August 06, 2013 (Terra Cotta, ON) – I was going to wait until I won my next race before I wrote the next Veal Report. Problem is I haven’t won in awhile now and I’m starting to wonder when the next one will be. The cool part is I know another win is coming. The bad part is I have felt this way all season and only have one win under my belt if you don’t count all the weekly stuff.
I can tell you I have felt on the verge of something big since March. All signs pointed to having the best season of my life fitness wise. My training really has been spot on. My numbers were up and my weight has been down. I haven’t been sick and even though I have crashed I have been only hurt not injured. The problem is even with my nerd files (training peaks) telling me I’m in great form I’m still learning every race that there is more to “racing” than fitness. You need to be better prepared than just a high power to weight and you need a lot of things to go your way because fitness will only take you so far.
Can you believe that I’m still learning this even though it something I preach and something I though was beat into me a long time ago? The strongest rider doesn’t always win. Most will tell you the smartest rider or the bravest rider will be on the top step. The one with the best instincts or the one willing to take the most risk will be champion. How about the one with the best team… or the best lead out, best organized or biggest numbers? What about having the best plan or who knows the course and their opponents the best? We all should know it is a combination of all of the above plus a hell of a lot more. This is why you can be in the best shape of your life and still come away from 90% of the races you enter scratching your head wondering where it all went wrong.
Yesterday’s race at the Tour de Terra Cotta had me puzzled once again. The race started off neutral until the first climb and I thought for fun I would hit it hard and get things going right from the gun. In years past the break has even formed on the first time up the climb so I thought I would start it to make sure I was in it. The group was prepared and there was no one not ready for this first little launch.
We came over the top and rode around together for a lap or two. There were a few attacks and there were a few riders off the front in the early laps but nothing to dangerous as everyone was still very fresh and jumping and covering everything. The pace was high and there was always someone willing to pull these poor saps in. Once they get reeled in there needs to be another move immediately or everyone gets to sit on a wheel and rest. This needs to happen on an easy course. This is how you soften up the field. With every passing attack fewer and fewer riders jump and cover the move. The cream then rises to the top. Only a select few are willing to continue the counter moves after each attack.
Eventually one of these counters is the one that sticks. You need to time things right and you have to hope you have the right combo of riders that can go with you. It is a bit of a crap shoot but you need to keep trying. The only thing that changes in these open races is that there are way more guys willing to pull on the front than usual. That means the pace doesn’t come down very much and there are always 50-60 guys sitting in. This is one of the things I come to expect with the open category.
The masters in the group might not jump with every counter move but they all seem to enjoy sitting in diesel mode and happy to pull everything back. There is someone always willing to pull on the front and hold at 40km-an-hour while the break is up the road. After years of this style of racing, during every open event we do together as a mixed group, you get used to knowing that they will chase down pretty much anything without a counter move. They come to the front and help each other out so the group stays together. The pack will just swallow the break up and continue along at 40km an hour. This is pretty much what happened yesterday.
There were many early moves and I was in a few of them. I have won this race before from a break and was pretty sure it was going to be won from a break today. I was off the front in a well-organized move pushing things quite well and was very surprised when we got caught. I had been in a few moves earlier but this one was really motivated. The group rolled up and I couldn’t believe it as we were really hitting things hard. I was hurting as I had invested in this break. I was unable to go with the counter attack of a Jet Fuel rider and a Stevens rider. The entire group slowed as I coasted on the front. No one willing to come through.
Then I watched as the best time trialist and former national champion Aaron Fillion along with a Jet Fuel and a Stevens rider sprint away doing double the speed I was carrying. I needed one of my boys to be one their wheel. I was vulnerable and couldn’t cover it. This is when team tactics are everything. As I was being chased down I needed my teammates knowing someone was going to jump me as hard as they could. They needed to be on that wheel, and in doing so, they would have saved the day and been up the road doing 50km an hour.
My heart sunk and I was left to jump into a very delayed chase group looking around to see where my teammates were. They got a big gap right away and we watched as the five lead riders all got together up the road – two Jet Fuel, two Stevens and Fillion. This was a very dangerous move and the gap went up to a minute right away. I tried to break things up many times but was covered really well by Anton Varabei from Jet Fuel. He knew and the rest of the field knew I was going to try and bridge across. Anton’s roll was now to shut me down and he was all over everything I did. I needed to get across but the problem was I needed help.
There were some strong guys to pair up with but we really needed a strong organized group if we were going to catch Fillion. He could hold the 1 minute gap alone. Give him four helpers and I needed just as strong a group as he had to work with me to get across. I had chances on every lap with many different riders but the right combo never formed. I thought I might have had the right mix once with Colm Cassidy, Anthony Walsh and Graham Rivers drilling it for half a lap but it was brought back too. I then thought about trying to pull the group around with a little help. Ryan Aitcheson was helpful and we rolled a bit keeping the pace high but it never put a dent in the gap. Everyone who was so excited and wanted to race in the early laps were gone now. They were just following wheels and sat up every chance they could.
It was sad to be apart of this with lots of riders I have known for years happy to just sit in and give up. It was this way until the last lap. The final lap bell woke everyone up. Everyone who I hadn’t seen all race were now fighting to get to the front of the pack. The sprint for 5th was a lap away (9km) and with the sound of the bell everyone was trying to be 5th wheel for the entire lap. It was a bit comical. This might sound harsh but I was riding the last lap with a huge smile on my face. I was truly entertained by what was going on.
Guys that had no business going to the line in the sprint, or having any chance of a top 10, were fighting for 5th wheel with a lap to go – like there were 800 meters to go. Guys that had been hidden and didn’t contribute anything to the race were now acting like they had a chance of a result. I went about 40 deep and watched the show. Where was all this energy and excitement when we were actually racing for 1st and not 5th?
As we approached the final descent and headed into the final 1km-to-go things naturally took care of themselves. The train formed and it was wild to see how all the contenders just lined up and took their rightful spot and all the pretenders let them in and moved to where they should be. The pecking order established itself. After 7-8km of watching people fight to be up front with 1km to go I also watched them give up and stop fighting.
I rode up the right side and went right to 5th wheel with ease. I could see Anton getting a lead out and Chris Firek moved right into view. Steve McKee who seems to win every race he enters right now rolled right into place. The natural order was taking place and I took my spot at the head table. With 400 meters to go all of us stood up in unison. This was going to be a long one and we all decided that at the same time that it was time to go.
I got out on the outside and pulled to the front. I went around Firek but I could see Anton in my peripheral. He and I were side by side for what seemed like forever. I gave one last effort and threw my bike. As we crossed I knew I had got him but I also knew I had beat him by nothing – a centimeter tops.
Winning the bunch sprint for 5th was a great way to salvage a frustrating day. I’m still scratching my head on what I could have done different but I finished happy and not too beat up which means the day was a success. Feels good to be able to ride hard throughout the race and still have something for the finish.
Congrats the Travis Samuel for winning his second race in two days. He and his team mate Yuri had the horsepower to stay away (with Fillion) and then had the numbers to work him over and steal the win. They also had their crew back with us doing a great job of making sure nothing got across to them. It was a thing of beauty and their entire team should be proud.
So what did I learn today? Nothing new. Great team work can take down even the strongest individual. The strongest guy didn’t always win the race…again.
Thanks to the organizers for putting on such a great event. I have done this one seven years in a row now and it just keeps getting better year after year.
Full results here.
Thanks for reading – EV
Ed Veal is an cat 1 racer and cycling coach from Toronto, Ont . He owns and operates RealDeal Performance and RealDeal Racing.