Good Friday Road Race


By Edmond Mellina, on behalf of the M2 squad

In the days before Good Friday, the four M2 Lapdogs – Roderick Grant, Mike Bandurchin, Mark Besednik and I – had an e-mail exchange to discuss and agree on two things: 1) the kind of spirit we want to bring to the start line in 2012; and 2) a specific race plan for this first O-Cup race.

None of us are natural sprinters. Hence we felt the best strategy for our team this year is to come to the start line with an aggressive mindset. We want to use the first races of 2012 to build a reputation as attack-minded racers who are committed to breakaways. In other words, the kind of team who is not satisfied with remaining in the comfort of the peloton until the bunch sprint and hopefully a 15th place! If we can build such a reputation, we believe that attack-minded strongmen will eagerly join us in the offensive – which will help build a bigger gap quicker and increase our chance of making it to the end.

Of course, as Roderick wisely reminded us during our e-mail exchange, “getting in a break can be surprisingly hard, you really have to pay attention to activity on the front, which means being at the front, which means fighting for position…which means working pretty hard.”

With that in mind, we studied the course and looked at the wind forecast. We discussed our collective “intelligence” about the stronger / larger M2 teams this year, which are VinyBit | SixS and Morning Glory. We decided to make a point of having one of us in all attacks (we thought this was doable despite being a small team, as there are few attacks in M2). We felt there was no point in waiting for the last lap (i.e. #4) to try something. Indeed, once the bell has rung the bunch is always very excited and any attempt is usually brought back. Therefore, we decided to use lap #1 to observe the competition from the front of the pack and join the strongmen attacks if any. During lap #2 or #3, we would have no choice but to create or join a breakaway.

The race started one hour late because of a terrible fatal car accident that occurred after the first wave of races (no cyclist were involved). The police blocked a portion of the road, so the OCA officials had to extend the course and turn the original 4-lap race into a 3-lap affair. In our e-mail exchange, we had discussed we would most likely have to adapt our plan based on the race conditions. Well, the race had not even started that we already had to do it! We now would have to attack somewhere between the end of lap #1 and the very beginning of lap #3.

Overall, we were able to execute our team’s plan pretty well… albeit, not the finish line.

After a couple of kilometers, Roderick and I moved to the front of the pack and fought to remain in the top-15 positions all the time. During the first half of the race, we saw a few breakaway attempts. Roderick and I took turn covering them. Unfortunately, the attackers were not really committed, so these attempts went nowhere – with the bunch closing the gaps almost right away. By now we were well into lap #2, with the 4th turn of the rectangular course approaching fast.

We were running out of time: we had to make a move… like right now! Fifty meters from that 4thcorner, ex-Lapdogs Jeff Kerr attacked. I jumped behind, reached and passed him as we turned into the corner, and told him to come with me. I know he is a solid “rouleur”. Furthermore, his new team – VinyBilt | SixS – is made of seven fit and experienced racers. So my thinking was “Perfect, most likely his team will help my team-mates block behind us!”. Unfortunately, Jeff couldn’t take my wheel. I reminded myself that I didn’t want to finish the race feeling like another “bunch filler”. So I decided to keep going. I pushed hard on the pedals and when I looked behind I had a gap of about 300 m. I kept this solo effort for the next 5 km – which allowed me to show our brand new kit (with the new Cannondale green) to the crowd at the start. I heard the bell announcing the last lap.

As I approached the next corner, I peeked under my right arm to check behind. I saw a Cancellara-kind of rouleur who had managed to extract himself from the bunch and was closing the gap really, really fast!!! When he reached me a few hundred meters later, I told him to give me one minute in his wheel as I needed to recover a little from my effort – but that I would help him right after. Man, it really hurt to grab his wheel! I really thought I would never close the bike-length he had on me. I jumped as hard as I could, got into his slipstream and rested there for one full minute. Then, as I had told him, I got to the front to take my pull. We worked well together for the next 4 kms. The good news was that the gap with the peloton was not decreasing. The bad news was that it wasn’t increasing either!! After all, we were in the last lap, the peloton was getting excited and we were in full sight all the time (too bad the roads here are not like the narrow, curvy roads of Basque Country where I used to race as a junior!). Next time I looked behind, I saw two guys chasing in between. They must have been working well together, because they managed to catch us before we turned North into the headwind. I told my three breakaway companions that our only chance was to worked together and take very short pulls into the wind. They told me they were ok with it, so we got going. Unfortunately, the two guys who had just joined us had nothing left. Having closed the gap so quickly, they were obviously swimming in a pool of lactic acid. So it was up to “Cancellara” and I to try to save the breakaway. We worked hard but with the wind and the excitement of the last 10 km approaching, the peloton brought us back with roughly 12 kms to go. My breakaway attempt had lasted about 15 kms. I shook hand with the three other guys and got back inside the peloton.

Things were starting to get hectic, but I was pleased to see that Roderick was still very well positioned. As we got into the series of short hills, Mike-the-natural-climber was able to move up very easily to join Roderick near the front. On my end, my legs were pretty tired and close to cramping, so I focussed on staying out of trouble. I reminded myself that our race plan called for one last attempt to surprise the peloton in the false flat 2 kms from the line. But I didn’t have enough left to try anything like that! Furthermore, I was nowhere near the 6th or 7th place, which is typically the best spot to extract yourself from the peloton. Things were getting pretty rough in the front of the pack, which is what happens when you put 80 guys full of adrenaline on half a narrow road with an aggressively enforced “Yellow Line” rule! Fortunately, I could see that both Mike and Roderick were retaining their position. There were several close encounters nearby, but luckily nobody crashed. The bunch took the last corner very carefully, which was quite surprising. Then it was all out for everyone, with nobody hitting the pavement. Kevin Tearle, from Team CHCH, took the win convincingly (last November, he won in the same fashion the last M2 race of the cyclo-cross season).

We feel it was a good start of the season: we have a team strategy for 2012; we used it to build a plan for this first race; and we raced according to our plan. On Friday, our competitors saw the team in orange-green-and-black try to make things happen. The key now is to carry forward this aggressive mindset to the upcoming races. As a team without sprinter, earning a reputation as “attack-minded” racers is the key to getting some exciting results down the road. So let’s go, one small step at a time!