This week I returned to the Monday St. Charles Group Ride for the first time in ~6 weeks (Muny season for my wife – and, thus, Mr. Mom duty for me – keeps me away during the middle part of the summer). There was a HUGE group, including most of regulars that I’m used to seeing and a whole bunch of people I never saw before.
I admit to having a bit of a love-hate relationship with the MSCGR (as I suppose I do with all group rides). I like it because, more than any other ride in the area, it really does mimic a true road race. There’s usually a healthy compliment of seasoned racers present, most of whom really try to “win” the ride (the stakes were upped a notch this year – someone actually taped a “finish” line on the road, I guess to stop the bickering about where it really was). This results in a hard, fast pace, and since wind is usually a factor and the terrain pancake flat, it’s great for practicing breakaways, bridging, and escheloning. I wish it wasn’t on Monday nights, though – aside from not being able to make it for a good part of the summer, my training time on Mondays is probably better spent on a recovery ride after a hard weekend race or training block. The other thing is the goofy mix of people – any butthead junior, aerobar-sportin’ trigeek, hairy-legged Cat 5, crash-prone Cat 4, trash-talking Cat 3, prima donna Cat 1/2, $5K-bike ridin’ Masters can show up, so you have to really watch out for people doing things you may not be used to in a real race (I apologize if I’ve somehow managed not to offend everyone equally).
The ride started out slow but picked up after the RR tracks. There were lots of small, uncoordinated attacks early on, but none of them looked like a good mix of people so I just let others chase. I figured if a break didn’t get away with the headwinds on the first part of the ride that it would probably stay together. I jumped with Kent before turning onto the back part of the course – I figured at least a couple strong guys would have us marked, but nobody went with us and the pack chased us down pretty quick. Once we turned into the tailwinds there was no getting away, so I didn’t waste my time chasing the numerous small attacks that continued until Mike W got to the front and started slamming the pace. Several of us joined to try to weaken the field, and while it got rid of a lot of the baggage it didn’t really reduce the field down to the kind of small group that I like for the finish. It did get rid of this one pesky little junior, though, that had been bugging me all night long – sketchy lines, ill-advised maneuvers, etc., and even though I tried my best to stay off his wheel, everytime I turned around there he was. He was like a frigin’ gnat that you keep swatting at but never hit, and right when you think he’s gone he’s right back hovering in front of your eye. I think he was purposely shadowing me! Thankfully, I didn’t have him to deal with in the finale. On the final stretch before the last turn Mike was leading out, but when he started to fade nobody took the charge, so a whole bunch of guys swarmed up on the left. I got on it as soon as I could, but I had slipped down to ~20th position and the last turn was getting close. I knew I’d have to get back up there before the final turn or I’d be pack fodder, so I got out into the wind and slammed it and managed to get up into around 10th spot by the time we hit the turn. Right as we hit the turn a car comes up in the left turn lane – we manage to go through without veering off line too much, but behind me I hear that awful screech of metal and carbon hitting the road. Exposing myself to the wind to get better position was probably the best move I made all night. Why guys dive into that corner is beyond me – the road is plenty wide enough to make the turn at full speed without cutting the lane. Anyway, after the turn I was focusing on trying to recover from my effort and forgot to pay attention to who’s wheel I was on – I had marked Carlitos, but he was further up on the right and I was further back and on the left on the wheel of some guy I didn’t even know. The pace started picking up, but it was still too soon to jump when a gap opened behind the three front guys – I jumped hard and got around everybody to bridge up to them, but by the time I was recovered it was too late to sprint for any higher place, so I just rolled through. Carlitos won easily – man, that guy is fast.