Walburg is always hard. It has a reputation for being a windy race with echelon's across the road and having generally nasty weather wise. This year was not much different. It was warmer on the start and throughout the race than usual and didn't rain, that was nice. It was however, very windy.
Wind was out of the south at ~30kmh on the start line. Loop started with 20k of tail cross/ tail wind, then 4k of dead on head wind, followed by 10k of HARD crosswinds, and then about 5k of sheltered small rolling hills, on a twisty small road that finishes with a hill and the finish line not far past it.
First wind in the crosswind I put myself in the front echelon, right Michael Jones's wheel (a guy I know to be a very very solid motor). Thankfully Michael and I know each other well and when I saw the conditions were perfect, I yelled at him to GO and he went. Winning break formed 1hr into the race. There were ~8 of us and we were throttling it. Differences in fitness/fatigue seemed to become apparent quickly. We were not working fluidly, guys couldn't pull through or wouldn't leaving constant opening and closing gaps in the echelon. I decided I would just fill the first gap I saw and not get stuck behind someone popping off our group. Eventually decided I needed to not take another pull and instead of filling the first gap I saw drifted back to a longer rest. A gap opened, some people sprinted to close it and the guy on the back gave 0 response. I moved up to try and drag myself back up. I pulled hard, got closer, punched it to try and get in the wheel. Guy who I was sheltering jumped past me, moved over enough to nearly take out my wheel and said something to me (not really sure what, something about not being able to work I think). I got dropped by the winning break and fell back to chase 1
When the chase group caught me I slotted right in and started working. We were working pretty fluidly and hard, making gains on the leaders. Group slowed it down and smoothed it out as people we got ready for a longer chase. Gap grew a bit then settled at about 1:15 for the next hour. As it became apparent that people were tiring, some started skipping pulls and the gap was staying steady, I started to think about how to get up to the leaders. I started pulling longer, and pulling the pace up a hint on each pull, and also started making note of who to be next to if I wanted to drop some dead weight and make a hard push for a catch on the last lap crosswind. Unfortunately, I had made a big error that often plagues me, I didn't eat enough (one of the big two things that hold me back in races, I was good on the positioning that usually does me in today) . I ate one gel and drank half a bottle all day). As we hit the tailwind section of the course I started to fade, people started to pull harder and there was less draft. All bad. I got popped by a little surge while trying to get back on after a pull and rode in solo. My back also started to seize up from two hours of pushing it in the drops.
I ultimately I finished ahead of the 'field' (60ish person field with about 20 DNF's... did I mention it was hard?). 18th. Top 20 is always respectable but I feel like I could have been top 5 if I had filled gaps like I had been earlier and ate food. I'm disappointed because I feel I could have done better, my fitness is good. I am satisfied with progress, this is a race in which I got dropped by the main field 1/3 of the way through last year DNF to 18th is definitely an improvement. It is also worth noting, that while I am pretty slippery. Super windy races tend to not be the domain of guys as light and small as me. Kinda a petty excuse, good amateur bike racers are good on flat roads too, but this is kinda the opposite of ideal terrain for me. So doing even moderately ok in this type of race is pretty good for me.
All that said: I REALLY need to figure out how to eat in races. I come in with a plan to do so, but when the race is on all day it is hard cause I need to breath, and handle the bike in a crosswind. I need to make it happen.
Numbers for those who like them:
Race time: 3:31:36
Average Speed: 35.7 kmh (22.1 mph)
Average power: 180w
Average HR: 166bpm