It was a beautiful afternoon with some wind. The Wheelsucker carefully prepared his bicycle, opting for a deep dish carbon rear wheel because he wanted to check the power numbers from that Powertap hub. But with the wind he did not want to use the matching front wheel. The first two front wheels he put on the bike went flat within a few minutes of being pumped up. That left him using a heavier training front wheel with round spokes.
“Wheel Sucker” – the dude who rides behind the fast guys and never takes the lead, making everyone else do the hard work of cutting through the wind. Our Wheelsucker isn’t quite that bad.
The Wheelsucker rode easy to the Park & Ride, and joined a medium-sized group gathering there. It was looking like a reasonable group until Jeff Chun rolled up, with Pat Hogan arriving moments later. “Oops,” thought the Wheelsucker, “There goes the easy ride!”
The group rolled out about 18:02 and were joined at the 424/Rossback Road intersection by Ace McDermott and Lain Banks. These additions dramatically changed the Wheelsucker’s perception of what the ride would be like. “Plan F!, Plan F!”, he shouted to Rick Paukstitus, meaning, “We’re F****d.”
The pace was easy down Rossback and Patuxent River; too easy, thought the Wheelsucker, considering that the strong guys were going to be nice and fresh for the standard Harwood Hill attacks. The Wheelsucker briefly – very briefly – considered trying to jump away and TT for Harwood Hill, but decided going alone in the wind would most likely result in his being caught before Harwood Hill, and having to deal with the attacks while tired. So the Wheelsucker sat in and watched.
When the light turned green at 214, the Sizzler was first across, but Iain rolled and accelerated away. Soon Ace was riding easy at the front of the group. The Wheelsucker was on Ace’s wheel (second wheel in the group). Iain was going up the road and looked like he planned move to the Wheelsucker, letting Iain get up the road, and then having the strongest guys jump across to him. But the Wheelsucker was reluctant to chase Iain alone because of the risk of being both caught and tired before Harwood Hill.
The Wheelsucker was expecting a jump from the strong guys soon. He wanted to be near the front, but a few wheels back, so there was a bit more time to react. He pulled over, trying to slide back a few places, but Pat Hogan — on his wheel — eased up as well, and just smiled at the Wheelsucker. This made the Wheelsucker even more suspicious that something had been planned, but he went back to Ace’s wheel.
Rick was encouraging the Wheelsucker to jump after Iain, but still the Wheelsucker hesitated. The gap to Ian grew. Then Rick went! The Wheelsucker waited a few seconds, saw that no one was chasing Rick, and then jumped after him. No one came after them. The group was probably waiting for Ace, Pat and Jeff C. to chase, while those three were happy to leave the gap open so they could jump away at a hard section on the route and bridge to Iain.
The Wheelsucker caught Rick soon, and they worked together through the dip and climbing past the Sands Road turn, finally catching Iain part way to Harwood Hill. Still very suspicious of what Iain was doing and why, the Wheelsucker declined to pull, and sat on Iain’s wheel, with Rick following. Rick seemed happy with this tactic, Ian’s thoughts on the matter were not recorded.
Iain continued to pull since the Wheelsucker refused to. Iain pulled all the way up Harwood Hill. The Wheelsucker strained to hold his wheel, but was slightly gapped at the top where the road starts to flatten out. Rick closed the small gap and the Wheelsucker made one last effort to catch Rick’s wheel, and held on.
Once the road flattened out the Wheelsucker started talking with the others. He was very suspicious of what Ian and the other strong riders may have planned, and was very reluctant to pull unless he was certain that Iain was riding for the break and not waiting for the others; and that Iain would not attack Rick and the Wheelsucker.
Though never certain of the situation, the Wheelsucker and Rick started taking short pulls. But the Wheelsucker was careful to keep something in reserve, and not pull before hard climbs or any place he could be attacked. Rick also took pulls, though Iain did the vast majority of the work. All three riders were frequently checking behind for a chase, but none was spotted.
Once up the stairstep climb the Wheelsucker felt safer taking pulls on Bayard. Being naturally paranoid he was thinking that if Iain attacked them, Rick and the Wheelsucker could work together to bring him back. But if one of them popped, the other would be very vulnerable to being dropped later.
There was more discussion; the Wheelsucker wanted a clear declaration that Iain would not attack them. He was happy to work hard if he was confident of not being attacked.
Rick — who had ridden extremely well — dropped off towards the end of Bayard, to short cut for the P&R. The Wheelsucker stayed with Iain, letting him do the majority of the pulling, but going hard when he was on the front, though pulling off while he still had some reserve, and being careful to be off the front well before any section where Ian could jump the Wheelsucker.
Iain led up the stairstep climb the second time. The Wheelsucker took another pull on Bayard. Once over the last bump on Bayard, there are few good attack points for a while, so the Wheelsucker felt safer taking pulls.
The Wheelsucker was tired and his riding was becoming ragged. Iain looked tired with sweat dripping off his face, but the Wheelsucker was still being careful, maybe more careful than he needed to be; he could have taken longer pulls at times.
The pace eased up as they approached the road closure on Sands (which is passable by bicycle, though not by car). The Wheelsucker made it through without dismounting though he nearly knocked Iain down doing so. As the Wheelsucker rode out of the ditch back onto the road, he heard Iain say they had had been caught.
Ace, Pat Hogan and Jeff Chun – precisely who the Wheelsucker was expecting — had caught them.
The Wheelsucker was first through the road closure and soft pedaled up Sands while the break reformed. Once together the pace picked up quickly. The three were generally taking short hard pulls, Iain would pull longer. The Wheelsucker was being rotated onto the front more than he wanted, and was on the front for the last descent on Sands before the uphill to the intersection. He was careful not to go too hard early, and save it for the climb, but could not go with the others when Jeff started to sprint and Ace, Hogan and Iain went after him.
It was Ace and Jeff then Hogan and Iain and the Wheelsucker dangling, at the left turn onto Harwood/Patuextent River. They eased up and he chased like mad and caught back on. Somehow he was on the front again very soon (Jeff and Pat pulled left as he caught on, so he joined as 3rd wheel), coming into the dip, but he got off the front quickly and followed wheels. There was no attack climbing out of the dip, and the red light at 214 gave him a badly needed breather.
Iain was taking long pulls; the sprinters were all taking short pulls. The Wheelsucker took one or two medium pulls where it was safe, and then let two riders in, as they neared the finish. The Wheelsucker expected Iain to do long leadout, and he did. Ace was on his wheel and the Wheelsucker was third. Ace is less of a “snap sprinter” and sometimes does a long sprint where he accelerates more slowly. The Wheelsucker thought his best chance was to try to hold Ace’s wheel, rather than try to go with Jeff or Pat, when they jumped.
The Wheelsucker thought about going early at the penultimate dip, but even if the sprinters looked at each other, Iain knew would chase very hard, so the Wheelsucker decided that had no chance of working and sat on.
Iain did an amazing job on leadout, but was running out of gas climbing out of the last dip.
As Iain slowed, Ace launched. The Wheelsucker tried to go with him, but as he accelerated Jeff jumped to his left and the Wheelsucker felt squeezed between Jeff and Iain. He eased up and lost his chance of going with Jeff (or Ace). He was going as hard as he could, but could not catch Jeff’s wheel, or Pat’s, when he launched after Jeff on the left.
He chased briefly but the gap was opening quickly (1400 watts verus 600), and he eased up and coasted across fourth. Iain did not sprint (after that leadout it was impressive that he made it up the false flat to the finish).
The Wheelsucker thinks Jeff Chun got the sprint. Perhaps Ace went a little early and long and could not hold him off. Pat chased hard, but was always behind Jeff.