The weekend’s race can be summed up in 3 words: “margin of error.”
The higher the category, the smaller the margin of error. Often, a small amount of fatigue or a bad move during the race won’t end a race, but as the stakes get higher, the price one pays for these small mistakes tends to also get much larger. Competitors are able to pick out small blunders and will strategically exploit them. In order to win, or even hang onto a race like this one, not only does someone need to be fit, they also need to be smart.
Looking back on the race, I see places that I could have made different choices to put myself in a better position to finish stronger. At the end of the 2nd 33 mile loop, the pace picked up substantially on the finishing stretch and the peloton got guttered. I was the last to get dropped off the leaders as Michael Pincus went to the front and slaughtered everyone. Instead of looking back to see the other 12 guys chasing, I focused intently on the last wheel of the leaders’ group, approximately 50 meters in front of me, and tried to time-trial my way back on. Eventually, the momentum of the large chase group boiled over and they caught the leaders and me. I was able to get on as they went by to get a bit of recovery, but I had burned too many matches trying to chase solo. When we reached the 5th category 5 climb of the day a couple of miles later, I was out of gas. Dunzo, off the back. I spent the rest of the day chasing. Had I spent more time recovering in the chase instead of trying to do all the work on my own, I feel confident I would have gotten over that climb. I’m not sure I would have had the legs to finish strong on the day, but I would have been part of the race longer than I was.
In this way, the race rewards smart decisions, and penalizes the bad ones, which starts a chain reaction of post-race decision analysis. Would I have been better suited to going with the break-away that went off in the first 4 miles of the race? The long, steady miles of the breakaway could have suited my riding style better. Instead of the surging of the chase/stall game that the peloton was playing, I could have just set the cruise control and let my legs do their thing. In the end, I had a plan for how to approach the race, and I followed the plan. Was this a good plan from the start?
I could 2nd guess the decisions I made for the entirety of the off season, but it doesn’t do me any good to beat myself up about it. On that same vein, an integral part of the improvement process is to seek feedback after a race; mistakes and weaknesses from Saturday’s race will be used in the off-season to fuel the motivation. Reflecting on errors will ensure that those errors are not made in the future. But it is a precarious line to walk; venturing too far down that rabbit hole could get one lost with Alice forever.
My lack of a result on Sunday doesn’t put a black mark on my season. I still feel I had an amazing year, and anyways, winning all 3 of the state championships this year would have been just plain greedy. As Meatloaf says, “two out of three ain’t bad.”