Race to your strengths

Or: The Great Egyptian Omnium

My cat 4 teammate Jason and I rode the Great Egyptian Omnium in southern Illinois last weekend. It was a good event that both of us enjoyed.

Road Race

We started the rolling 20 mile loop into a headwind, so it was pretty slow. Nobody wanted to be at the front. There were mostly teams of 1-3, except for one team with like 7-8. A few miles in the leaders finally started looking organized with a rolling pace line. I pulled when it was my turn and… nobody pulled through after me (I was at the end of the line). So much for organization.

When we turned back into the tailwind the pace picked up and the race split a few times, but nobody was willing to push the speed to take advantage of the splits. There were omnium points available at the end of the end of the first loop, but I didn’t go for it. I was hoping to save everything for the end of the race.

The second loop was much like the first, though the pack had thinned out a bit. There was a bit more cooperation and we were able to ride a bit harder into the wind. I was staying well hydrated. I had eaten reasonably well. I even took a few S!CAPS. I was feeling great when we turned to head back to the finish. A 40 mile road race with an uphill finish should suit me about as well as I could hope. Unfortunately reality hit me on the 3rd to last uphill section where I stood up to pedal and my quads cramped up really badly. Crap. I recovered over the next few miles. On the 2nd to last hill I stayed seated in the hope of avoiding cramping up, which worked. I lost my good positioning though. We quickly reached the final hill. I was able to stand and pedal. I passed a few people, but I started way to far back to have a good result. I finished 15th, with no omnium points.

Time Trial

We had a few hours to kill between the road race and the Time Trial. We ate some lunch, sat around in the shade (it was over 100˚F by this point), and prepared our bikes. When my start time approached I did a short warmup, which sucked. My quads were completely trashed from the road race. A semi-hilly time trial is normally my cup of tea, but I wasn’t looking forward to this.

The start was uphill. By the time I reached the top my quads were screaming. This is going to suck. Then the first downhill I hit 41 mph, which is a record on my TT bike. Suddenly everything was okay and I was flying. The rollers weren’t slowing me down. Before I knew it I turned into a cross-tailwind and I sped up even more. Finally, I turned onto the highway back into town and I was doing 37 mph on flat sections. I worked the uphills. It was so fast. I finished at the top of the hill in 18m55s for the 7.5 mile loop, which was good enough for 2nd place. I almost caught my 1-minute man, but I did catch the riders who started 2, 3, and 4 minutes ahead of me.

I misread the race information and I thought I would only get 2 omnium points for my 2nd place finish, so I thought I was completely out of contention for the overall win. Actually I received 12 points and I was in 4th place. I didn’t figure this out until after the crit the next day, at which point it no longer mattered.


The next morning I drove back to southern Illinois for the crit. I had to work on my bike before the race, after which I only had a few minutes to warmup. Oh well. The race was challenging, but not super-hard. I was able to move up and back through the field fairly easily. There were a couple of breakaways that never gained more than 5-10 seconds before the race would come back together. I was in pretty good position with half a lap to go, but I waited just a bit to long to sprint. I passed a bunch of people and finished 6th place, my highest placing yet in a cat 4 crit. I didn’t end up in the top 3 for the omnium.

A couple of my teammates who were racing later in the day came out early to watch me and we chatted a bit after the race. The race didn’t take that much out of me, and there were two more races I was eligible to ride, so (after some egging-on by my teammates) I registered for the Masters 30+ 4-5 race a couple hours later.

Crit #2

As soon as I came back to the team tent after registering for the second crit we began to talk strategy. It was a very interesting conversation that went something like this:

Me: I registered for the Masters/4/5 race.

BJ & Nick: So how are you going to win this race?

Me: Hmm, good question.

Them: But you are going to win, right?

At this point I’m thinking this is a bit absurd. I don’t win bike races. Running, sure. Triathlon, sure. Cycling, I’m just not as good. And a flat criterium is the type of race I am worst at.

Me: I suppose it depends who else is in the race.

Them: No, it doesn’t. Race to your strengths, not to your opponents weaknesses. What are your strengths? Can you sprint?

Me: Nope.

Them: But you can ride a good TT. You finished 2nd in the TT yesterday. There you go.

Me: Alright.

Them: Here’s what you’re going to do. You’re going to jump at two laps to go and you’re going to ride all out by yourself for the last two laps and you’re going to win. But you have to fully commit… so much so that if you get caught you can’t even finish with the group. Just leave it all out on the course.

I’ve never tried something like this before, so I was game to give it a go. I didn’t actually think it was going to work, but these guys know a lot more about bike racing than I do and, what the hell, what can it hurt to try. I already did the race I came here for, this is just a bonus.

The race was easy and I just sat safely in the pack the whole time. With 3 laps to go I started dropping back in the field. With two laps to go I jumped hard from the back of the field. By the time I passed the guys at the front I was going 10 mph faster than they were and they weren’t able to grab my wheel. I settled into TT mode and rode as hard as I could for 2.5 miles. I took all the corners so much faster by myself than I was able to in the big group. A few times I looked back. There were a couple half-hearted attempts to chase me down, but nobody wanted to ride at the front of the group. And by the time the realized they need to shut down my attack it was already too late.

As I rounded the final corner my teammates were going crazy. As soon as I heard one of them say “enjoy it” I knew I had won the race. I took a quick look behind and saw nobody. I sat up and pedaled across the finish line with my arms in the air. I never thought I’d win a bike race.

After my 2nd crit I stayed around to watch my teammates in the cat 3 race where my teammate Keith won from a long (8 laps) solo attack. Mike & Nick finished 3rd and 4th from the main field. Then was the 1/2/3 race where Mark finished 2nd in a field sprint. So we all had a good day.

Keith wins

Keith wins the cat 3 race

Photo finish

Mike & Nick finish 3rd & 4th in a photo finish

Mike and BJ leading the race

Mike & BJ lead the 1/2/3 race

Mark goes for the sprint

Mark narrowly finishes 2nd

2 thoughts on “Race to your strengths”

  1. Hey Rob, I’m catching up on your posts and really enjoyed reading this one, especially as we are similar riders. I’ve never soloed to victory, but my highest finish was 2nd out of a 3-man break, also in a 4/5 30+. I never stand a chance in a bunch sprint either. I like your tactics better (though I’ve always been caught in my attempts – good timing and a little luck are key). I still had to sprint for my 2nd. :-/

    Congrats on Howl at the Moon also. Looks like you’ve had a great season!

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