This weekend past was the Tour of Hermann in lovely Hermann, MO. You should go to Hermann, and I should go back. The people were nice, the hills were plentiful, the views picturesque, the B&B’s ubiquitous. Did I mention there are wineries every 5 miles? Besides the obvious “cycling destination” places I’ve ridden (Germany’s Rhine river valley; Tucson, AZ) Hermann is someplace I’d like to go back and train, race, or cyclotour.
The Tour of Hermann Omnium Stage Race had 3 stages: time trial, criterium, and road race, in that order. The TT and crit were on Saturday, with a nervous, recovery intensive overnight before the Sunday RR.
First, I hate TT’s. Steady state, solo, self regulated pain ain’t my bag, baby. If you want to torture yourself, go ahead. Me, I like the path of least resistance. I must say though that as I punish myself with interval training, TT’s are becoming a little more understandable, even acceptable. Even still, going into them I feel like Gandalf the Grey in that scene from “The Two Towers” LotR film, where Sauruman says: “You have chosen the way of PAIN!” Yeah, that’s pretty much what I picture before a TT.
The upshot of the TT’s is all the “bells and whistles” I borrowed from friends for the event. Larry graciously lent me his super pro Zipp 1080’s for the occasion, and Shunk lent me his carbon Easton clip on aero bars. I also acquired my own “go-fast” equipment in the way of a TT helmet, aero booties, and a short sleeve skinsuit.
I was not very organized for the TT (I’ve only done a couple) and my buffer of prep time soon slipped away. My warm-up, which I had hoped would be 30-45 minutes, was barely 15 on the trainer. And my powertap head unit battery decided to die on me at that moment. As I quickly rolled to the start, I was concerned about my brakes rubbing the braking surface of the wheels (I had shaved the pads down to avoid this and remove metal bits which would harm the borrowed carbon.) As I was called into the start order I realized I hadn’t pumped up my rear tire. I frantically ran to the mechanics station and filled it to 120psi. I checked the front at 115, NOT the 112/115 front/rear pressures Larry recommended for optimum performance. I then realized (as I was next in line for the start station) that I hadn’t put on my aero booties. I tossed them to the mechanic, and asked him to hold onto them till I came back. I jogged back in line, hopped up on the ramp, realizing that I was in the little ring, I shifted up, now with less than 20 seconds to start. I look down and I’m not in the right gear – my derailleur and chain are not lined up on the same cog – my first several pedal strokes will be wasted. I resign myself to start easy as the official counts down from ten. I look down at my Timex ironman watch, and realize it’s not there. I’m wearing my work watch, which although VERY nice is analog and not conducive to timing one’s splits.
As I roll down the ramp and push the pedals a huge “KLANK!” echoes in the morning stillness of Hermann. I’ve now found the right gear. How embarrassing. I pump it down the initial straight and then point to the right to the volunteer and begin my turn. He (and several spectators) yell(s): “LEFT!” I retort: “SH!T!” as I screech to a halt and turn around, and sprint in the correct direction. I hate TT’s.
At this point I tell myself not to blow up and curse TT’s as the stoopidest kind of bike racing. It wasn’t Frank Schleck or Michael Rasmussen TT bad, but it was bad. It can’t be that bad, right? Remember, borrowed 1080’s! At the 2 mile mark, it was that bad. A dude passed me. He started 30 seconds behind me, and no doubt my PERFECT start gave him some help in the task of passing me. He was a master’s racer, and I just told myself to hold him at 50 meters and that he was probably some super TT state champ type. The games we play. Soon I hit the turn, and after checking my brake pad clearance, accelerated back up to speed. Very soon I began passing folks. I think I passed between 5 and 7 people. Memory beyond threshold is questionable. I KNOW I passed 4, but I think it was more. This was my favorite part of the race as each person was a new target. I started saying things like “You’re mine!” as I rolled up (internal monologue, of course).
The TT ended with leg burning and heavy breathing and a 6th place finish in the Cat 4’s. My time over 11 miles was 27:19. Disappointing, but still nabbing Omnium points, and best on Wild Card.
Omnium points: 19.
I like crits. They are my favorite type of bike racing. Fast, turny, accelerations, open aggression! I likes them a lot. However, the crits that have big hills each lap, not so much. Hermann was like that. Big BIG uphill (like 10mph at race pace), false flat, bomber downhill over crappy pavement (like 45mph coasting!), several 90 deg turns, and surprise surprise, BIG HILL again!
The group lined up with 50 guys and Mike Rickey of Wild Card St. Louis (the sister team of WCC) lined it out from the start, busting it the entire first lap, leading up the opening hill. Mike is an experienced racer who catted *down* recently after several years away. So he was testing his legs, and sadly, they didn’t answer. He was quite fatigued from training, and popped. I however felt ok and stayed in the top 10 through those first few laps. Soon enough the group was strung out and the selection had been made – 6 of us at the front and everybody else behind shattered into smaller groups.
We tested each other up the climb and saw who could handle a bike on the downhill and turns. Nobody was much interested in pulling through the wind-protected flats as that was the perfect time to rest before the kicker each lap.
It was in this section with 4 to go that Ian of BMC/Walmart (not that BMC, another BMC. But yes, that Walmart.) said adieu and rolled off the front of our group. He kept the heat on up the climb and soon had a 20 second gap. The rest of us looked around at each other as if to say: “why don’t you chase that down and haul our sorry butts up to him?!” He had chosen the perfect moment, when everyone was tired and not eager to chase. (Note to self: attack at this time in the future.)
Our group of five watched him and continued in our pattern of quick climbing, but not balls out, and two of us found ourselves regularly going around the rest on the downhill. Homeboy (I forgot his name!) was an unattached rider on a Lynskey Helix with Zipp 1080’s. (Yes, it was a 1080 weekend! EDIT: after looking at some race pics, they might be 808’s. Jury is still out.) He was the only dude who was faster than me on the descent. Noted. Though he had a PRO setup, I had something better, a little tip from Dave Stone on the climb. You know that false flat after the hill? Yeah, save a little for it, and drop fools there. Well, I exercised that and started testing the breakmates there. Sure enough, they were gassed after the climb and started getting gapped on the teasers through the false flat. On the last lap I knew what I had to do, I ramped it up on the false flat, stringing out our group. I bombed the downhill, pedalling it for the first time during the race. Fla-hi-ing. Homeboy passed me and I locked on his wheel. He towed me through the first 2 turns as I told him we had a gap (which we did). I jumped him on the inside of the 3rd to last turn, kept the gas on through the last 2 turns and started the climb with several seconds in hand. 1/3 of the way up the hill I look back and a slighter guy is gaining ground on me. His name is Walker, and he rides for Michelob/Big Shark out of St. Louis. Darn climbers! His teamates (from other catagories) start cheering for him. I hear the announcer congratulating Ian for winning (by 8 seconds!) and begin commentating our duel for the rest of the podium spots. I decide I will NOT cede a spot to this guy. I glance down and see 750 watts sustained on the power tap. Keep the cadence up, I think, and throw the bike at the line. I had him by at least a bike length. So I wound up with second place in the crit, and my last lap attack produced the fastest lap time of the cat 4 race (Hooray chip timing ego boosts!) of 3:15. (FWIW, the fastest P/1/2 lap time was 2:59!! Smokin! Cat 3’s were a little more realistic with 3:09, if memory serves.)
Omnium points: 31. Total: 50 (Leader, Ian: 57)
Saturday had been tumultuous and I now needed rest. Scott and I grabbed food with the St. Louis crew (talking training the WHOLE time – Nick’s poor wife!) and then drove the RR course. The hills scared me. Could I hang on with these guys through ALL these rollers? I mean, they didn’t seem to end. Up and down and up and up and up. I was starting to think about how it had already been a good weekend, and two top tens was great, don’t get greedy, etc. Scott and I discussed the road conditions (90% of it was great, with a few potholes being the exception) along with tactics as I nodded off a few times. I don’t think he noticed though. We drove back to his folks house in western St. Louis and got to bed early.
The Road Race
Would I have the legs? That was the question du jour. I honestly didn’t know. I had a decent night’s sleep and I did all the recovery tricks I know of (aside from spending the night drunk/applying testosterone patches, Floyd). I got up early and had a light breakfast, and got my kit ready. Pinning the numbers on in the car, I was determined to have a better warm-up than the TT!
We arrived 2 hours before the race and I went to work on the leaderboard writing down anybody within possible striking distance of my omnium position. It was here that I struck up a very fortitous conversation with Steve, the injured P/1/2 rider from the Tyson U23 team. It started with Steve’s PRO Cervelo SLC-SL w/ SRAM Red and Zipp 404’s. Yes, a PRO bike. I was staring. And drooling. He let me ride it, and although he had MEGA seat-to-handlebar drop (PRO!) it was a pretty good fit for me. Hmmm…. We talked about our races thus far and he asked me how I was going in the GC. When he heard I was in second place, he took a personal interest in the situation, as he had been in second, while a cat 4, going into the last stage of the Joe Martin Stage Race in AR several years prior. (For the record, he pulled out the V in the stage and the overall!) He counseled me to have Nick Hand (WCCStL), my teamate, mark the guy behind me on GC and I would mark the top guy. He then gave me some confidence by sharing that “after the KOM, if you come over the top solo, go for the win in a solo break if the pack is 10 guys or less. Go for it, you can hold off 10 guys. 20 guys will reel you in, but 10 or less, you can do it!” While I favored a sprint, I agreed and bouyed by his words I wrote down the bib numbers of the marks on my wrist, ready to spread the strategy to the boys and prep the bikes.
The 30 mile RR started with a 1 mile neutral start through town. That quickly ended and a HUGE, 3 tiered hill greeted us. Heart rate went up like a rocket as I was on Ian’s (Omnium leader by 7 points) wheel like white on rice. I noticed he spun faster than me on the climbs, but no matter, I’m not Lance – 90 rpm would do. Mixing it up between saddle and standing, I got myself over the top in the first 5 wheels. It was intense. Like a circus. Every time I looked at the powertap it said something above 400watts. I haven’t analyzed the data yet, but it was serious climbing. We then hit the biggest downhill of the race, and the only one that might have asked for a touch of the brakes. I decided the best place was off the front and allowed my fat, tucked body to roll off the front and hold an inside line. I even got down into the PRO italian descender position with hands together on the tops, knees together, nose on the stem, and butt low. I was flying. After a little while I looked back and I had a big gap, but it was too early for an attack to last so I climbed easily until back on Ian’s wheel.
The group was mainly intact through this stretch, and Mark (South Chicago Wheelmen) took a flyer and had a decent gap, but we would reel him in little by little on the climbs, so we didn’t worry too much.
During this time I felt pretty good. My confidence was soaring. I looked around and all the top GC guys were together at the front. I felt like I was one of the “Heads of State” in the Tour de France, as the top dogs take the climbs at the front and test each other while trying to look relaxed. “What? This Cat 1 climb, it is, how you say, nah-zing.” The height of the machismo was while riding next to Ian, about 5th wheel on a climb, he decided to take a drink. Now, you don’t take your hands off the bars while climbing, it’s inefficient, and the climb is tougher as a result. But not to be out-done I did the same. “This is easy,” I tried to exude.
Every once in a while someone would roll off the front and Ian tried to bridge to them and I think, test my legs. During these times I was determined to prove I had legs. Instant gap closing sprint. I even took a few digs myself but either the bunch would chase or Ian would come across and I would sit up. A rider from Momentum Racing named Nick paid me the complement of saying “Frenchy, you’ve got a target on your back today, man.” I’m not gonna lie, that was better than Hammer Gel.
My scheming continued through the rollers and a few opportunities presented themselves that almost changed the race. On one climb, while riding next to Ian, I watched him drop his chain. “ATTACK ATTACK!” surged through my little brain. I didn’t wish him ill, but if an opportunity presents itself, why not? I watched as he got it back on with some quick shifting, and the moment was gone. On another occasion, BJ (Momentum Racing, who took 3rd at Hillsboro in the 4’s) had a small gap through a roller and was leading us up over a hill. His teamate (Nick, who made the comment earlier) charged up the grade to get on his wheel. Meanwhile I notice Ian drifting back on the right side of the road. “ATTACK ATTACK!” I jump on the gear and grab Nick’s wheel shouting “There’s 2 of you and 1 of me, we have a gap! GOOO!” They held a steady pace. Soon enough, here comes Ian charging across with the peleton in tow. And so it was that the group stayed intact as we marked each other and the miles wound down.
I was getting apprehensive as the KOM drew near. It was at about this time that Nick (WCCStL) and Mike (WCCStL) came to the front, flanking Ian and I. The contrast of their dark jerseys blazed in my periforal vision. I was Air Force One with full fighter escort off the wings. People were getting nervous. The St. Louis teams had witnessed the Wild Card teamwork at Hillsboro the week before when I forged the race winning break. Some dudes told me they still remembered the cat. 5 Hillsboro “carpet bombing” we laid down 2 years prior which resulted in a 1-2 placing for the team. Regardless, at the KOM a little flag and line awaited a man with 2 Omnium points. I did NOT want to be 9 points down to Ian going into the finish. What if he did have a sprint? Fortunately, Homeboy was on a 2 mile flyer and he looked secure up the road to take the KOM bonus points. The group began to surge on the lower slopes and I stayed on Ian’s wheel. Open aggression hadn’t started – no ‘Berto like accelerations, just a ramping up of the pace. Seeing guys digging for the KOM 2nd place (and single bonus point) ahead of Ian, I sagged just a hair and crested top 15.
The adrenaline was flowing. You could smell it waft from the pack. 35+mph on the decent and a big selection (30?) was rolling into the finish. Can you say bunch sprint? Guys were getting twitching. I shouted the cliché – “Easy boys! You can’t win it here, but you can loose it.” I was following wheels to stay near the front, but out of the wind. I found BJ’s wheel, then a St. John’s Mercy Hospital rider, and so on. “Conserve,” I thought. “Keep an eye on Ian. Stay near the front.” The bunch was doing the rolling boil at the front as everyone jockeyed for position. Suddenly, streaking up the right side was Ian, and we were just inside 1 Kilometer. I look again and Nick Hand (WCCStL) is all over his rear wheel. I know this is my chance, if the leadout is going to happen, I need to be on the other side of the peleton. I drop the hammer and fly ahead, out into the wind, from the left side (I did NOT cross the centerline, BTW.) and swung across the front of the peleton to snatch the draft behind Nick. Textbook. I don’t think anyone was on his wheel, or perhaps Mike Rickey (WCCStL) opened a gap for me. Either way, I was ready to get argy-bargy with anyone on that wheel. Elbows out and all that.
The finish was a tough little chicane – 90deg left, ½ block and a 90deg slightly off-camber right, and finally a 90deg left with 75 meters to the line. The finishing straight was so short, you really wanted to be first or second around the final turn. Ideal position going into the chicane would be 3rd or 4th wheel in a leadout train. Nick, Mike, and I discussed our sprint tactics before the race: Nick and Mike would drop me off at the final turn after sprinting their hearts out. Nick, after escorting me to the drop off, would take the inside line and sit up, blocking anyone trying to come around me on the inside. I would stand and power through the turn and, hopefully, win the day.
Sitting 3rd wheel into the first turn I almost watched our plans fall apart. The pace car for our race was (nearly? Fully?) stopped before the right hand bender. Brakes squeal, yelling – no, SCREAMING - ensued. Ian and I brake hard. The pack swarms us and Nick tries to go wide - AROUND the far side of the pace car – a VERY dangerous move. The pace car peels out. Two guys pass me on the right after the turn and I try to grab a wheel. Nick opens up his sprint, full on Grand Tour stage bike rocking sprint action. I loose Ian from sight. Into the last corner, Nick sits up on the inside line, Rock (The Hub Racing) is first around the bend and opens up his sprint, I follow a GP Velotek rider and kick it, passing him on the right with a bike throw, maybe by ½ a wheel. 2nd in the RR. I already knew Velotek finished 3rd. I had won the Omnium. Fist pumps and shouts.
Omnium points: 31. Total: 81, and the overall victory.
As of this writing I’m preparing my cat. 3 upgrade request. May the paperwork flow quickly. I feel this race affirms my desire to race at the next level.
The boys laid it on the line for me in the road race, and to them I am grateful. I hope they will be up for racing for me again someday – I know I owe them a leadout or two in the meantime. The team function was impressive and the envy of the other squads – and that with guys I don’t see more than quarterly.
As I mentioned above, thanks are due to several people, including Larry for loaning me some PRO wheels (I “need” a pair for mass starts!), Dan for the TT bars, Scott for driving and his folks for putting me up for the weekend, Steve L. for the race tactics, The Stone Poney for giving me tips and his spare power tap head unit battery, and my wife for letting me play bikes all weekend long.