Today was my first race since riding three cyclosportifs in France and Italy in 2011. I've been looking forward to this event for a while as the SRAM TdR is really the first race of the season.
I recon'd the ride with Camila 10 days ago, and after speaking with several friends who have raced this event previously, I was pretty sure I knew how the race would unfold. I was completely wrong.
My expectations were the following: 1) an all-out sprint for the first 3km to the base of the first climb, 2) smash the first climb to ensure I was with the leading group 3) a hard pace along the undulating roads to the coast, 4) brace for strong side-winds along the coastal road, 5) watch for race-winning attacks on the 3 x 50m climbs to Kawakawa Bay, and 6) hold-on for the final 20km.
It turned out to be one of the most bizarre races I've seen. The first few k's were a moderate pace (I was in the second row at the start line). The first climb was hard but not a big effort. I crossed the top in 10th wheel or so, which is a great position if the race heats-up. For the next 50km, the pace was steady, and sometimes slow. We saw a couple of attempts to either attack or increase the overall pace, but no one could succeed on this somewhat flat part of the course.
So, I decided to sit-in and just hold my position in the bunch. We didn't get blustering side-winds that we normally see on the coastal road, so I waited for the 3 power-climbs before Kawakawa Bay. The climbs were hard and fast, stringing us out, but the peloton regrouped every time.
My relative strength is climbing. With the climbs now behind us, and riding as a group of approximately 50 cyclists, my hopes were over (if I ever had one).
With approximately 4km to go, a group of 5 cyclists managed to open a small lead of approx 10 seconds. The pack chased and with 500 meters to go, the gap was only a couple of seconds.
I was at the back of the chasing bunch (20-30 cyclists) with 400 meters to go when there was a massive crash in front of me. I heard yelling, then 2 guys suddenly swerve to the right. The next thing I remember is a bicycle flying into the air - the bicycle was actually above us! Then, brakes screeching and a lot of noise. At least 6 guys went down hard at 45-50kph. We had the entire road (both lanes) so I braked hard and looked for an exit on the shoulder. Luckily I found a small gap (about 30cm) between bodies and bicycles scattered on the road.
The face of the first guy I looked at was covered in blood. He couldn't even open his eyes through the blood. A second guy was in the fetal position and remained that way for several minutes. Four or five cyclists were laying on the right lane of the road, but a couple more were in the left lane. One friend was involved unfortunately. He has stitches in his arm and crashed his new Dogma (he bought the bike 10 days ago).
I was very lucky. Every one in front of me went down.
I was at the crash-site for several minutes, just to ensure people were ok, and then soft-pedaled the final 400 meters. I haven't seen the results yet, but I would guess I finished somewhere around 50th or 60th place (of 300-400 participants).
All in all, I did ok, although I don't feel I really raced today. I was never on the rivet. My weekend club rides are usually much harder than today's race. I suppose I could've tried contributing to the pace, or even initiated an attack, but making that commitment is risky.
UPDATE: Official results have been published. I finished 52nd in the Open men with a time of 2h.53m.06s (535 males participated in my field). The lead group of ~25 that I was part of sprinted it out and crossed the line in 2h.51m.02s.