First Races of the South

Time to double up on some race reporting action. There’s been a whole mess of racing going on the past two weekends including the first two races that I have EVER just spectated at.

My first race as a working stiff was the High Point twilight Criterium in North Carolina. It started Friday night at 9 so I got my car all packed up on Thursday night ready to go straight from work, that way I’d have plenty of time to get there and warm up. I got out of work at 4:30 and hit the road to High Point, ideally a two and a half hour drive. Halfway between Spartainburg and Charlotte I stopped for gas and a Subway dinner, then as soon as I got back on the highway I hit a gigantic traffic jam.

No problem, I thought, I have plenty of time since I left early. After about 30 minutes I had gone roughly a mile and spotted a news helicopter circling at least a mile a head. The situation looked bleak, I spied an exit to the middle of nowhere a quarter mile up the road so I cut across the stopped traffic and drove up the shoulder. My planned detour took me a good three miles down the highway before getting back on. By this point I was sweating a few bullets as my ETA crept closer and closer to 9, so I was driving, well, a little fast. I came upon a pickup frontage road that was going well under the speed limit and clearly rubbernecking at the accident on the highway (a rolled semi and several ruined cars). As the frontage road crossed a single lane wooden bridge the driver of the truck slammed on the breaks in the middle of the bridge which was wide enough for his car alone. To my horror a large shirtless old man, with foot long white hair covering every inch of his totally sun burnt chest and back. I was panicked, “Oh god, I’ve only been in the South two weeks and I’m already in a Deliverance scenario.” That was a worse case scenario; he might have just had a gun. Anyway with my path blocked he walked up to my car yelling something about what the speed limit was and how if I kept on tailgating him I’d own his bumper. I just said “yes sir” and hoped he would just walk away. After some lecturing and me looking very sorry with a few “yes sir won’t happen again”, he sauntered back to his car satisfied he taught me a thing or two. He pulled off the road just past the bridge, and I gassed it and didn’t look back.

By that point my ETA was about 40 minutes before the start, not too bad if I didn’t hit any more slow downs, but of course I did. Just past Charlotte I ran into another shirtless southern tradition: NASCAR. Little did I know, the Charlotte NASCAR race took place that weekend and the track was right on my route to High Point causing another mass of stopped traffic. This time I really panicked, I was already late and had already been driving for 3 hours; I was now on a mission to make it to the race. I routed a detour around the traffic with the handy Google maps traffic function. This re route was longer, at 20 miles, but funny enough it took me right in front of the Charlotte NASCAR track, where a giant mass of humanity, RV’s, Tents, and Budwiser had amassed. Fortunately I had entered the back way to the track and was now headed back to the highway opposite the gigantic mass of traffic.

From that point onward I was clear of traffic and it was a game of making the ETA on the GPS go backwards in time. I finally got there with 20 minutes to spare before race time, I even got a 5 minute warm up in.

After such a hectic drive over I was really amped up and raced pretty well. Since the race started at 9 it was pitch black the entire time, and the back of the course was really dark with no street lights at all, however the finishing stretch went through a covered bus terminal which was brightly lit with a block party and a ton of live music, it was a really awesome course. The mile long course also had a pretty decent amount of climbing per lap, so the field got whittled down pretty quickly after the start. With a pretty technical course and a 300 m climb out of the last corner to the finish the course was really perfect for me. A large breakaway/field split rolled off midway through the race that was pretty well represented with 3 Mountain Khaki riders an RGF rider and a smattering of others. I attacked to bridge across after it was pretty clear the field wasn’t going anywhere. Another Mountain Khaki rider tagged along for the ride up, and of course attacked me when we were about 5 seconds off the back. I made it across after a lap so I wasn’t too worried. From then on out it was team MTN Khakis against everyone else, they would send a guy up the road and everyone else would pretty much take turns following. Going into the final lap a MTN Khaki guy got a pretty good gap on our group, the RGF rider, who was pretty much going one speed the entire breakaway, kept on diligently working even on the last lap. We all queued up behind him going into the last corner. The MTN Khakis had a good 50 m coming around to the final stretch. I was sitting 3rd wheel and started my sprint right out of the corner to try and catch him. Lucky for me he looked like he was totally blown and I had enough room for a victory salute (he still finished 2nd).

I headed back to G-Ville to watch the US Pro TT, which was cool but kinda boring to watch.

Sunday I raced the South Caroline State RR. It was 92 miles in the 95 degree humid heat. I’m not much a heat of summer racer, so I suffered pretty good. On a side note, regardless of what your silly thermometers say, racing and riding in the humidity is WAY worse than the dry Tucson heat, I think it was best surmised by the opinion of one recumbent rider I met in Tucson. When I asked him about the whole riding at 5 am thing he said, “Yeah they’re a bunch of wimps, sure it’s hot, I just bring a camelback and drink a lot of water.”

Hear that, you Tucson guys were getting dissed by a ‘bent rider.

Anyway back in the RR, Kelly Benefits showed up to the race to do their opening efforts for the next days US Pro road race. This meant for the first laps they would take turns doing about 10 minutes of tempo on the front of the field before all dropping out en masse at lap 4. This left things in a state of disorganization: there was a solo rider 7 minutes ahead of the field, followed by 6 chasers who had their own two KBS riders abandon.

By the time I had realized what happened I was on the wrong end of everything, I attacked for a lap of 15 miles but got caught by a field that only numbered six (after 50 some starters). It was over, I stayed in and did a few more efforts in the last laps to finish things out and get some good hot miles in for the Nationals RR next month.

On Monday I met up with fellow Purdue Alum Stephen Sehr who’s riding like 4000 miles across America this summer to watch the finish of the US Pro Road Race. It was even hotter today, I was pouring sweat just standing around, and the state of the field showed the heat. By the end of the race the field of 100 some riders was totally decimated. I took this vid of the finish from the last corner, it’s a great quality on my iPhone, but as soon as I uploaded it, it turned to crap

And yes I know I called it…wrong, thanks one commentor

On to the People’s Community Bank Omnium. This was a medium sized 2 day 3 day stage race. It consisted of a RR, TT, and finally Crit. What wasn’t standard was the fact that the 55 mile RR ended in a 7 mile climb

Because of this, and the decent tailwind prevalent the entire route out to the climb, the RR Saturday morning started off really relaxed and stayed that way until the base of the climb. There were a few crashes, more than should be in any road race, but the group made it to the base of the climb in mostly one piece. Once we started climbing the climbers started hitting it and the group totally shattered by mile 2 of the climb. It became painfully apparent how much of a climber I am not. I was able to stay with the front group perhaps longer than I should through maybe top end power, then got dropped and passed by a good number of people before settling in with my appropriate group. From there it was a totally relentless 5 miles of climbing at 6% to the finish. If you’ve never done a 7 mile climb with a 6% average in a race, which I’m pretty sure 99% of people haven’t, let me tell you. It’s really hard to stay with the group, but pretty much the outcome of the race will remain unchanged by any amount of suffering you do, somewhat like a TT. I garuntee that if the climb had ended after 2 miles, the results would have been identical as they were at the end of the 7 mile climb. Anyway I suffered my way through it and finished 24th out of 70 some starters. The stage was won by Scott Stewart from TT1 who was only training for the Tour of Switzerland.

The afternoon was a short 3 mile time trial. Luckly it was short and I suffered through it. I would have skipped it but in order to qualify for the omnium you needed to register for all three events.

The way the omnium was scored only 12 people from the RR and 10 from the TT scored any points. That way at most, there’d be only 22 people with any points going into the crit (where only 15 finishers recieved points). This meant that potentially any single decent result would produce a good overall.

So since I scored zero points in the first two stages the Crit was my last chance. It was a very techincal 8 corner 1 km crit with some funky brick pavement in a few of the corners. I lined up at the back, so when the start came it took me a few laps to get settled into the front of the field. The winning breakaway however rolled off the front on the second lap. There were definately some teams underrepresented in the breakaway, but in a course that was whiplashing any rider outside the top 10 to death, it was difficult to mount a chase. I worked a bit with the RealCyclist team (who had 2 riders) and a smattering of others. We wern’t able to close the gap below 30 seconds, and the Hincapie Development team, which was the only team consistently at the front of the field, had a rider up the road.

It came down to a field sprint, I was sititng a few wheels back in good position but got swarmed by a few guys with 2 corners to go. I surged back up to 4th wheel by the final corner, but finished 3rd in the field for 6th place in the race.

With my points from the 6th place I placed 8th overall in the omnium.