Tour de Terra Cotta 2014

Three Lousy Seconds

Sure it's short (only 26K) and is billed as a "Beginner" race; but the winning average speed (38.0 km/h) is right up there with the Intermediate (39.7) and Elite (40.5) races. And some of the riders in it clearly knew their way around tactics. Nevertheless, I really thought I had a shot a podium on this one, at least an age-group spot if not an overall placing. And realistically, this race is probably my best hope for ever getting on any podium.

I knew the course, having raced it the year before. I was feeling a lot stronger, having seen some noticeable improvements in key Strava segments that I was using as fitness benchmarks. And with a bit more race experience under my belt I felt a lot more relaxed going to the line.

I was comfortably up near the front of the pack in the first lap, and, wary of the mistake I made the previous year, I kept a steady pace and on the big climb of the second lap. But it was at this point that a couple of riders attacked, and by the time the front of the pack crested the hill, a group of 6 riders had established a break. I was in the second group of about nine that shook out after that. A couple of them took flyers to see if anybody would help chase down the lead group, but they were riding hard, and for the next two laps held a  30-40 second gap that we were unable to close.

There is one long downhill about a km from the finish, and I noticed on the first two laps that I was getting down it faster than the group around me. Whether I was just heavier, or had a more aerodynamic tuck I wasn't sure, but with that in mind I attacked on the final descent, figuring if that if I pedaled hard down it I could get enough of a gap that I could hold off the rest of the group until the finish.

I got a gap all right, but it wasn't enough. There was just a bit of an incline to the finish (which somehow slipped my mind), and at the 500m marker I had the terrible sense of very suddenly and decisively running out of gas. At which point the seven-man group behind me barreled right by. I had nothing left to get on a wheel, and it was over. End result: 15th over all, and just 2 seconds off an age group podium. Had I stayed in the pack on that hill and come in with them, I would have had a way better shot in the sprint, no question.
"Huit seconds... huit seconds... huit seconds...."

Apparently the late, great Laurent Fignon for years after the 1989 Tour de France would walk around counting out 8 seconds... 8 seconds... 8 seconds... OK, missing a third-place 50+ age group placing in a beginner-distance citizen's race was not exactly comparable losing the Tour de France by the smallest margin in history. But to blow any podium spot by 3 lousy seconds just because of a dumb tactical error bugged the living hell out of me.

And still does. 3 seconds... 3 seconds... 3 seconds...


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