As you move through the cycling categories, the dynamic of racing changes significantly. In the Category 5 races there is usually a substantial difference between the best guy and the average guy, so usually the most fit guy wins. You see that in the category 4s as well, but to a slightly lesser extent. There is usually a guy or two who can just ride away from the field. The rest of the guys all wait for the field sprint, and the best sprinter wins. In the 3's, the margin of difference between riders is quite a bit smaller. You typically (although there have been some exceptions in out region recently) don't see guys able to just ride away from everyone, because the entire field is comprised of pretty fit guys. To succeed as a 3 you need more of a total package of aerobic endurance, a decent sprint, and some intelligence.
Obviously I'm not an expert, but in my short time so far as a 2 I've picked up on some pretty obvious needs to succeed. First of all, 99% of the guys riding in the 2s are fit. It doesn't matter if you're the strongest guy that shows up that day, you're not going to just ride people off your wheel and win solo like you might see in some of the other races. What separates the guys who consistently finish well with the guys who don't seems to be experience and intelligence.
When it comes to experience, out team is simply outgunned. We've been racing guys with more years of racing than our entire 5 man squad combined. That doesn't mean we can't win or won't win. I think our day will come very soon. It means that we need to take every race as a learning experience and really watch the guys who are winning to see what makes them so good.
By our teams performance at North West Arkansas (NWA) Spring Classic, I think it was apparent to a lot of guys that we we've been doing just that. As a team, I think this was our best race yet. There were only 3 breakaways that ever had a chance.
The first one was a 4 man breakaway that Jeremy got in. It had representation from some strong teams, so it only left a few individuals to pull it back in. Unfortunately, those few individuals got organized and brought the break back.
A short time later, Jeremy dropped his chain before the climb. He is unbelievably strong on this course, so losing him would have been a really big loss. Fortunately he managed to get it back on and was able to chase his way back up to the field. I dropped back to make sure he would get up to the group if they decided to hammer it, but luckily it stayed slow long enough for him to get back in and recover.
The next breakaway got a little gap and nobody from our team got up there. Parks put in a great effort to bridge into the break with me on his wheel. That made it 2 Undiscovered riders, 2 Tulsa Tough Riders, a BMC Walmart rider, and a DNA rider. They were all guys that specialize in winning races from breakaways, so it was a great group to be in. Unfortunately Mercy and Park Place didn't have guys with us, so after approximately 7 or 8 miles they pulled us back.
At that point we were probably about 15 miles from the finish. Brian and I were completely spent from working in the breakaway. Jeremy was still in the front group, but he had to make a hard solo effort to catch on, so he was tired too. At the exact moment that the pack was the most tired it has been, the winning move was made. Two guys (one of them was the guy who smoked me in the TT the day prior) jumped and nobody reacted. I probably hesitated 1 second before I hit it. The pack didn't go with me. I was in no-mans land. I started to catch, but the two guys kicked it up one more gear and I just didn't have the legs to do anything. Two other guys and I tried to work together to bring the two of them back again, but it was no use.
Brian cramped on the final lap and had to pull out. On the final climb, Jeremy last a little time. I probably had about a 3 or 4 seconds gap to make up. I got it closed again. There were now 2 off the front and 10 in the lead group. Jeremy persevered and made it back up to our group. About 4 other guys did too. Jeremy wanted me on his wheel for the sprint, but I knew my legs were shot. Even with a perfect leadout I didn't think I'd be able to come around him. Instead, I got up front. He sat 3rd wheel. With about 1k to go I slowly started to pick up the pace. At 500m to go I was going to gun it and hopefully get Jeremy up within 150m to sprint for 3rd. Unfortunately, the attack came really early and hard from the back. MY legs didn't have one more jump in them, so I sat up and limped across the line in 17th. Jeremy got boxed in and ended up 16th.
It was the first race of the season where our cat2 team hasn't been in the top 10, but it wasn't really a defeat. These March races aren't about winning...even though we'd obviously love to win some. It's about building our fitness, building our team, and getting race experience. It wasn't an easy race. It was a race that pushed us all to our limit, and that's how we're going to get faster. We have a better feel for each other's strengths and weaknesses, so there will be plenty to work on before the next race