second flank as we exited the first corner of the final lap with less than a kilometer to go. These were desperate moments as we were searching for wheels…and then it happened. My leadout rider from another team, the wheel directly in front of me, suddenly attacked hard into the second corner and established a gap. I was on his wheel but I hesitated for one, two, three pedal strokes and then it was too late. The opportunity vanished and he was gone and in the ensuing melee, managed to outsmart us all and power to the victory. I had made a tragic error. It’s just like you see on the playback of any major race. One rider takes a chance against all odds and in the few brief seconds that it takes for a response, for a challenger to step up, the protagonist has the advantage and this one succeeded. It wasn’t that I was inattentive. I checked off all the boxes, I moved into exactly the right position at exactly the right time, but I just didn’t make the commitment.
There are a hundred questions to ask your self why a race was lost but there’s only one that really matters. Did you believe that all of your preparation has lead you to this one moment and has put you in a position to win? If the answer isn’t “Yes,” then it’s going to be a long summer.