Thoughts from the breakaway

Last week was the season finale of the Bryan Park Training Series.

It was the last chance this year to get a good result.  It was also 90° with like, inside-of-an-old-dog’s-mouth levels of humidity. 

And because cycling is a sport full of juxtapositions, it’s safer to ride aggressively and attack off the front.

Since returning from injury, I’ve tried to get in breakaways in lieu of conserving energy for a group sprint, mostly because it’s safer: fewer riders around you means there’s fewer variables that could lead to a crash. But more than anything, attacking is just a lot more fun.

From the start whistle last Tuesday, I went full gas.

The breakaway was quickly whittled down to myself, Carlo Pierantoni and John Kruegler after a lap or two.

For non-cycling nerds who are inexplicably reading this, Cosmo Catalano explains why early breakaways are a thing and why teams want riders in them very well in this video.

In short, teams that have a rider up the road aren’t motivated to chase down the breakaway because well, they have someone who has a high chance of getting a good result.

And with Carlo, John and myself, the three most-represented teams in the race (Cutaway x Release the Hounds, Nissan RVA, and Sweet Spot Cycling, respectively) all had someone in the breakaway. It was up to everyone else to drive the pace of the peloton if they wanted to bring us back.

Clip in, smash the pedals, worry about everything else later.

The three of us worked together to build a pretty solid gap of…30 seconds or so. Which might not sound like a lot, but on a pancake flat crit course, it’s not nothing.

And it’s a unique brand of pain that you’re required to endure in order to build a time gap like that. Being in the break means you have very, very little time to rest and soft-pedal, and a lot of time on the front with your elbows tucked in and your head down, constantly digging deep to find that little bit more of strength in your legs.

About halfway through the race, I started to look behind us and see the peloton. I’ve ridden with Carlo and John a ton, mostly at group rides where they rip my legs off, so I knew we had the strength to stay away.

It was also nice knowing that I had Greg, Neil and other teammates in the peloton who were willing and able to follow anyone who might try to bridge across. Which is precisely what happened.

With about six or so laps left, a small group bridged across to us, Greg included, and he immediately pulled up next to me and told me to get on his wheel.

The laps dwindled down, and I didn’t have the presence of mind to slide all the way to the back of the breakaway to rest for the sprint.

John took first (a completely deserved win) and I slotted in fifth, with Greg and Carlo just behind me.

(Most of) The goon squad.

On paper, it was just fifth place in a local training crit. But after everything that happened this year, I was really fucking proud of myself to cross the line in fifth position, not just for what I was able to come back from this year, but for how far I’ve come since 2016. Two years ago I raced for the first time. Last week I got a top-5 against some of the strongest riders in the state.

When it comes to real life, off-the-bike lessons to be learned from this season, the following are called to mind:

  • You always have a little bit more to give.

That sounds like a bullshit platitude but I tried and failed to think of a more pragmatic way to say it.

There were times in the breakaway that I felt cooked and that my legs were totally empty. But I convinced myself to keep going back to the well, and I kept finding strength I didn’t know I had. The idea is that you can do more if you just will yourself past the point of extreme discomfort. I genuinely believe this.

  • Roll the goddamn dice.

Riding in a breakaway is often an ill-fated endeavor…except when it’s not. Generally speaking, I spend a bit too much time preoccupied about what might go wrong, and ought to spend more time thinking about the fun that can be found in trying.

This season didn’t go exactly to plan, and I would have been over the moon to have won a few more races, but I’m glad I got back out there racing, and racing with some gumption.

Anyway, documenting all this was a lot of fun, and cheers to anyone who’s read this far. Now, what’s all this I hear about cyclocross…

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