Race Report: Lester Prairie Road Race

5:53 AM

This past weekend was supposed to be the team mountain biking training camp up at the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trail System – an amazing Mecca of awesome trails with everything a mountain biker could love: hills, berms, skinnies, rocks, and flowing single track.  Unfortunately, Mother Nature has decided she hates all Minnesota mountain bikers and has hit us with 8 inches of rain this May.  So, by last Thursday all the trails were closed, hotel reservations were cancelled, and the Memorial Day weekend was suddenly open and unplanned.

So why not go out and do a road race on Sunday?  I figured it would be an easy way to get a good, hard workout in without having to think too much.  As I invariably get dropped in every road race I’ve ever entered, why not work on my time trialing skills?  And this race was promising to deliver everything that makes road racing in Minnesota so special: high winds, blazing sun, and dew points that drift into that uncomfortable zone where just standing around nets you a sweaty sheen on your forehead and upper lip.

Alright.  I admit it.  I’m not much of a road racer, and I didn’t see a hot road race as a good trade for a relaxing mountain biking weekend.  But when life gives you lemons…

In some ways this race went better than expected.  I race category 4 in road, which can be a scary mix of newbies and sandbagging 3s.  While there were a few women who were in their first race, everyone got organized quickly when we turned into the headwinds.  We put together a nice pace line and everyone took a good turn on the front.  As I pulled off from each pull at the front, I began to notice that the line, and consequently my rest period, was getting shorter as we dropped riders.  The first half of the race was all either straight headwind or a wheel-sweeping crosswind, and I could feel my strength ebbing away with every pull.

The wind was coming straight out of the south...ugh...
I don’t race on the road very often, and this is why: the key skill one needs to survive to the end around here appears to be the ability to grind it out for long distances at a high level of intensity.  Oh yeah, and then either attack or survive an attack in the midst of this lung-busting effort.  In a cross country or cyclocross race there is always a way to find a few seconds (or a few pedal strokes) of relief through cornering or descending.  No such relief on the road.

It started as a five-foot gap that I had to chase down when I pulled off the front of the pace line.  Then suddenly there was another five-foot gap needed to be closed.  And then…what the hell?...another gap, this time 10-feet, that required another scramble to shut down. 

At that point, I knew I was cooked.  I tried to push myself to hang on – if I could just outlast one more woman and I would make the podium – but within a few miles of the first gap I was thrown off the back of the group to begin the time trial portion of the race.  The cross- and headwinds were brutal (at one point I was managing 14 miles an hour on a flat road), but the finishing miles turned into a beautiful tailwind (30 miles an hour with little effort). 

In the end I got two things out of this road race: a reminder of why road racing is not my primary focus, and a damn good workout. 

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