By Drago from Round Here Racing (Cat 3 racer)
Friday, March 21, 2014
The Union City Road Race course is one that I am fairly familiar with. In fact this is where I did my first road race five years ago. The race course is not my favorite due to the finish being just after a 90 degree turn which can make it a bit sketchy.
The overall course, however, has some redeeming qualities. Besides being on very pretty country roads it also is quite rolling and while there are no major hills the small rollers add up to a decent amount of total climbing. This makes it hard enough for the riders so the group will spread out a bit and makes it more likely for the breakaways to succeed.
While usually a fairly well-attended race, this year the weather forecast has been rather unfavorable and many guys decided to stay home. I was hoping that perhaps in the last minute the weather was going to change and maybe we would have at least a semi dry race.
Unfortunately, Sunday morning I woke up to a persistent steady rain. I got in the car and started driving. Coming down South Fulton Parkway I crossed the race course several times and saw flashing highway signs informing drivers: "Bike Race Sunday. Slow - Use Caution!" There were police cruisers already parked at the intersections where the race was going to cross. Logistics were definitely well taken care of. Just the weather wasn't cooperating.
As I arrived at the start, there were not many cars in the parking lot. I got out and picked up my number and turned in my waiver. After I put my bike together I got back inside the car to get out of the cold and rain. I didn't want to stand out there in 50 degree weather half dressed trying to pin my number on, so I somehow managed to do it all on the back seat of my car. After I put my shoes on, I opened the rear door window and put the water bottles on my bike that was leaning against my car right there by the window. Did the same thing with my Garmin. Stuck the hand out and put it on the handlebars. Then, I rolled the window back up immediately, and I waited until about 15 minutes before the race start.
The race was supposed to be 72 miles, however, due to the rain they shortened it to about 56.
Finally, I had to get out of the car and to the starting line. This is the least fun part of racing in the rain. Waiting to start. Once you start going you at least warm up a little bit.
The race organizers combined Masters and Cat 3 fields since there were so few racers. We were still going to be scored separately. There were probably between 20 and 30 people starting in our group.
As we started the rain was still coming down pretty strong. We had to deal with big puddles, standing water, newly hatched potholes and debris in the road. The most uncomfortable thing, however, is the fact that since you are riding in a pack the dirt and water is constantly getting sprayed in your face from the wheel of the guy in front of you - like being sprayed with a water hose. Even if one were to think that this water were delicious and refreshing (perhaps as tasty as licking the road) there is still an additional problem that it is hard to see with all that water coming in your face. Despite those obstacles the pace was pretty fast from the start (well over 23 mph).
The first few miles were on Campbellton Fairburn Road - a busy four lane road. Police did a good job getting us through there smoothly. Then we made a left on to White Mill Road, entering the more low traffic country roads. There is a steep downhill there going towards Line Creek. As we reached 40 mph the rain actually felt painful hitting our faces. Then there was a short uphill right after the bridge. The first strong surge happened on that hill. Many people were struggling but the group remained together.
We continued with occasional surges and attacks but nothing dramatic happened. Somebody would pick up the pace, the group would stretch and then all would come back together. I thought this was going to be the case for the rest of the race.
I was wrong. Around mile 20 we took a turn at an intersection and everybody took off sprinting out of that turn. I thought in about a minute they will slow down and there was no need to burn any matches by sprinting at the top of my lungs. I let a few guys pass and then started picking the pace gradually so as not to be left too far behind.
Unfortunately, before I realized it several gaps started to open, and when I caught up to the two guys ahead of me, they were already gapped pretty good themselves.
About eight of us ended up grouped together in a chasing group. The front group had about ten riders I believe. For quite a while we could still see the front group within reach and the blue lights of the police car in front of them.
Nevertheless our group was as disorganized as it could possibly be. While there were several strong guys taking pulls (particularly two masters guys), there was never any rotation established. No steady sharing of work. Not even remotely. At that time, the rain started to subside, and we could really have established a decent paceline. After observing a couple of guys attacking our own group, it became apparent that we would never get organized and catch up even though I felt that we had the legs to do it. Adding to the trouble was the fact that we slightly missed a turn one time when I was on the front of the chasing group. I saw the arrow in the last minute but overshot the turn by about 30 feet. Several guys followed me. We immediately realized what had happened as the race referee shouted at us and turned around but it cost us about 10 to 15 seconds. Still, we could see the front group in the distance.
Gradually the front group disappeared and we continued on our way. As we were coming back closer to the start/finish line we hit that steep hill below Campbellton Fairburn Road again. By then the rain has almost stopped and us chasers were basically just racing against each other at this point.
I expected one or two of the strong masters guys to attack on that hill. Instead one of the masters was drilling it on the downhill before the hill and then several guys had passed me on the first part of the hill. By the top of the hill I got back towards the front and was second wheel coming on to Campbellton Fairburn Road - the big highway with about four miles to go.
While we, the chasers, were now just racing against each other I still wanted to see who I could beat in our group and I knew there were at least two cat 3 guys in there. So, at the top of the hill, I opened a little bit of a gap on the group. I looked back and nobody chased me. I figured they were just tired after that hill, and I kept going.
After the race one of the masters racers told me that the masters in the group didn't want to chase me because they were not racing against me. And for some reason the remaining cat threes in the group decided not to chase me either. I kept a decent enough gap going down that highway to give me hope I can stay away. As I turned on to the local roads in Union City, I was pretty sure I could hang on. I crossed the finish line by myself a long time after the front group and a short time ahead of the chasing group. So, I guess you can say I was a middle man.
All in all it was a fun and challenging race. Looking forward to the next one. Hopefully better weather and perhaps even a better result.