Today my wife, two girls and I packed a cooler full of food, drinks and a few beers and ventured up to the Lancaster County, Pennsylvania town of New Holland. The place where they make some really great tractors and farm equipment like this. In fact, the course was laid out on part of the gigantic New Holland American Headquarters and factory campus. Doing this race was kind of spur of the moment, but with a few emails back and forth to Rich Rouff I was pre-registered and ready to go. Speaking of Rich, this was the first time I got to meet the man in person and he seems to be a great guy. I wish him the best of luck in his endeavor of bringing quality racing to the Mid-Atlantic region. This race was a beauty. Great location, great course, parking next to the course, smoothly run, and well attended. There's not much more I could ask out of an event. Ok, now onto the race.
CAT 4 Re-Debut: Re-Debut? Yep. I was a Cat 4 rider once before, when I was much younger and much faster than I am now. This was my first Cat 4 race in over 15 years and it felt good to be back. I've been training and racing now since December last year and though still overweight by a few lbs, (165lbs vs 148lbs back then) the legs and heart still seem to have some life left. This was my 7th race of the year and I'm having FUN! This Crit's name was The Comeback Criterium. How fitting as it was a comeback of sorts for me also, to Cat 4 anyway.
Start: I had a good warmup riding around in the brutal mid 90's heat and humidity with Dutch Wheelman Emmett Oberrender. We made it over to the start with a few minutes to spare but the line was already forming. I got out on the course towards the back in a field of about 30-35 racers. We got underway and I was able to check out the course for the first time. We were going to do 23 laps. Right after the start it made a 90 degree left followed by some long curves, two more lefts, a sweeping right, then up around a left direction semi-circle slightly uphill to the finish straight. The course was fast except for a pretty bad headwind on the back half of the course and some various crosswinds. I was mid-pack about halfway through the first lap but got shuffled all the way to the back of the field by the time the first lap was over. The feeling was that I'm going to have to be ALOT more aggressive out here and move my way up.
At one point I grabbed onto the wheel of Ken my teammate as he sped by and we moved up the inside towards the front about 5 laps into the race. I saw Emmett doing alot of work up there in the wind so I went around him to the front and did a hard pull to see if these crosswinds could break up the field into a more manageable chunk. I was up there all the way to the start/finish line, and pedaled hard through the first curve before looking back over my shoulder. I was all alone! Where'd everyone go? So I put my head down and continued on my own. On the back straight I noticed two guys trying to bridge the gap, That made my day since help would've come in handy. One I recognized from Spinners and some other guy on his wheel that looked dead already. I yelled back to them to get on my wheel so we could work together and the Spinners guy pulled them both up to me. Spinners guy and I started trading pulls and worked pretty well together. The other guy dropped off our wheels and drifted back to the pack I guess, so it was just the two of us. We built a pretty sizable lead and it looked like we JUST might be able to keep it going. I was feeling good and Spinners guy was strong. We worked well together, lapping guys and trading pulls until about 6 laps to go, but with the headwinds and the 2 vs 20 odds, soon we noticed a group of 10-12 trying to bridge up to us. Damn! But,... I did whittle down the field.
They caught us with 5 to go and I hopped on the 3rd wheel behind a Shirk's Jersey and some other guy. The pace picked up, but I managed to get some recovery in anyway after that long breakaway so things were going nicely at this point. I just sat in for two laps recovering when two guys took off FAST up the road. I was looking around and nobody looked like they wanted to chase. Further and further up the road they went, I could see the race slipping away so I jumped and bridged up to them. I looked back and noticed that I had towed the wheelsuckers behind and it was up to a bunch of 12 again for the mad finishing 2 laps. The pace got really fast now and nobody could shake anyone. I was pretty spent at this point but dug deep, stayed with the front group and actually passed a few guys at the end to finish 8th.
Reflecting on the race I probably could've played it smarter and ended up with a better finish overall maybe, but I'm happy that I was able to be a deciding factor in the race. I started the decisive breakaway, staying away for 8-10 laps, hanging on after being caught by a smaller bunch, and finishing top 10. I'm itching for the next chance to race and feel like my form is really coming around now. Kinda late, but it still feels good. What I really want is a race with hills.
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