(or "How To Win a Field Sprint Without Really "Trying")
Yesterday's Criterium de Bethel was the penultimate race of this year's Bethel Spring Series. After having won the first of the six races, we haven't had the leader's jersey since. But the way the series points are weighted toward the end, we're still in the hunt. Unfortunately, so are a lot of other teams.
We counted on those other teams yesterday, figuring that they would chase anyone that tried to escape and keep things together. That ended up being a mistake. Somehow, we all let Bethel's Bill Muzzio (who had come in 2nd in a previous race) get up the road with 7 others. By the time we (and apparently the rest of the teams) realized how dangerous this was, it was too late. Lance & Joel did what they could to try and bring things back together and BJ tried to bridge, but the gap had grown too large and they weren't coming back.
With all the points taken by the break, all that was left to race for was honor and, frankly, fun. It was a safe race , with only one minor, low speed crash, the result of some wheel touching in corner 1. The guys got right up - almost too quickly given that the rest of the pack was coming by. If you crash, please don't pick your bike up - and turn it laterally - until all the other racers have passed you. But that was the only "scary" bit. Even the forecast rain held off for us.
With the break up the road, it was relatively slow a lot of the time but I was glad to be able to recover from abortive chase attempts in time to have something left at the end and fly the colors.
I wasn't quite sure how best to do that though until turn 2 of the bell lap. Things had finally strung out a bit and gaps were opening up. SDC came up on my seven, tapped me to let me know he was there, and I had my unspoken answer. I started to edge to through the pack to the right side, knowing that SDC could easily follow any so-called "needle" I could thread, and - as expected - the right opened wide on the backstretch.
Diving into the deep end of the huge opening, I didn't care so much that I was going right into the wind. I dug in and we passed by the arrowhead that was charging on the left side near the yellow line.
Shortly after we passed the front, I heard SDC yell "GO! GO!" and I dug deeper, committed to the lead out. We were only racing for 9th at that point, but I was going to do my best to get SDC to the line ahead of everybody that was left.
As I approached the bottom of the hill, I was fading fast and hoping that SDC would be coming around me any second. Why doesn't he come around?? I peeked to make sure that whatever direction I pulled off on wouldn't interfere with his line, but when I looked behind I saw I had a huge gap on him and the rest of the field.
Wait, WHAT?! That's not supposed to happen!
That was my first thought, but my second thought was "OH CRAP! Now I gotta try and hold this to the line!"
Well, as you no doubt guessed (my blogpost titles aren't usually subtle), I held it. Just barely. And with a little unwitting help from my friends.
What I didn't know was happening behind me I found out about after the race. They say the most convincing liars are those that actually believe the lie they're telling. Well, apparently, the corrrollary to that is the best way to fool everybody else is to fool yourself. *I* thought I was doing a lead out, but everybody else thought I was just going too early and was therefore doomed. By the time SDC politely mentioned in passing yelled to the guys around him "GO! GO! HE'S LEADING ME OUT!!" (I'd only heard the first part), I'd already gotten a healthy gap. So my friends in the pack may not have meant to help me, but by sitting up or otherwise not launching as early as I did, I caught them sleeping made it to the line first.
Well, ninth. Those eight escapees came in a good bit ahead of me, taking all of yesterday's points with them and putting Bethel's Muzzio in the leader's jersey going into the final week.
We have one race left and few cards left to play. But we're still in the game. And with the Easter holiday we have two weeks to come up with a strategy that'll put us in yellow when it matters most. Hopefully there'll be nothing accidental about that.