Over the weekend I went down for the Poolesville Road Race and rolled in at the back of the field sprint, 23 of 59 in the cat 3. A combo of 80F temperatures, narrow roads, a dirt section, and 65mi of steady rollers dropped more than half the field.
The race is just on the edge of being a reasonable day trip from Philly, about 3hrs away in Maryland (I made a weekend of it with some in-laws). But, I recommend it for any road course fans; crit monkeys stay home. It’s a quiet event but well organized, with great marshaling. There was also super aggressive yellow line enforcement, of which I approve; the motos were even coming forward to move offenders to the back during the race. The course is comparable with Turkey Hill, but a ~10 mile loop so it feels a bit more like a road race to me, as opposed to a circuit race. Climbing is similar to Turkey Hill, nothing crazy at all, but more steadily rolling. It is very narrow, but on the plus side mostly shaded and not as hot. There’s also a pretty clean ~1.5mi dirt section that’s kind of fun.
One thing I did well is moving up and fighting for my place aggressively the first two laps. Characteristically I started literally in last place and was kind of concerned between the rollers and dirt about being blocked in as groups dropped. The course is very tight, never more than 10 feet across and often less, and the hills weren’t really long enough to move up easily, so moving up was tough. I wound up riding the corners much more crit-like and aggressively than I would usually. They’re where the yellow line is fuzziest and the road widest (by simple geometry), so by taking it a little wide or a little tight and kicking it a bit harder than necessary coming out I was able to pick up 3 places here, 6 places there, etc., and pretty quickly found myself sticking safely by the front.
The dirt section was actually fun, and fairly tactical. On the fun side it was really ridable but had the usual dirt ridiculousness. I didn’t see anybody crash, but saw a bunch of guys slowly divert off the road, tons of dropped bottles, chains, etc. It was also super dry so the first few times we hit it there was just a mile and a half of billowing dust with ghosts moving about in it, like we were riding out of a western or something, with visibility about three bikes ahead.
Up the ziggurat, lickety-split! (photo by Pam Mauch)
On the tactical side, it’s a dirt section, so of course the guys in front punch it in order to stay safely out of the mess. It may have also been just slightly uphill. With everyone trying to give each other more space, it’s like a CX race where you’re sort of drafting and the pace is high, but you’re not really in a draft either so you’re kind of TTing. That’s a setup for lots of people to get gapped, but it was the kind of dirt section with two solid hard packed tracks and loose gravel in between so you couldn’t just go around them at will. Coming into it near the front then became more important, plus I had to really work gaps and safe looking places to cross the gravel so that I was always moving up and not getting blocked in.
In the end I just didn’t have enough to do much more. At the end of April I thought I had a good shot to do really well here and at Turkey Hill. They’re my kind of courses, good for someone who can climb a bit and time trial a bit, and I was riding well. Then I got sick, like usual, too many ECCC weekends living out of cars and way overstuffed motel rooms. Not a big deal, but I haven’t been able to shake the last trace of congestion and fatigue. At Turkey Hill I got up Gamber’s with the group the second time and just sat up, the first time I’ve not finished at least in the field sprint there. This race obviously went much better and it was pretty easy to hang on even through a couple fragmentations, but in the one short excursion I did to test my top end it just wasn’t there like it was two weeks ago.
To an extent I guess I’m disappointed about that. I won’t be able to race again until August and had pretty high hopes for these. However, I’m actually pretty ok with it, which is good in its own way, and both of these days were still a lot of fun. Ultimately not every race can be your best race ever and a lot of it is just getting out there, throwing some efforts against the wall, and seeing what sticks.
I think Ron Short’s photo of Darco and I sums it up super well—that big blue American sky, the long road behind, ridiculous people getting absolutely shelled but still having a great time:
Darco and I at Turkey Hill; photo by Ron Short & GoPro.