Joe Martin Stage Race

Joe Martin was the second big test of the team for the year after mid-April’s Tour of the Battenkill. I had previously competed in the race in 2010 and was pretty excited to measure my progress as a rider since then. 
The highlight of the trip though happened before the racing even got under way. Former Panther rider (2010) and Arkansas local, Kris French, got in contact with the team about guest riding and put us in touch with the Hazel Valley Ranch for host housing. This place has to have been the best host housing experience we’ve ever had. That’s saying something, we’ve been very fortunate as a team to have some great people open up their homes to us so we can race. Not only was the housing itself super nice:

(After the TT we were feeling pretty perky and took a ride on some Gators). 

(The ranch had 4 Buffalo!)

But he people who operated the ranch were super hospitable. Needless to say it was a vacation
(staying slammed in Arkansas)

On to the racing…
Stage 1 of JMSR is always a 2.4 mile uphill time trial. I’m personally familiar with the climb out of the west side of Devil’s Den State Park from many spring breaks spent with the Purdue Cycling Club in Mountainburg AR. Unfortunately that did not make things any easier when riding uphill. My own time was a full 15 seconds slower than in 2010. I’m going to go ahead and chaulk up the poor performance to lack of rest from a hectic week of work before and travel before the race since the rest of the race went much better.
We woke Friday morning to 25 mph winds and we knew that’d be the defining factor in the race. Paco Mancebo of our big brother team Competitive Cyclist (ok maybe more like brother from another mother that never talks to you) had the lead from the TT and had tempo setting duty. The first half of the race was relatively tame, 2 riders getting off the front. As we tacked into the headwind with CC at the helm , most of the riders were getting the easiest ride of the year (try 170 watt average for the first 2 hours). However once we turned east into a cross wind the race was actually on. Kelly Benefits started throwing it down. After a short cross wind section along twisty roads we turned back north towards Fayetteville on 71 and things got really hard. Kelly continued to throw down the gauntlet, guttering the entire field into the far left shoulder. As we were tucked in chewing our handlebars, I managed to peak a few times up the pack and started to see the CC team being worn thin. After setting tempo for 2 hours into a headwind they we’re gassed and Mancebo was totally exposed. We started the decisive climb up Mt. Gaylor in a state of total oxygen depletion and I though things would seriously split. I was only partly right, the attacks continued to fly up Gaylor, and the burden of chasing things down fell to Mancebo himself. Had he not possessed some inhuman strength to chase down every single attack he would have lost the lead. Incredibly everytime I looked up the road for some sign of downhill relief I saw teammate Andy Seitz following the attacks of the pure mountain goats.

As we descended the back side of Gaylor back into town the field had really split into 3 distinct groups but eventually came back together on the gradual downhill run into the finish. With a false flat downhill and massive tailwind running into Fayetteville, the last hour of the race was unbelievably fast (averaging almost 34 mph). Most of the time was spent single file on the 4 lane highway. With 5 k to go a curb jutted out as we were riding the gutter. With guys in the red and heads down a crash was inevitable, a rider swerved to avoid the curb and took our Seitz at about 40 mph. A few wheels back Ryan A and I narrowly avoided the wreck and sprinted back onto the pack. I actually managed to get into the last turn before the finishing climbs in like 20th wheel but was totally blown by the positioning effort and finished 41st.

We were all hurting but Saturday was another harder and longer day in the saddle. With 4 loops of 22 miles plus an out and back the total on the day was slated for 114 miles. Normally in these races a rhythm settles in, but teams were not content to let Mancebo walk away with the win. A group large group got away on the first lap, but the CC team, weakened by Fridays hard stage, was unable to control the race. Attacks we’re pretty much going away the entire race, the only thing holding the field together were guys fearing they’d miss the decisive move. I’d say only the second lap was really tame, the rest of the laps were a constant flurry of attacks. We did eventually bring the breakaway back just as we made the turn off the loops towards the finish. I had recovered pretty well from the climbs and was feeling good for the finish and finding my positioning skills significantly improved from the 2010 edition. Ryan A, the only other teammate left in the field took to a two man flyer with 10 k to go and stayed away until only a handful of kilometers remained. I managed to put myself a few wheels behind the Bissell train with 2 k to go, which turned out to be a bad idea since they all crashed. A rider at the front of their train looked left breifly to check on some swarming riders and drifted ever so slightly causing the entire train to cross wheels.

I narrowly avoided some flying bikes and bodies, when I regained my composure I saw a group of 20 riders only 50 meters ahead. Total anarchy ensued, every pro team’s lead out had been compromised. Elbowz was the only team to make it through the chaos with the majority of their riders and capitalized, leading out their man Eric Marcotte for the win. I managed to weave my way into the top ten for 8th place on the stage.

(Power during the crash and then sprint)

The final stage was a very difficult crit course. Usually most amateur riders shoot for the half way point of the race as that’s how long you have to make it in order to not get time cut. This was again my goal since I was pretty unsure about my form. I managed a 2nd row starting spot and settled in for some suffering. The hill wasn’t so tough the first few trips up, but as the laps clicked off I either started getting more tired, or we started going faster. However we hot to and passed the halfway point and I was still there. By the last 3 laps there was no strategy just hanging on. Since this was my first big crit of the season I was a little rusty on my positioning skills. On the last lap I had dreams of glory but was still 30 wheels down and decided to move up on the descent (bad idea). I burned the last match I had moving up a whole 5 wheels and was pretty gassed for the last trip up the hill losing a fair amount of spots for 32nd spot.

Overall I finished 5 seconds outside of the last money spot of 40th place. I don’t know how I finished in 2010 overall, but I know it was a hell of a lot more than 2 minutes off the winners time. I came away from the race with a big boost confidence on my form. I started a little slow and un-rested but got fast by the end of the week. The team rode really well too. Hopefully Andy heals up quickly and can return to the good form he had on Friday. This race should also produce some good fitness for the rest of the May’s races.

Next up Tour of C-U.

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