There was another experiment with the handicapping this week, let me explain (assuming I understood it the first time). Our 3rd cat group went off first. We were followed by the 4th cats at 1 minute 20 seconds and the 2nd cat group at 2 minutes 45 seconds. On the 2km circuit, we had to catch the 4th cat group while the 2nds had to catch, lap, and then catch them again. Got that? OK.
On the start line it was understood, at least I thought it was, by the riders in our group, that if we worked together we should have a good chance of staying away from the 2nd cats. We had done it last week, no reason why we couldn’t do it this week, only this time we would have a longer chase to the 4th cats. We should set off and form into parallel lines and work together, a paceline, through and off, bit-and-bit, call it what you will; each rider does a brief turn at the front, then pulls off to slipstream behind others. As a result the group should move along faster for longer. It’s a simple technique which 3rd cats ought to have mastered. Well, you would think.
The riders at the front got the line going, but almost immediately a big gap opened between the riders coming through, leaving the front racer doing an extended turn. Someone covered the gap and the line worked briefly, until the next gap. That was the pattern for the first couple of laps. A few riders sat at the back, uncooperative, but causing confusion for other riders on the rotation. The disorganisation persisted and my frustration rose.
A few times riders just slipped a few metres off the front. I don’t think deliberately, but more as a result of the shoddy group dynamic. A couple of stronger riders gained a few metres and another jumped across. I was near the back, having a drink, when a 4th rider started to move across. The lead rider of our group looked to be riding with unconcern as the gap suddenly jumped. The three riders ahead realised they had a gap and were starting to work now, the 4th rider was between the groups. Shit, I thought, I need to be in that group else bring it back. I went to the front and set the chasing pace. The gap stopped growing, but no one came through to help me. I looked over my shoulder to find no one was on my wheel, the group were some 20 metres back. I had ridden off the front without realising so I forgot them and added a little more effort to bridge across to the leaders.
The leading 4 were working together well, I also knew they were the stronger ones from our starting group. I was chasing with a degree of pessimism.After 2 solo laps I had continued to extend the gap to the group behind me, but the group ahead was doing the same to me. I accepted my chase was futile so sat up and waited for the rear bunch. I further reasoned my decision, the 2nds would soon catch us and the 4 lead riders wouldn’t have the legs to compete against them.
We pootled around the circuit until the catch was made on the oval. Most of us jumped across and I slotted into their paceline. Now I felt like I was properly racing. I didn’t see Wayne (promoted to 2nd cat last week), he had already been dropped. None of the 4ths had managed to latch on either, so I could expect no moral support from Tim either. The 2nds were setting a fierce pace and most of my orignal group were either sat at the back or being dropped. I did my turns, and enjoyed the racing, but only lasted 15 minutes before being dropped. Only one other rider from our group was still there, sitting at the back.
I continued to ride around catching and overtaking a few 4th cats. I saw Tim had already pulled out. With two laps to go I was overtaken by the 4 breakaways from my original group. As they approached, I sat up and watched them enviously; they still looked strong and were working well with plenty of distance from the 2nd cats. Lapped and somewhat demoralised, I pulled out and went across to my family to watch the finish. It was their first time at Rockingham and I was disappointed to have put on so poor a showing for them.
The 2nd cats came through for the bell, but the chase had gone out from them. The 4 leading 3rd cats finished about 40 seconds ahead. It had been a fantastic early move for them and they had delivered on it for a well deserved win. They had seen nothing was going on in our group and slipped away, more by chance than design, and by cooperating capitalised on the opportunity presented. I’ve been kicking myself since for not being more astute and recognising the break early enough; I cannot explain how I missed it. Of course being dropped by the 2nds does beg the question whether or not I could have survived in the breakaway group. I think probably yes, although I doubt I could have challenged for the win. Racing is as much about the head as the legs. My legs were fine, but once I had missed the break my head wasn’t. If I had been in the break, mentally, I know I would have been in a better place and that would have lead to a significantly better placing than the dead end I ended up following.