I wish I could say that this race was an enjoyable experience but for many reasons it was not. First the registration for the race did not open until just two weeks before the event. I called the OCA three weeks prior to the event to ask about the status of registration and was told that the OCA had sent numerous emails and made phone calls to the organizer about the event and had not heard anything back. This was the first indication that the organization of this race would be a disaster. With registration opening so late and being open for only one week (along with no race day registrations) very few riders attended the event. The E3/U19 men had only 17 riders in their combined field.
After spending 10 days racing in Chicago at the Intelligentsia Cup where field sizes could swell to 100 riders, the small intimate field of 17 (including several of my teammates) would be an interesting, if not, welcome change. Unfortunately, the organizers had opted to have several fields on the course at one time. Normally on a large course with roughly equivalent fields, in terms of size and ability, this isn’t a problem. When the course is only 1.3km in length and the M1/2 category, arguably the strongest field aside from the E1/2, at full force with over 40 riders, there just isn’t enough space for everyone. Had the field sizes been roughly equal, the two fields would have had similar paces and perhaps never crossed paths. But when one field is only boasting 17 riders and the other a whopping 40, the larger field is capable of greater speeds for longer durations. The course also lacked any tight or sharp corners that would normally hinder a large field and favour a small one. Ciociaro features long sweeping corners, most of which riders can pedal through at speed.
The M1/2s lined up ahead of us at 1:15pm (a little late given the excessively hot temperatures) and we departed one minute later at 1:16pm. The pace wasn’t too hard at the beginning, with only 17 in the field no one was too keen to put in any hard digs knowing there weren’t going to be many to follow suit. For the first few laps I was able to coast part way up the sharp little climb in corner two without losing position in the pack and I was able to climb sitting down with relative ease. Most of the hammering came on the back stretch after we came down the hill. It was a good place to put in a dig without having to burn a match in a hard acceleration. As long as you were quick on the draw over the crest of the climb, it didn’t take much to grab a wheel down the hill and through to the final turn going into the finishing straight.
A few attacks came in the first few laps but nothing that required much effort to reel in. Early in the race it seems that attackers were hesitant about going out on their own with such a small field behind them. Small fields usually favour solo breakaways because the field has fewer riders to mount a chase (even in a small field many riders prefer to sit in and let 2 or 3 stronger riders do the work) but getting caught after being a long solo breakaway can also be the end of a rider’s day when dealing with a small field. There’s less pack to fall back through when you’re caught which means less time to recover. The smaller pack also means it’s hard to find a good place to surround yourself with riders to get a good draft to recover.
One early attack was made by a rider from the To Wheels team out of London. He’s a strong rider and frequently makes solo attempts. His attempt at a solo breakaway at Springbank lasted much longer than I expected. I decided to follow his attack. Once he was far enough off the front to have a decent break but close to bridge with one hard jump, I went for it. It took only a 10-20 seconds to catch and we were off together. The break lasted several laps before everything went to hell in a hand basket. I don’t know whether Eric (my breakaway companion) had the legs to stay away but I certainly didn’t. There was still 40minutes of racing left. I did not have the endurance to maintain a two man break for that long. I had just started drifting off his wheel when I heard a call from the announcers that the race had been neutralized so the M1/2 field could pass through. They had already caught the other 15 riders in our group and were now coming up on my wheel fast. When I started to drift through their group I still had a sizeable gap on my own field. I was shocked to find that when I came out the back of the M1/2 pack the E3/U19 were right there on my wheel. A few of the junior riders spotted me and asked where the other guy was. “He’s up the road still, he’s neutralized though.” Once they heard that this small group attacked through the Master’s field. The rest of our field hesitated for a moment and then followed. The race then turned into a giant mass of riders from different categories. The Masters were racing their own race while a group of juniors were weaving through them looking for their phantom breakaway rider. The Masters were not impressed and things started getting heated. There was a lot of shoving and yelling going on and almost no racing. Finally it took one of the OCA board members who was in the race to stop and tell the organizers to stop the race and sort out the mess.
We came to a stop at the Start/Finish line and the yelling matches continued, this time between riders and spectators alike. It was a mess. The race organizers decided to restart the race with a combined field. Now there would be two groups racing against each other with tensions and tempers escalated. When the race restarted there was some more pushing and shoving between the Masters and the juniors and this continued for most of the race. In the final few laps things came to a boiling point. Riders were frustrated, tired, and getting sloppy. Two crashes happened on the same lap. The first sent me head first into a guardrail and wrecked the bike of my teammate. The second sent another of my teammates to the hospital in a gurney. The field was splintered with some riders getting lapped in the last lap and trying to join in the sprint despite being a lap down. The whole race was chaos and a prime example of poor organization. Unless things change for next year, I won’t be doing Ciociaro again.