Submitted by Hank Pfeifle
John Liston, Graydon Stevens and I rode in the 50+ field of the Wayne Elliot Memorial Circuit Race Saturday in Merrimac, MA. Kevin Hayes rode the 4’s (5th place in a field of 72) and Christian Muentener rode his first 5’s road race. Here is the 50+ report:
The Wayne Elliot is a rectangular course with a flat Side A, a big ring uphill side B, a flat to rolling Side C, and a quick but pretty much straight descending Side D to the finish. About 50 guys showed up to race and the action was spirited from the gun. I think everyone wanted to be in a break because no one wanted to have a huge, high speed, field sprint finish. John, Graydon and I have raced many races together and we sort of settle into our roles without much discussion. In this race we knew that Graydon and I would push to get into breaks, and John would stay in the field to both disrupt a chase if we did manage to get in a break (he’s a pro at that) and also to stay fresh should it come to a crazy field sprint (he likes the adrenaline action).
After the race started it seemed as though there was always someone rolling off of the front. Really, the action was constant. OA/Cyclemania was in each break attempt save one at the beginning of the 3rd lap when we were taking a breather. Sure enough, seven strong guys broke free and were soon down the road, and Graydon, John and I were stuck in the field.
It’s funny, when you are in the pack you can sense when the winning break is on the move away from the group. You can sense their power, and you can sense the “oh-well, there it goes” attitude in the pack. So, now it is time to assess what to do to counter this bad situation. First off it is important to determine who is in the break – John Grenier (Fuji), Tyler Munroe (CCB), Bob Roldan (CCC Keltic), Randy Rusk (Arc-En-Ciel), and 3 other guys from different clubs and all strong riders. Yes, this break can succeed. It also means that there are allot of teammates in the pack who would not help in a chase. Then you assess who else is in the pack. Any motivated chasers? Didn’t see anybody quickly going to the front. Any strong riders left? Hummm … not too many – no help there. And then of course there are the opportunists who never help in a chase (or a break) but always look for someone else to do the work. That’s a good strategy to save energy for later use if someone else does bring back the break, but it is often a strategy that leads to a boring day pedaling in an unmotivated pack. The result of the quick assessment was that there was no one going to chase and the break was going to succeed ….. UNLESS …. we OA’ers did something.
Now the question becomes, do we have an OA guy bridge over to the break? Or do we go to the front and hope to gain help in chasing the break back? The bridge was ruled out because the seven escapees were in dedicated TTT mode and the distance was pretty far. It was decided that we had to go to the front and reel them in. To successfully reel in a break, there are a number of things a team must do:
- Be mentally ready to do most of the work
- Keep the pace high and steady
- Keep “escapee” teammates from getting to the front and disrupting the flow of the chase
- Try to close as quickly as possible
When the escapees get within closing range, finish the bridge – don’t relax with 20 meters left – finish the close
On to the front I went and upped the speed … a lot. When I gave a flick of the elbow, no one came through. Ok, that’s expected. Keep going. Graydon worked his way to the front and came through to pitch in. Great. Now we each could go hard and get a chance to recover. As we started to close the gap, others gained hope and came forward to help. John Liston then got in line around sixth spot and prevented “escapee” teammates from filtering to the front. Now we had six guys dedicated to bringing back the break without interruption.
When the escapees get within bridging range you need to be aware that the opportunists in the pack will begin to take fliers trying to bridge over and leave everyone else behind. Their goal is to get to the break and add their fresh power to motor the break away from the pack once again. If that happens it can demoralize the spirit of even the most determined chase. Mark Thompson (Sunapee) and Paul Curley (Gearworks) both gave bridging a go but no dice. After 9 miles of chasing we brought the break back. Very satisfying. Also very necessary if we wanted to have a chance to win. And I must say it was a demonstration of very good & experienced OA/CM teamwork.
Any further attempts at a break-away were quickly thwarted. Or werrrre theyyyy???? As the last lap began I planned to sneak to the front and spring away on the big ring hill. But as I looked up the road, I saw that Graydon had pre-sneaked me – yes, he was away with Mr. Opportunist strongman, Mark Thompson. Good news, so John and I settled in to see what the pack would do. The pack seemed content to let them ride away. Now, if Graydon had chosen to be a professional masters rider pounding out monster miles and not a preeminent Maine business-law lawyer logging billable hours instead of riding time, he very likely would have joined Mr. Opportunity in riding away to victory. But alas, the last 100 meters of the big ring hill proved taxing and Graydon drifted back to the pack. That left us to contend with a chaotic finish as tons of guys gained position down the hill by riding across the yellow line – way across the line from a mile out. Crazy, but as I noted earlier, John thrives on this type of finish and held his position well to finish 12th. Graydon and I drifted in further back. It was definitely a sprinters finish.
In summary, we rode well in the circumstances that were presented us, and we definitely had our heads in the game. However, it is unfortunate that we missed having one of us in the “big” break as that then would definitely have succeeded.