What went right.
In a flat race, dudes can pretty much work together to make sure the fast guy doesn't get away, but when there is a gigantic climb in the middle of the race, the only thing keeping the strong guy from getting away is other strong guys. You can't fake a 20 minute climb. About 15 minutes into that climb, it was Norman Swygert, Doug Kennedy and myself way out in front. I made it a point not to push the pace, I just sat in. The race ends with a climb, and we've proven that we're the best climbers. We can get a huge gap now, then kill ourselves to keep that gap for the next 30 miles, or we can slow down, wait for a few others to work with us then drop them (again) on the final climb. I wanted to conserve.
Norm wasn't having that though. He stayed up front and kept hammering. We dropped Doug, and it was Norm and I riding down the backside. At that point I realized that it was a two man race, and I could do no worse than second. I was cool with that. Problem was, I was at 185bpm just trying to stay on Norm's wheel. My pulls were short and weak. Dude was strong, and I had no interest in red-lining for the next 30 miles, then starting a long climb. Over the next 15 minutes, I managed to gasp out 5 or 6 sentences to the effect of "let's wait for others." I eventually convinced Norm to ease up a bit and soon after, about 7 others joined up with us.
We rocked a textbook pace line for the next hour. Two dudes fell off the back, both while looking down at their drivetrain while their bikes were emitting heinous metal on metal grinding sounds. Every time Norm was up front, I crawled into the pain cave to stay on the wheel in front of me, and became more comfortable with the idea of second place. We were all trying to do a minimal amount of work, pulls were usually less than a minute each. The pace dropped significantly every time the kid in the CambridgeCollege.uk kit got up front. Either he was the weakest, winning the "do the least amount of work" contest.
What went wrong.
I like to think I'm pretty anonymous in the Cat5 field. I don't check Cat5 road results, and I'm pretty sure no Cat5 roadies check Pro mountain bike results. I can usually line up and not draw any attention to myself, and not get marked as the man to watch. Well, when you're lined up in the front row, right next to the official who is giving his pre-race briefing, and the scorer walks over with a giant sandbag and asks if you want to ride with it; your cover is pretty much blown.
So now we're at base of the final climb. We've all got a pretty good idea of who is capable of what. I was at the back coasting, possibly even braking because cc.uk was up front. I was antsy, and a little annoyed that he was winning the "go easy" contest. As soon as he pulled off, I attacked, hoping the group would drop him. I was hoping at least Norm would come with me, leaving the paceline without an engine. I looked back, and had about a 50 yard gap, and no one came with me. Shit.
Did I mention that is was like 90 degrees, and we were well past the two hour mark at this point? yeah. that. I settled into what would have to be about a 20 minute threshold effort when I started feeling very specific muscles in my legs starting to tighten up. Yup, I was dancing right on the line between hammer home to victory, and curl up cramping in the ditch. I pedaled as hard as I could without going over the line, keeping a constant eye over my shoulder. The gap held. I was passing handfuls of Masters and Cat4s. Towards the top, I checked over the shoulder again, Norm was bridging. Shit. Cue the Jaws theme.
At the top of the hill, right at the 1K to go sign, I checked over my shoulder again to see Norm sitting on my wheel, smiling. All I could muster was "Uh oh". He came around, I held his wheel. He moved over, I stood up in an attempt to drop him and as soon as I pushed on the pedal, my groin and calve muscles seized. After dancing on the line for the last 20 minutes, I finally went too far. I yelled in pain and told him I was done and wouldn't be sprinting. He took off and I stayed seated and spun. He stood up and hammered to the line, I sat and spun. He wasn't pulling away very fast, and I started to get ideas. I closed the gap, and tried to make the pass at the line. It was close, but it was also wet so I couldn't see the line on the road. I threw my bike and hoped for the best.
yes, he was significantly larger than i was.
What did I learn?
Lets talk about that picture. I felt a little douchey coming from behind to try and steal the win after I told him I wasn't going to sprint. What I was really doing was just trying to make the photo finish a little more action packed. yeah. that. Now he can show that photo to his friends and it looks like he actually had to fight for first place. Disregard his casual demeanor.
Aside from that, I learned not to sprint seated, in the little ring, and on the hoods, if there is a camera around. I also "learned" that I don't know how to sprint. I put that in quotes because I didn't actually learn it, I've known it for quite some time.
Second place. I'm cool with that.