Lattomeriajo is the traditional season opening race for the Finnish road cycling clubs. This year the race was ridden in Ulvila and consisted of a 25 km lap that was either ridden 2, 3 or 4 times depending on which group you were riding in. The Elite did 4 laps (105 km), Women and Juniors 3 laps (80 km) and the Kuntosarja did 2 laps (55 km). The route was mainly flat with just a few small hills and a hill finish. The race (Elite) was won by Roope Nurmi (TWD-Länken). You'll find the full result list here.
We would be riding in the Kuntosarja and were looking forward to a nice day in the saddle and waking up the body for the upcoming racing season. 55 km would be just suitable for that. The forecast would be okay, cloudy day with winds up to 7 m/s from north-northwest. That meant the last kilometers before the finish would be partly head- and side-winds. Winds that could play a role in splitting up groups.
Our start was at 12:10 just after the Elite and ladies. The free speed started almost immediately and our guys did a good job pacing the group to a good start. The group consisted of some 20 riders, and it was all smooth riding. There was some breakaway attempts but none was allowed to go or didn't get enough riders to really go at that early stage. So we rode for a good 15 km before the first small hill section was upon us. At that point there was one rider that had a small gap to the main group and I got off to the front. Pedaled pretty solid up the hill and realized that losing 7 kg from last year really gave me some sort of advantage. I didn't smash or attack, still I managed to get a small gap and catch the breakaway. It was not my intention to go, at least not that early, so we waited and soon the group was all together again.
We had a chat soon after that, about how we would ride, and I said I feel good today and could do something. We decided we would try something. There was no more attacking and the pace settled to a quite comfortable and calm riding. We approached the end of the first lap and you could really feel the wind now. Soon we were on top of the hill and started our last lap. Nigel put in a good effort after a few kilometers, having a small gap that increased once we came to a roundabout and then all of a sudden a breakaway group of 3 riders was formed. This time it looked as if that one could go all the way, only 15 km to go.
It became clear soon that the breakaway of 3 riders would become 2 and Nigel soon got caught by the main group. At that point we decided to go for it with Jamie. Jamie led the attack and I closely followed him. The main group responded immediately to that attack and we were dragging them now, therefore also decided to not spend all energy here. Soon I found myself at the front of the main group again. Decided to just put in a good gear and keep on going. I looked back and there was all of a sudden a 10 m gap to the group. Immediately after that there was a 90 degree left turn and I continued pedaling. No attacking but just putting in a steady effort. The gap was increasing. There was now 12 km to the finish and Nigel made a quick attack from the main group to catch me. Together we rode for a few hundred meters in a good pace to the small hilly section. Nigel thought I should go. As the hill section got closer I kept the momentum on and continued pedaling up the hill. The gap was still increasing, now a good 30-40 m.
The two man breakaway had split further into a single man breakaway at this point. I was approaching Juha and soon caught him. I asked how he was and if he was able to work together. He couldn't at that moment so I continued going on. Juha was fortunately able to work not long after I'd caught him so we worked well together. The headwind section started and we had probably a 60 m gap to the main group. We did good turns together and pushed against the headwind. The gap was increasing to the main group, but we didn't close in much on the single man breakaway, but neither was he getting further away. With some 5 km to go Juha couldn't hang on anymore. He had been working a lot for a long time already. For a second I thought about my chances; 5 km by myself with headwinds or wait for the group and try something at the end? I quickly decided to go for the first option. I had already been working for a while whilst some in the main group were probably saving for a sprint at the end. And I didn't want that energy go to waste, so I decided I would continue pedaling smoothly, not too hard, still keeping it together.
I started calculating the kilometers and wattage in my head. Doing a solid FTP test kind of effort should put me to the bottom of the finishing hills in front of the main group and that would also leave energy for a sprint if needed. I grabbed the handlebars firmly and tried to find an as good as possible aerodynamic position, getting as low as I could to push efficiently through the headwind. I actually felt pretty good, no lactate building in my legs yet, breathing was steady and I had settled into a pace that I felt comfortable with. At 49 km there was again a 90 degree turn to the left. I looked back and could see that Juha was still out in the no-mans-land, not caught by the main group. And it seemed the gaps had increased between all groups by now. I could see the rider in front of me, and I felt I was getting closer. I looked down at my Garmin. This wattage and this HR I should do easily to the end, should I increase power and try to catch the guy in front? I'd say there was a 30-40 second gap between us, just 3 km to go. I decided I would probably put my legs into cramping mode if I'd put in all I had now, and that would leave me with finishing dead last. I decided to keep my steady pace. In 1 km the road would start climbing a bit, and that would be to my advantage. And soon I passed the 2 km marker that also meant some shelter from the worst winds. I looked back again. I would make it. I couldn't see the main group and I could still see Juha at a distance. They say second place is always a lost first place. I had none of it. I felt good and was happy about having a good day and being able to do something. Soon the 500 m sign was passed and I changed to a lower gear and pedaled easily up the hill and finished second some 30 seconds after the winner, leaving the main group a minute behind me.
Great news was that Juha was able to hang in and finished third, just 30 seconds behind me. It was not the fastest of races, nor was it the longest. Quite the opposite. Still it was probably one of the best days in the saddle. Everyone in the group did work, it was safe to ride, no one did anything stupid. Some have asked why I'm racing the kuntosarja and not the kilpasarja. For the time being, my fitness would not allow me to do more than barely hang in the kilpasarja (if lucky), and really this day again proved that being able to really "make the race" is so much more fun. You can actually "re-live" the race by using the new Strava Flyby feature.
After the finish we spoke briefly with the group and it really seemed as if everyone had enjoyed the day and were all pleased with the riding. It's probably the best thing after the races, to shake hands and chatter about the race and how the legs were and what had crossed peoples minds throughout the race. A race like today would put a smile on anyone's face. And that was pretty much what was seen. A big thanks to all who rode in the kuntosarja and especially to those who I had the joy to work together with!
After the race and changing clothes we had time to watch the Elite and Fincycling finish. There had been a couple of crashes, according to the riders it had been really nervous, especially in the beginning. Fincycling did well, taking all the podium places in M-18 class (more details about Fincycling later with some news about upcoming races; Simon muistoajot and TS Kortteliajot this weekend).
Below some more pictures from various groups, including Elite finish. Please contact me if you want to use any of the pictures.
So thanks for reading and stay tuned for interesting stuff coming up in the future, along some Fincycling updates!