This is one of my favorite events of the calendar, even though I have never done well at this race.
The course has always been the story with this race with the six corners and that killer fifth corner that has been the site of more than one crash every year. This year the course gets even more interesting with eight turns instead of six due to the ever expanding construction around the Reston Town Center.
This course will be selective due to the technical turns and the fact that some of the corners are pretty fast. Staying up where you can pick your line and carry your speed without breaking will be the rule of the day for anyone with aspirations for a good result. In the past the long finishing stretch gave the field a chance to come back together after things would get strung out by the three fast downhill corners on the back half of the course. This year, the long straightaway will be broken up by a detour between the buildings that will be the source of the two new turns. That means the finishing straight is much shorter and the distance from the last turn to the finish will be half as long.
As I wrote last week, if you are not a sprinter, you really need to be looking for the chance to take the race away from the sprinters. You can do this in a couple ways: the first, drop the sprinters, is nearly impossible without a significant climb. A sprinter's strength is his or her ability to accelerate quickly which means the corners will not be a big deal for them. So that leaves a breakaway. Get away from the field and leave the sprinters to fight it out for the minor places.
There are plenty of riders in the field who have the endurance and power to stay away from the field. The real challenge is getting away from the field. On a course with so many turns and relatively short straightaways, it can be easier to get out of sight and that is one of the tactics to making a successful break. The mechanics of a break away are varied, but in its simplest form, a break forms when someone attacks the field and gets a big enough gap that it takes a concerted effort to bring it back. What that means is that you need to be able to put in a hard effort to get away and then not poop out. You need to stay on the gas, at a lower intensity, but still hard enough to stay away. Most riders can do the attack part, but the not-poop-out is the hard part. Learning how hard you can go in an attack so that you will be able to continue the move either alone or with a smaller group takes practice. Knowing that you can do 1000 watts for 10 seconds and knowing that you can TT at 300 watts is great, but can you do the 300 watt TT after a 10 or 20 second 1000 watt effort to establish your break? Practice it before you try it in the race and learn what the right amount of effort feels like.
One rule that they teach at USA Cycling Coaches school is that when you make an attack, the commitment has to be 100%. If you are making a move that you know will not work, and there is not a logical team tactic behind the effort, it is a waste of energy.
Once you get your break established, hang with it, but keep an eye on the field. If the field is right on your tail, don't hammer along with the group sitting on your wheel waiting for you to cook yourself. But if you have a reasonable gap that still is not completely under the control of the bunch, stay with it. If the break has failed, don't beat a dead horse - get ready for the next move. If the break gets caught, be ready to try and follow the counter attack that will likely come. Just because you just put in a big effort in the first move, that does not mean you cannot be part of the next move.
Not to neglect the sprinters, your place in the field will be crucial as the bell lap comes up. It is a great idea to try to at least one prime and pay attention to how any primes are won. Did the winner lead out of the last corner? Where they able to win from 10 places back? Primes are a dress rehearsal for the final sprint.
Good luck and be safe