O'Fallon Grand Prix – Cat 4 – Ryan Harden
The race started neutral as expected. There was a minor attack from the gun that I think was more likely two guys from a team riding and talking and just rode off the front. So it was less an attack, more of a slowly riding away from the group. A couple guys yelled because they had a team member sitting on the front of the pack slow pedaling, but the rest of us didn't bother since we still had 57 miles to go. The first lap was almost completely uneventful. There were a handful of sections where the group strung out pretty good, accelerated to 30ish, then slowed and contracted. I was well positioned in the group to respond without having to use much effort. There were a couple of guys from Cannonball that made an excellent wind break for me. I found myself using their draft quite a bit. I spent most of the race in the front 1/3 of the pack but never far enough forward to feel any wind. My plan to do as little work as possible for as long as possible was going well. I was extremely happy with my legs as I went up the hills with minimal effort. Last year that final hill before the start finish straight killed me. This year it didn't seem as hard.
The second lap got a little more lively with a few actual attacks. Nothing stuck. The farthest anyone got off the front was 100m or so. They'd either get tired and fall back, or the group would increase pace by a few mph and bring them back. Overall is was a decent lap. That is until we got about 2/3 of the way up that last hill. My left and right quads and hammys started to seize. I've never really cramped up before, but I'm assuming that's what it was. I was able to get up the hill with the pack and downshifted to a much easier gear in the hope that I could ride through the cramps. I sucked down about 1/4 of my bottle on the start/finish straight hoping it would do the trick.
The third lap is where it all fell apart for me (and the race). We get about 4 miles out and all of a sudden the lead car just pulls over and is blowing a whistle. None of us know what this means, nor do any of us care, since we're all trying to catch the first real attack of the day. The pace was hot and heavy with some mild hills to make things interesting. After another half mile or so, the wheel truck comes speeding by with the race official hanging out of the window telling us to slow down/pull over. The field was stretched out enough that it took us a while to collect. I didn't hear it from the official, but another rider told me we were getting passed by the 30+ 4/5 field. So we slowed to a crawling pace of 10mph while we waited for them to go around us. It was a bit frustrating since we all burned a match chasing down an attack that got neutralized. This was probably the beginning of the end for me. After they let us go, we rode as a pack for another couple miles. Then Jeff attacked. He got away for a couple miles but never made much progress past 100m or so. I was still pretty confident of a pack finish at this point. The field stretched out during Jeff's attack but I didn't seem to be as hurt as I expected. Then another attack came. I stayed with the group for about a half mile but started cramping and got dropped. I yelled at myself aloud and said "No, you're not getting dropped here." I put the hammer down and bridged the 25m back up to the group. I burnt a match doing it, but I wasn't going to get dropped. Unfortunately this put me at the dreaded back of the field. We went through 2-3 corners which yo-yo'd me like crazy. Then there was this windy section where the asphalt on the road felt like glue. I was very unlucky to get my second round of cramps there. Both legs contracted and I was barely able to turn the pedals for about 30 seconds. They loosened back up but the pack was far enough away I knew I'd never catch back on. I went into survival mode once the wheel truck passed me as I didn't want to end up walking due to cramps. I rode the rest of the third lap solo. I had a third bout with cramps at the end of the downhill section at roughly mile 51. It distracted me enough to completely miss the left arrow on the sign and I turned right instead. I heard the corner marshall yell at me, but I assumed they were yelling at the car who was about to pass me. I realized my mistake a mile down the road and turned around. I felt pretty dumb as I rode back by the marshalls. Knowing I was far enough behind to have it not matter, I just slow pedaled most of the way back.
Other than the cramps, I was extremely happy with my performance. I definitely could have eaten and drank more water. I think I drank a total of 1.3ish bottles the first two laps. I finished my second bottle on the third lap. I had a gel right before we started and had another in the middle of the second lap. I had five gels on me, I should have eaten them all. Lessons learned for next time. Since this is my longest race to date, I still have a lot to learn about proper hydration and nutrition. I can usually get by no problem at group ride pace, but race pace requires a lot more.