Jefferson Cup: A trip deep into the pain cave

Jeff Cup is a hard race. It’s hard not because of the 50+ mile distance, or because of its many serpentining descents, or because of the tight corners at the bottom of those descents.

Jeff Cup is hard because it’s unrelenting. The course is all up or down: there are effectively no flat segments, nowhere to recover and settle in. You’re either charging up a hill or catching your breath on a downhill.

It’s also really mentally fatiguing to be in the peloton at Jeff Cup. I was extra precarious on descents, careful of everyone else around me cruising at 45mph. I was looking around for Neil and Will, making sure I was near my teammates. I was trying to focus on my breathing. I was shifting through gears constantly.

Anyway, the winning move at Jeff Cup came with about 15 miles to go. A break went, and none of us on Sweet Spot were in position to follow it.

The break built a minute gap going into the last 10-mile lap, and given the layout of the course, I knew the break was going to be able to put in seconds on the peloton around corners and on the descents.

The peloton wasn’t really cranking up the pace, and I didn’t want the break to escape uncontested so I moved up to the front and started asking whoever would listen whether they wanted to help work to try to reel in the break.

There were a few guys who agreed and took some strong pulls, but (perhaps due to the relentless hills) we had a hard time settling in and really chipping away at their gap. There was also like 4 of us working, pulling a reduced group of like 25.

On the final lap, we summited the course’s longest climb and my legs were starting to cramp up, with haste. I knew I was in trouble and that Neil and Will were probably more fit than I, so I hit the front of the peloton and went full gas, digging as deep as I could to drive the pace. 

At the base of another hill with about four miles to the finish, the cramping overtook me and off the back of the chasing group I went. The break wasn’t caught, Neil and Will finished 21st and 26th, respectively, and I came in 35th out of a field of about 70.

I’m proud of the way we raced, though I wish I could have better delivered my teammates to the break. Neil and Will lead me out all last summer and I am still in their debt.

My chief takeaway from Jeff Cup is that road races call for some on the fly cost-benefit analysis.

The question to be asked is, is it better to:

A) Be near the front and ergo do more work, but be in a better position to follow a breakaway?

or

B) Sit in the middle of the group, out of the wind, and bank on the peloton bringing back a break that goes?

Option A would have been the correct choice at Jeff Cup. I’m confident Neil, Will and I would have had the legs to get in a break, but we weren’t there for it. Oh well. C’est la vie.

Another takeaway is holy shit, exercise-associated muscle cramping is a unique type of hurt. My legs have locked up countless times before and knew what to expect, but mamma mia, it is awful. It felt like there were screws on the back of my thighs and someone was just twisting them, tightening my hamstrings more and more until I submitted. 

The cramping continued on the ride home, much to Will’s amusement.

So that’s that. I’m just glad I got to finish without a mechanical, which is more than I could say about the Tidewater Classic. Road races are hard and I still don’t know what I’m doing in them, but it was a worthwhile experience to get outside my comfort zone.

I believe the next race on my agenda is the Wintergreen Ascent, a literal climb up a mountain. As a sprinter without a power meter, I am sure this will go well.

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