I want to keep the tradition of winners creating and posting race reports so that everyone can participate in, and perhaps learn from, the race experience… So here goes:
The Clasica de Rio Grande is one of the best, long, road races that we have on the cycling calendar. If you are not familiar with the course, it is roughly a rectangle with short sides on the north and south, and much longer sides on the east and west. The short sides are ~1mi and the long sides are ~7mi for a full lap distance of 16.7mi. The north side of the rectangle is dirt, the east side of the rectangle is generally down-hill, and the west side has some steady climbs, so the course offers a variety of terrain on which to employ different tactics. The race organizers assign the different categories a variety of laps to tailor the race duration, and our SM 4 race was 3 laps for a total distance of 52mi.
We had three representatives in the race Will Pirkey, Nate Pitzer and myself, and although we weren’t the best represented team, we certainly excelled in the tactical planning department. Ahead of the race Will put together strategies for a number of eventualities which together the three of us refined and agreed on. Plan A was for me to infiltrate the early break-away putting the onus on other teams to organize a chase. It seemed like a reasonable plan because we had noticed from other races that other teams are either reluctant or unable to get organized and actually chase. So with this foundation we set out and here are some of my Key takeaways:
Key #1 Listen to your teammate’s advice
Despite Nate’s pre-race encouragement to report early to the line and get a good position, I insisted that “Nah it’s a neutral start and will string out, so moving up shouldn’t be a problem”. As the neutral start ended, we found ourselves at about the 40th wheel with the bunch spread completely across the road, so moving up was indeed a problem. All I could do was berate myself as I watched an early attack award the aggressor with a substantial gap. At that point I began mentally rehashing Plans B, C, and D, because Plan A wasn’t looking good.
Key #2 Don’t lead if you don’t know where you are going
For the second year in a row the front of the bunch didn’t know the course, or pay attention to course markings, and the organizers did not have well placed marshals. So at a small turn, about half-way down the east side of the rectangular course, 35ish of the 40 riders in front went right when the course went left. The consequence was the most effortless move from the back of the pack to the front, that anyone could ever experience (read: woohoo and thank goodness), and it left us sitting at 4th or 5th wheel.
Repeat Key #1 Listen to your teammate
One of my character traits is that I stick to a plan – AT ALL COST – and before the race I had decided that if I hadn’t already followed someone else’s breakaway, then I would attack at the south-east corner of the rectangle, so after the ‘wrong-turn’ I was sitting and waiting, and was going to do so for another 2mi until making my move. Good thing I had someone who is actually capable of thinking on his feet next to me, because when we found ourselves near the front, with the bunch distracted, Will said exasperatedly “Dave?! GO!!”, and I thought “Oh…well…yah that makes sense”. So with 48mi left I attacked and immediately had a gap established. Thanks Will!
Key #3 If you get a gap know how hard you can go and have company
Being such a long way from the finish I settled into a sustainable pace and soon realized that an ex-teammate Brandon Anderson was coming up to keep me company. Once we were together we worked very well until we reached the dirt north-side of the course. Brandon wasn’t very comfortable on the dirt, and I could see the bunch bearing down so I had no choice but to power away and settle into solo time-trial mode. Since I was isolated it didn’t take long for the gap to shrink. As the bunch grew closer a competitor thought it a good time to bridge, and I soon had company once again. We established a good working arrangement and the gap grew, at one point reaching over 1.5min. At that point I thought it might be entirely possible to stay away for the duration.
Key #4 Have teammates in the bunch to control the pace and respond to other teams
My teammates knew that my strength would be on the climbs, so when Nate found himself on the front the last time up the climbs he kept the pace at a point that he knew would not pull us back, and our breakaway continued to gain a gap. Meanwhile Will was able to patiently maintain his strength and respond to the few half-hearted efforts of rival teams as they began to realize that they were running out of time to pull us back.
Key#5 Arrange a lead-out
Approaching the finish straight I detected weakness in my breakaway companion because his turns up-front were dropping in pace, and allowing me to recover more than they had earlier in the race. In case he was feigning weakness I made sure that our rotation would leave him leading over the crest of the finalclimb. When he had crested the hill and the finish line was in sight he signaled for me to come around and take a turn on the front, to which I replied “Um…thanks, but I don’t think so”. To this he smiled because he knew that, as much as he wanted a lead-out to the finish, the niceties and teamwork were finished for the day. Shortly thereafter he made a big effort in an attempt to shake me from his wheel and I had to work very hard to recapture it and retain his lead-out. I kept telling myself to ‘be patient’, because I had learned from last year’s race and our Tuesday team sprint practices that the finish line is always further than it appears and it’s better to wait. As the barriers, which indicated 500m remaining approached, with my breakaway companion still in front, I gave it all I had, came around him, and I knew that he wasn’t going to be strong enough to catch back onto my wheel or come around.
“FINALLY!”, I thought. After 2.5 seasons, LOADS of training hours, unwavering support from my wife and my team, I finally had a result to show and better yet it was the top spot. It was a terrific moment but short-lived, because as I turned back toward the finish I learned that, despite being well placed and strong for the sprint, a crash had taken out the master plan
ner Will. He had been comfortably on the wheel of the eventual 3rd place winner, when he was bumped by a racer trying unsafely to get into the barrier-constricted lane to the finish. The bump sent him from the left side, across the lane and he crashed on the right hand side of the lane. It was a disappointing blow to what may have been a 1-3 podium for pedal RACING. The crash was severe for a number of riders, and luckily for Will the wounds to his bike were greater than those to his body, and he was able to walk across the finish line; still beating more than a 1/3 of the field. Just behind where the crash occurred, Nate narrowly missed disaster himself and finished strongly with the pack.
Now that the race has been finished for a few days, and it is slowly occupying less of my thought-space, I want to thank Will and Nate for their confidence to make my breakaway plan A , and for their support throughout the race to control the pace and patiently wait and see if plan A would be successful. This would not have been possible without their support in the race, or without the continued support of all my teammates on every training ride. It also would not have been possible without the on-going support of our sponsors, without whose generous contributions pedal RACING wouldn’t exist or be as successful as we have been. THANK YOU ALL.
Finally, my biggest thanks goes to my wife Shannon, without her depthless understanding and support of my seemingly endless training, talking about training, watching videos about training, etc. I never would have been strong enough physically or mentally to commit to this strategy, or this race, or this season, or this sport. Thank you and I love you.