2014 Category 4/5 Willow Springs Road Race Race Report
The 2014 Willow Springs Road Race took place on a weekday and no one from Tower had pre-registered, so I didn’t think I would have any teammates in the field. The course is a triangle b/w Flavin Road, 107th St, and Archer Ave. It’s 9.5mi long and consists of all flat except on Flavin, which starts with a “kicker” and another rise about halfway down the road. I’m hesitant to call it a hill because it’s not nearly hard enough nor long enough nor significant enough. It starts about 6% for 5 seconds then flattens out to 2-3%. In reality, it’s pretty much a flat race. Here’s the segment for the course.
Strategy going into the race was to sit on as long as possible and then sprint at the end. I was confident I could be at the front the last lap and at the finish. The last incline to the finish is waaaaaay longer than it looks and takes at least 25 seconds from bottom to top. A lot of people start their sprint at the bottom, but it goes on forever and if you don’t sniff the wind until about 100 meters to go, you can pull it off.
Tower was hosting the race along with the organization that runs the PSCS, so I volunteered to course marshal an apartment complex. Races started late and I was close to the finish, so I barely had time to run back to the car, stow my backpack, and sprint into staging. In fact, if I hadn’t had the foresight to get dressed and do a small warmup (without cooldown) at my course marshal location, I wouldn’t have made it into the race.
Anyways, when I got to the field, I saw that Tommy Will (would take 1st place Cat 5s) and Tony Kassel (club president) were both in my race. It was too late to make a strategy so we said a couple of words, desperately tried to find out where rollout would be (much to the confusion of my non-under 18 racers), downed 4 ounces of maple syrup, and dumped water onto my brake lever after it got sticky.
I managed to get to the front of staging and in the neutral rollout I started the race in second position. The last straight before entering the hill was a 10mph+ headwind, so it would be important to stay tucked away in that. Also, it would be a great place to move up as everyone hunkers down and singles up in headwinds.
The race went like this: 75 people in the field (the smallest field limit, actually). In the hill: fast at the beginning, lull, back swarms the front, if you don’t respond, you’re at the back. Too narrow (centerline rule) to move up in either of the back stretches, and then the headwind stretch. After the second lap, I learned this, so on the final lap, I finally secured a good position going into the end of Flavin and the turn onto 107th st. Side note: The Flavin/107th and Flavin/Archer turns are really sketchy. If you get a chance before a future race, check them out and look for a good line! I felt that the safest line into the last turn (Flavin/Archer) was on the very inside and the safest line into 107th was the outside line. Also, everyone slowed down a ton going into 107th and going into Archer so if you don’t brake into either turn, you can pass 10 people+ on the outsides. That is, if you don’t spin out at 34mph on the downhills (spoiler alert: I did).
Anyways, before the race, I noticed someone warming up: Rick Lapinski of the Zoot Triathlon team. He’s raced at Ironman worlds the past few years, and I’ve seen him blow past our Tower paceline at least once, so I definitely saw him as a threat. If he got just a little separation, he could ride away from the entire field. I talked to him before the race, and he said that, yes, he was going to attack. I told him I’d be on his wheel.
The focus for the first lap, then, was to stick to Rick like maple syrup to my brake lever. Unfortunately, he moved directions that I didn’t and I lost him over the hill. I feel like I’ve gotten pretty good at moving people off of wheels, but the road was so narrow and people are so unreceptive to contact at 30 mph (I know, right?) that I could only watch him from 5 feet away and look for a way to move up in frustration. Rick never did get away, never getting the separation he needed to lay down the watts (different fitness skillset), but I did get to the front and we traded a few pulls while everyone sat on. While you should never pull unless it’s advantageous, I’ve found that pulling secures you a spot in the front, which is why I’ll pull at least a few times. I don’t think it’s hurt me as of yet.
Skip to the finale; An attack into 107th sent the field into skitters. I was at the front at the time, probably 5 meters behind the leaders, but I didn’t think anything would get away so I just sat in and saved energy. The break consisted of a guy from Manitoba (a Canadian devo team that drives 13 hours to race weeks/weekends. Sheesh) and someone else. They, somehow, stayed away. It was seriously impressive because it was into a headwind against a 73-rider peloton. Down Archer, there was a lot of yelling, mostly from the back (OK, mini-rant: The yelling was really starting to annoy me. There were a ton of people yelling at everyone to rotate and chase, which I’m fine with. It’s a great tactic that often gets people working. However, most of the people yelling were at the back! Which actually is a good idea if you get someone to fall for it, but it kind of annoyed me at the time. There were more than 5 instances in which I heard “pull through or get out of the way” when there was at least 2 meters of space on the sides to pass. Sigh). People tried to get a chase going and a Spidermonkey guy on a sweet S-Works Tarmac that was orange and black (unfortunately not the new MacLaren Tarmac) got stranded on the front, but in the end the break wasn’t pulled back. It just wasn’t organized enough.
Anyways, I wanted to save energy so I stopped fighting for position going into the final turn. Bad idea; I don’t really know what I was thinking. I think, now, that, in the heat of the moment, I wasn’t cognizant of my race strategy. I should have found the Illini guy who had won the past few days, stuck to his wheel, and come around him in the end. Or, I should have kept fighting for position and stayed at the front. My thought at the time was that I would just catch some guy’s wheel to the front. Which sort of ended up happening, I just caught a guy’s wheel… to the wrong side of a 4 meter split. I finished first in that bunch, outsprinting everyone else, but was overall disappointed with my result. I really thought I had the legs and the strategy to take first in the bunch, but unfortunately I wasn’t positioned well enough to even have that opportunity.
I got to meet a reader, though, who weighs 115 (!!!!) pounds and is, like, doing really well this season (it seems, by his results). Hopefully racing the ABR State Championship this Sunday. Maybe I’ll film that.
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