Being the backup web geek for the PDCC has advantages, like being able to check out the start list the morning before a race. Looking at the start list, there were only a few E graders, so I was expecting a few weaker D graders to be added to their number for the limit group. The rest of the D graders, including me to be next away probably 6 to 10 minutes later, followed a few minutes later by the first of two C graders groups.
Checking previous race times on Strava, I thought that my group would have to ride close to 18 minute laps, just to stay away from C grade. This was going to be hard work for me, given the start list for D grade was missing most of stronger riders. So it looked like I was going to have to spent a lot of time on the front.
Turned up to the race and found out it was a group handicap, which meant I was in a bunch of eight or so D grade riders needing to keep away from more than a dozen C graders starting 6 minutes behind. With the handicap based on D grade riding consistently 17:30 laps. Which was a bit of stretch seeing that D grade had only ridden two laps even close to that time this year and the fastest one involved Rob attacking from start and a couple of other riders, including yours truly countering and dropping close to half the bunch by the end of the lap.
A number of riders did not nominate, but turned up to race. So the number of D graders swelled to 14 including a couple of strong riders in Don and Frank. Still we were missing Tom, Dave P and a couple of others that might of given us a fighting chance. Still that was not going to stop us trying. Don tried pulling a big turn from the start, got shouted at for going to hard. We, well me and Don tried to keep the pace high and the “strong” riders started taking short turns. It was working OK until we turned a corner and there was a landholder burning off and I got a lungful of smoke. Rolled to the back of the bunch, out with the asthma inhaler and recovery.
The problem was we needed to keep an average of over 37kph for the whole 50km to have a chance to stay away from the bunches behind. With me or Don on the front, we would keep the pace high 38 or 39kph, but as soon as we swung off, the pace would drop to 35kph or so. So after 3 laps we were caught by C grade, who started with close to 20 riders, with 15 or so working in rotation. D grade did not stand a chance with really only 6 or so riders working.
At this stage, I could of just rolled to the back, got a ride to the finish with C grade and attempted to be the best placed D grader. Instead I took my turn in the rotation, I wanted to see if I could ride with C grade. I quickly found out I could in a straight line, but when it came to corners I was in trouble.
Down the back straight, I ended up on the front at the wrong time, lungful of smoke, lungs on fire, corner, big mistake, dropped the wheel in front, splitting the bunch. The front half attempted to get away, the back half accelerated hard to catch them. There was nothing I could do, with my lungs burning except grab my inhaler and watch them go.
Half a lap later, a couple of other D graders dropped in behind me, then B grade came past. Instead of trying to tag on, I had a quick chat to a rider I knew. The other D graders were left behind and I was solo again. A grade came past, and as I crested the tiny climb I could see A grade catching B with C grade with a few D grade interlopers a little further ahead. There was a single rider getting spat out the back of A grade, so I did have a target to chase.
Caught, passed and then dragged a spent B grader to the finish, though I was pretty much running on empty. The last km was trying to chase down another B grader, but that failed. Ended up 3 minutes behind the big bunch finish as an A grader beat a C grader.
The handicappers got it right for A, B & C grades. D grade, either needed an extra minute and three stronger riders, or another 3 minutes given the missing riders. E grade was unfortunate they only had 3 riders, they needed a lot more to be competitive.
Happy with my performance even though I made stupid mistakes, I will be prepared for the next time and will work on my cornering, for when I get to C grade.