So it’s been a hectic couple of weeks since my last blog post. a little over two weeks ago we all flew out to Oregon for the Cascade Classic, you can read a full description of that race…um…somewhere else…haven’t written anything….it’s probably going to be a bunch of philosophical comments on what it takes to be a domestique, how NRC is so much faster than NCC, yada yada yada. Regardless it went pretty well: Flavio, a new addition to the Smart Stop squad, took the KOM jersey.
This past weekend was the rather local US Professional Criterium championship. This was my first experience doing the P-R-O Crit. I’ve done elite crits before, first at Downers Grove (which I think everyone misses a little) and then down in Augusta (don’t miss so much). Not going to lie: when I did elite crit nationals last it was a wee bit harder, I got straight up dropped on a flat for corner crit. It was also 98 degrees and roughly 100% humidity.
This year’s race was in High Point, NC. It’s a very cool course, the finish is under a bus terminal, and I’d raced here before with pretty good results, so I was stoked. The course had a few hills and while a figure 8 style course, was SUPER wide open. It’s narrowest point came in the final two corners. This made the race play out more like a road race in format (easy for teams to organize, chase, and bring back the breakaway).
To add to the tactical uncertainty there were a total of 40 guys racing, Smart Stop had 11, UHC had 10 or so, Jelly Belly had a bunch and so did Optum. Missing were all the single guys hoping for shots at glory that usually animate a race. From what I’ve heard this has always been the case at US Pro crit, unless it’s a very technical course (Glencoe), breakaways can be kept in check by a single team. Knowing this we knew it was going to be a big staring contest all race, and we’d try to hold our cards to our chest longer than any other team.
Given our large size in the field, this gave a few of us the opportunity to go with a few attacks. I followed Freedman from Optum attack pretty early on (credit goes to Adam, he DID point him out to follow at just the right time). We got away with Pipp from Bissell, Kiel from UHC:
Trust me I’m there….trying to sit on, I thought having 10 teammates in the field was excuse to not really drive the break, but as I was told having only 3 teammates is ALSO and excuse to not pull.
Anyway these were a bunch of really good guys to follow around and they were actually working, for a bit. Then Kiel started sitting on…then everyone started talking/looking at each other. I knew the field wasn’t exactly chasing us because we built up a 30s advantage after only a few laps. It was pretty clear my group was done too busy talking so I kept pedaling. Again they all looked at each other. I went through the finish line a quarter lap later and already had a large gap (I did NOT want this to happen, I’m no TTer, someone REALLY should’ve ridden up to help me out).
Unfortunately after only two laps of riding hard I was very alone, and the break was back in the field(uhhhhh crap). My gap had even gone out to 45s at that point over the field and I still had a LONG way to go. I figured there were 9 other guys to help lead out Shane so might as well get some good ole TV time and give all the other Smart Stop guys a really good excuse to sit on all the attacks.
Let me re-itterate I am no good at riding by myself for an hour: I can sprint 10 seconds every minute, I can do one or two laps pretty fast, but there I was, by myself…for an hour. Amazingly enough my gap grew up to a maximum of 1:15 over the field. It sure was fairly painful to do but at the same time one of the coolest experiences I’ve had on a bike. The crowds at High point were awesome and starting going crazy as the laps went under 10 to go, it definitely spurred me on to keep on going. Deep down I knew there was no way I could hold of ten DII riders driving the field. Everyone knew it’d be a field sprint, but that’s boring. It’s always better to ride smart, be conservative, lick your opponents plate clean before starting on your own, etc, cycling cliche, etc. It’s also better to sometimes do something stupid: like for a non TT guy ride in front of the US Pro Criterium field for an hour.
I made it to 10 to go. At that point my gap started to slowly and formulaic-ly inch down. I kept on going but knew the extent of my leg’s skills to move in circles was quickly diminishing. With 8 to go Scott Zwizanski hit out from the field. He rode past, my legs were snap-less, and my race was done (only THEN did the announcers call a prime for the breakaway).I pulled into the pit to watch the finish. UHC which had been riding from 12 laps to go (36 miles to go) was shortly passed by the Jelly Belly Train at 5 to go. Our guys were spread out through the field, but that was ok since one lap at High Point was really like 2 laps anywhere else. The laps ticked down and things were fairly chaotic for a criterium with UHC in attendance. Oddly enough, a big part of the UHC dominance in the American criterium scene has come from foreign talent, so a large part of the hit squad was absent.Optum played the waiting game to perfection, sitting back in the small field and staying together. They launched their team on the wide downhill road overtaking everyone, going 1-2 in the field sprint, and re-crowing Eric Young as the US Champ. Shane was 7th and Frank 9th.No idea what’s next for me, the season’s winding down, maybe it’s just time to not get kitted up for a little bit and go to the beach.