LAST NIGHT was my first pro/123 race at Floyd Bennett Field, so going into it I was wary of the difficulty of the race and the speed and accelerations, which I’d heard were just brutal. I’d heard things like, “You don’t finish your first 123 race at Floyd” and that sort of talk. I think I started to believe it too. I’d also talked to a friend who got dropped in his first 123 race, and another friend, who had a similar result out at the old airport, and the gist of their experience was that the attacks were devastatingly hard and, eventually, fatal to one’s legs and lungs.
Till last night, I’d always done the Cat. 3/4 races at Floyd, and those were pretty hard races, mostly. Last year, when I started cycling again, after nearly 10 years of indolence and indifference to exercise, I did a half dozen or so Floyd races, and struggled a lot just to crack the top 20, which I eventually did later in the summer. But big deal: top 20 at Floyd is nothing to text your girlfriend about. I never contested sprints then, and I never really got into any breaks. It was all about finishing, this being what my power and fitness at the time afforded me. I was a good 10 pounds heavier then, and just not very fit. It was definitely a humbling experience, but I knew I was getting stronger all the while last year, so I kept at it.
Well, I got to Floyd with plenty of time to spare, got my number, double-checked my bike, then did two warm-up laps as the Cat. 5s were racing. I did these laps at tempo speed, with two light-gear sprints thrown in for good measure, to ready the legs.
At the start line, I found a field of 50 or so riders, with many of the local heavy hitters present: Wilson Vasquez of Mengoni, Anthony Lowe of Die Hard, the brothers Burrowes of United, my teammate Euri Madera of Foundation, and many others. It looked like a mix of big sprinters and breakaway riders too, with Kyle Peppo of Mengoni and Sean Smith of Champion System, to name just a couple. While I felt good physically, the company I was about to race with gave me a slightly sinking feeling in my stomach.
Off we went and sure enough a couple of riders took off blazing. I rolled top 5 or 10, and the pack seemed content to ride a very easy pace heading out into the sunset. I focused on wheels around me but had an eye up the road too. What ensued from that point was essentially a pretty fast race, with a steady number of attacks from solo riders and groups of two, three and four riders. As we came up on the first sprint lap, a friend told me to head toward the front as there would be a move after the sprint that I should try to get into. So I did. Between turns 1 an 2 I drilled it up the left side to about top 15, then watched from there as the sprinters and their teammates attacked one another all the way to the line. It seemed like a real chaotic affair in the sprint, with riders all over the place. I didn’t know what had happened, but clearly it was a fast run-in for sprint points. If there was a break, I missed it.
A little later, in the next lap, I don’t recall who was trying to start a break — there were three riders, one of whom was a Burrowes — but I bolted from the pack and bridged to them. This was a huge effort but I felt good. Once I joined them, I had no time to really recover, and took a medium-strong pull when it was my turn. After a half lap away, we got caught. I was back in the field.
At this point I was thinking, “So, I might actually finish this race and not get dropped.” Honestly, though the race was fast, I was surprised it was not faster and harder. We ended up averaging 27.6 miles per hour, which seems blistering to me, but I found that there was ample time to sit in and motorpace when not trying to get into a break. This gave me new-found confidence. And as the laps ticked by — upon seeing the lap card for 6 laps to go I was shocked that half the race was already over — I moved around the pack, sometimes at the front, sometimes at the back. The winds were not a huge factor this night but enough so at nearly 28 mph that you had to seek refuge when possible, and calculate your attacks perfectly. On a lap later in the race — don’t recall which one — Tad Marszalek of Kissena, Peppo, and another rider jumped off the front and got a gap down the stretch to turn 4. I felt good so bridged to them. Here is where I made a rookie error, however. I was drilling it pretty fast up to them and, when I reached them, I kept up my speed, thereby passing them. Tad shouted something and Peppo was coming up to me. I should have slowed and worked better with these guys, but I didn’t realize my speed and figured they’d get my wheel and appreciate any extra speed a rider could bring. But, of course, when you’re in a small break at Floyd, you’re just near your max threshold, or at it, and you have to toe the line carefully so that you don’t implode and thus kill your chances. I kinda botched the deal, then, but we tried to salvage matters. Not long after, down the home stretch, we got caught.
A flyer as a gamble
As we neared the end, going into the bell lap, I made my way up to near the front, about top 20. Tad attacked about halfway heading toward turn 4, dangled a bit, then got caught, at which time I attacked, got a gap, drew out a BVF rider, I think, and we hit the last turn with maybe 5 or 7 seconds or something. At this point I was cross-eyed, and the guy I had on my wheel said to pull off, which I did, but as he started to go I found I was too toast to react. I turned and saw the field charging fast. I pulled off left and sat up. The sprint began and the lone rider was caught easily. Still, it was fun to take a flyer and get a gap, though the chances of it working were very slim indeed. I rolled in at the back of the pack.
All in all I enjoyed the race as it was fast and the riders were noticeably better bike handlers and smother than the Cat. 3/4 riders. The speed was high, but I was relieved that I was never uncomfortable. Being able to bridge and attack was satisfying. I had good position to contest the sprint — by that I mean try for 10th place — but decided a flyer was more fun. Maybe another time I’ll give the sprint a go.
Results here (opens as PDF).
Photos should be up in next day or two, so I’m told. Here, a few by silversalty.