The Novant Health Criterium was this past weekend (or as everyone still calls it: Presby). This was second race on the NCC calendar after Sunny King the weekend prior. Sunny King was an all out battlefield between Hincapie and UHC, with UHC on the defensive the entire time, eventually losing out.
This year they changed the crit course from previous years. In previous years the course was in a large dumbell shape, with huge straights and tight corners. This lead to field chopping mania, since the long straightaways had a hill that peaked halfway through the straight, which meant a few downhill wide open blocks until you went into the 1-block turn around.
The change resulted in the dumbell’s being smashed together. Instead of something like 6 blocks per straight away, it was compressed down to 4 and 2. This meant same number of corners, nearly half the course length. Courses that have been around for years typically play out in a predictable fashion, it’ll generally end in a field sprint, breakaway, whatever. With a new course it’s a bit more unpredictable, the race could stick together like glue because guys are afraid of any group getting away they couldn’t handle, or a breakaway will get away REALLY easily by virtue of everyone underestimating the difficulty of the course.
The later happened on Saturday. Nearly the very first breakaway, through some dropping of riders, and bridging up of other riders, morphed into the winning move. I started near the back of the small-ish field and had a hard time moving up since the course was so technical. When the break was forming it so happened that the group really fanned across the road and all the “Sit-in-and-sprint” guys essentially blocked for UHC (who had 3 out of 5 up the road).
By the time I was able to get around they still only had 8 seconds and were attacking themselves. I put in a few digs and brought it back a little (I think) and got away either solo or with a small group but got dragged back every time. What was weird was that it wasn’t UHC who was dragging things back, but another small elite crit team. They had obviously missed the break and chase move but were feeling just good enough to tow everyone around and let the break get a half lap advantage.
Thankfully Frank was able to counter a short while after I was totally gassed and got into a solid chase group. The original breakaway ended up lapping the field with 20 miles to go and UHC went to the front to protect their lap up riders. That’s when all the “Sit-in-and-sprint” guys really started fighting for position, I got bumped around more in lap 20-15 than in laps 5-0 (when all the sprinters were dropped or getting dropped). Not sure what they think is going to happen but shouldering people for 20th wheel when you have 20 miles to go isn’t really going to save you energy.
Anyway I sat in the rest of the race, missed a prime by a few inches, and ended up sprinting to a blistering 20th place. Frank stayed away in his chase group for 6th place.
A little downtime this weekend as I get to do a 1-2 race here in Greenville.