Zone 2 is a comfortable pace, a heart rate range that you can maintain all day. When you meet a buddy for an easy ride, it's common to announce "I'm just doing zone 2 today." It takes the pressure off the ride by agreeing to take it easy and not race. Of course it's total bullshit. Everyone always pushes it. You want your buddy to think "This is his zone 2?!"
I told you that so I could tell you this story. Tonight was my first race back this season, the 3/4 crit at the Driveway. I showed up early, pinned on my smooth new number and got in a few minutes on the rollers before heading over to stage for the start.
On the way I met up with a good friend and we threw out the racing equivalent of the zone 2 proclamation, "I'm just looking for a pack finish today." I'd told my wife the same thing before I left, and I totally believed it. Of course, as soon as I got warmed up and felt those pre-race nerves, I started thinking that a top-half finish wouldn't be altogether unreasonable. Before the start, Andrew, the race promoter listed out the primes. There were 5, 4 decent little goodies like gift certificates and coffee, and 1 complete dud, a Miller Light yoga mat. I started thinking no one would want that crummy old yoga mat -- I just might be able to pull off a prime tonight.
I couldn't have been more unrealistically optimistic. All 5 primes were called in the first half of the race and I couldn't see who won them for my intense focus on the wheel immediately in front of me. And even though I struggled just to stay in the pack, averaging zone 5b the entire time, two brief moments re-sparked that hopeless optimism.
With 3 laps to go, I found myself in a breakaway. I'd been following a guy's wheel when a couple riders took off along the right for the break. My draft, already accelerating past the pack, punched it a little to catch up. Two more joined us for a decent break. The break failed, due in some small part to my inability to do any work. But the very fact that I found myself in a break at all got me thinking that I just might place well tonight.
Then, on the last lap, I followed the right wheels and took the final corner confidently enough to land me in around 5th wheel with about 500m to go. At this point, the mayor of Whoville that lives inside of me was absolutely convinced that I would podium. A big, kit-stretching rider passed me on the right. I hopped on his wheel and we began passing the lead riders. This is happening. This is really happening. We approached 200m and I stood up out of the saddle as nearly 20 riders swarmed past me. I finished 19th.