Ok, it's official: I'm working harder and going slower. And have been all year. But now I have three year's of statistics to back me up. Bottom line on yesterday's race: came in 7th out of 8. However, to begin at the beginning.
What a gorgeous day for a race: low 90's (as opposed to high 90's), some hazy cloud cover, a light wind out of the northeast (into the wind for 16 miles, wind at my back left shoulder for 14 miles, at my back for 3). Fort Hood closed the road for the races. We had eight racers in our group (70+ males) and I knew seven of them. If I had been on form, I would have been racing for third, but realistically, I was racing for fifth.
The first hiccup came after I had just finished my warm-up: a thirty-minute delay, something to do with Army maneuvers being held. Not wanting to have his cyclists blasted by stray artillery, we waited. So much for the warm-up. And, the extra time allowed the temperature to rise another degree and the wind came up a bit. Thirty minutes later, off we went.
Knowing my form was off, my plan was to follow (suck wheels) as far as I could. The first four miles were generally downhill and we stayed together. The first hill is steep, and, as expected, Richard got a gap and left the rest of us. But I hung on Tom's wheel and four of us weren't too far back. After a short period of flat/down, Richard dropped back to us and we carried on to the next steep climb at eight miles. They lost me on that one. Actually it was a bit strange, they lost me on the lead up to the hill, I really didn't do too badly going up but never could close the gap.
I was sitting forth and without a wheel, really suffering in the wind even though the terrain now was rolling. My heart-rate was in zone five (90%+) and all I could do was wait for the turn at mile sixteen. Meanwhile, Fred, who struggles up the steep inclines (or just takes his time, I'm not sure), caught up to me and I grabbed his wheel and increased speed for a couple of miles until a slight grade dropped me. Then my Tour de Gruene partner, Dean, caught up. Unfortunately, it was on another up-grade, and I couldn't hang. These are grades that in the past I powered over in the big ring, but not this year. There were flats and downhills, so he was just hanging about 300 yards ahead, but I was on the rivet.
Mercifully, mile sixteen came and I had the wind at my back. Of course, it was also at everyone else's back. Just because we changed direction didn't mean we lost the hills. About this time Jaime came up and I sat on his wheel for a short period, before losing it on another incline. For the next ten miles, he was between a quarter-mile to a half-mile ahead, but generally within sight.
At thirty miles there is a sharp 8% hill, the right turn and another 8% incline. I could see Jaime was struggling. I kept a good cadence and started reeling him back. With 200 meters to go, I was about 20 meters behind and a good kick, which I still had, might have made a race of it. However, I see no benefit of sprinting for sixth place when I had abused my body for so long, so cruised in and immediately went into cool-down mode.
Apparently I didn't cool down enough, in that after getting off the bike I needed to stand still another couple of minutes to let the heart-rate stabilize. Anyhow, that was the race. Never saw the 8th place guy after the first hill.
Three years ago I averaged 19.3mph and spent eight minutes in zone 5. Two years ago I averaged 19.1mph and spent five minutes in zone 5. Last year I averaged 18.1mph and was in zone 5 for 34 minutes. This year it was 17.1 and a full hour in zone 5. Fourth place finisher is ten years older than me, fifth place is three years older. A revision in my training seems to be in order.