Monday, April 6, 2009

2009 Hillsboro-Roubaix Race Report

Going into this race, I had no plans to win - I've come to terms with the fact that I don't stand a chance in races with climbs. My goal: stay with the pack for the first lap, at least through feed zone hill. The race started out as expected, the "neutral" rollout from town being anything but neutral. With fields this size and a centerline rule in effect (more on that later) people were taking any chance they had to move closer to the front. I was about halfway back at the start but was trying to make space for teammates to move up and lost about 20 spots through the first 20 or so miles.

As we wound our way through the Illinois countryside, it became pretty obvious that people weren't too concerned about the centerline rule. Numerous times I'd be riding "too close for comfort" when a rider or two would move past me. At one point, the Commisaire was on the course and stood out into the road, yelling "GET OVER, ALL OF YOUSE!", slowing the field down considerably. For the next half mile or so we tightened up, but then it was shitshow as usual once the officials weren't around. As we started to turn south into the roller-esque section, the speed modulation started... in awful fashion. At one point I became the cheese of a wheel rub sandwich, but we all kept the rubber side down, though I'm sure the everyone's heart rates spiked as a result. I managed to keep my wits about me and stay in a decent echelon draft through most of the crosswinds, though I found myself on the "wrong side" several times as the result of a quick series of turns.

As we hit the feed zone my arch nemesis Gravity started to tug at my seatpost, pulling me further and further back within the group.

I felt like I was riding one of these.

By the time I hit the bottom of the second climb, the leaders were at the bricks and the back of the group had already crested... my race was over, yet far from over. At the top of the second climb, I noticed that riders were strung out, casualties of the attack between the climbs. As we bounced our way through town on the bricks, I started calling out to the far-flung riders that we'd need to work together if we had any hope of surviving the this race with any kind of dignity. We were 3 men strong as we rolled past the start/finish. As we rolled out of town, I saw a photographer on the side of the road and decided that a downnhill sprint was in order... at least look good while you're losing, right? The group sensed an attack and followed, so we caught a few more as we crested the first climb out of town, when a Ghisallo rider attacked. We all agreed that we didn't want any part of it, so we let him go.

As we turned into the first crosswind, I polled the group to see if they knew how to rotate through an echelon draft. 2 of us did, so I put myself on the other side of the rotation from him and we got it going smoothly. As we'd make turns into variying wind directions, I'd command "straight line!", "echelon right!", "echelon left!" etc, and we made some seriously good time, picking up 5 or 6 more riders in the first 8-10 miles out of town. It felt great to be able to organize the group like that, and a few riders thanked me for directing the group.

Once on the back stretch, we picked up another group of 5ish riders and it quickly became clear that they were looking for wheels to suck. At one point, a rider pulled off and started digging through his jersey pockets for something... to my surprise he pulled out... a completely sealed Clif Bar. In a Race. His fully open vest flapping in the wind, I ask him, "dude are you seriously eating a bar?" His response: "I'mstarvinghaven'teatenanything". Since we were 1:20 into the race at that point, I said "Welcome to bonktown", took a pull, and we dropped him.

The remaining 10 miles back to town, the original group and one or two of the newly caught riders would pull through the Echelon, but the rest were there for the ride. As we approached feed zone hill, the Ghisallo rider who had taken that early 2nd lap flyer attacked, and I chased along with a guy from Wheel Fast. About 3/4 of the way up the hill, my legs were cooked... I looked down at the powertap to see 800 something Watts and 194bpm. I looked behind me and didn't see any shoulder numbers starting with a '4' so I settled in and started to recover. I tried to bridge up to Wheel Fast and Ghisallo on the bricks, but they had too much space on me and finished about 150m ahead - I came in 62nd. After the race, Wheel Fast rolled over and told me that he'd gotten the Ghisallo rider at the line, he was intent on doing so because "that guy sucked wheel for the last half and never took a pull", which I hadn't noticed from my obstructed view cheap seats in the pain cave.

In all, it was a successful Hillsboro - I didn't get pushed into the gutter like last year, and I was able to stay with the group to the point that I had set out to. I'm also quite satisfied that I was able to lead my group through some pretty tricky draft formation changes despite not knowing any of them from Adam. Until next year, Hillsboro... maybe I'll figure out how to climb and it'll be a different story.


Ragfield said...

Jeebus, 194bpm?!

Well done, Erik. That was by far the largest field I've raced in, and it was fairly chaotic at times. Thank God they were all somewhat experienced cat 4 riders rather than cat 5.

So the hills aren't your thing right now... I don't look forward to racing against you on a flat course :)


richpierce said...

Good racing with you Eric. I enjoyed the second half of the last lap with you guys.

Bob said...

way to hang in there. takes character to stick it out in races that aren't your forte!

Liam Donoghue said...

I do believe I was either the turkey or perhaps the spicy brown mustard in that wheel rub sandwich. I hit Dave in front of me, I think you were somewhere behind me, not sure if you rubbed me after I rubbed Dave. Ohhh, man, bunch of dudes in tights rubbing each other.


Illinoisfrank said...

Nice write up. I like the attitude and the prose. Not sure how I got here (probably via The Bike Whisperer), but I shall return.