This past weekend was the highly anticipated (by me) Tour de CU in Champaign-Urbana. The Champaign course was the same as last year’s research park crit (a fast rectangle with a slight rise through the start/finish) while the Urbana course was a giant bubble letter “L” when viewed from above. A box with a long straight ending in a 180deg turn, then back into the box. Needless to say, fun fun fun.
The conditions were harsh. Not by absolute standards (80 deg. Sat. and 90 deg. Sun.) but when one considers that we’ve been racing in 60deg F temps, a sudden 20-30 degree increase really raises the workload on the body. It seemed very few were ready for the heat. Otherwise the wind wasn’t bad, and the roads were ok.
The Cat 3 field had about 40 guys both days. Plenty of fast guys were there. Of particular note for me was one John Whipple (Tati) who drove the break that popped me at Hillsboro-Roubaix earlier this season.
Nick and I were racing for WCC and it was quite a comfort to have a teamate in the races – knowing I could cover a move and he would get the next one. Plus, I lean on his experience a lot. The Verizon guys were familiar faces and their friendship out there was cool, too. The big surprise at the start line was Dan Penner (of Portland, OR) who was in town for a wedding.
Saturday’s Tour de Champaign:
Nick went with the first move or two while the pace was pretty quick. Joe (Verizon) and I found ourselves on the front blocking for Nick (WCC) and Mark Sills (or Ethan Stone?) (Verizon). That move got brought back and an ISCorp rider (Scott, orange Madone) went off the front. He was looking good up there with Joe (Verizon) and another couple guys for company. I was riding next to Nick at the time and he said “that looks good” or “we need to be in that”. I don’t really remember, but I took off and bridged to the move. I took some hard pulls to help establish the break and we seemed to have a decent gap. Unfortunately that’s about all I could do and I started to get fatigued.
Eventually I got popped out of the breakaway. That’s twice, I want some butts! (Film quote.) I had this moment of indecision in the finishing straight, as the group rode away, but as Don Hiles, John, and John (WCC) yelled at me to keep going I jumped on it and chased for half a lap and caught back on. Needless to say, I was gassed. Perhaps the same was true for the other guys (save Scott) as it became the Scott show: him dragging us around. Every once in a while one of us would pull through, but it was not enough to keep the field at bay.
After about 5 laps, on the headwind stretch, the field was within 5 seconds of our break and Ryan Zook (Start 2 Finish) attacked out of the pack and while flying past our disintigrating party shouted: “You boys done racing?!” Scott answered his acceleration and they were off. As 3 of us were absorbed into the pack Nick went across and the 3 of them were away. Turns out, that was the break of the day.
Nick dropped out of that break (I think) and I tried to bridge up to it later and popped in the headwind section halfway across (which was a pretty crappy thing, let me tell you!), so Nick went again and I think that finished him off. I sat in for a few laps to recover. I maintained good position but got swarmed with 2 to go. Sprinting out of 15th, the long false flat tired many a rider, as most did not have a 300 meter sprint left in the legs, so I was able to come around 9 guys and take 6th. Not bad for my first full fledged 3’s race.
The heat was definitely a factor; I could not go hard for that 3-5 minute duration as I was already panting and feeling like garbage. C’est la vie.
Lessons (I should have) Learned:
-Early breaks usually die.
-The heat kills early breaks (if nobody is acclimated).
-Don’t bridge unless you’re going to make it. And you best make it!
-You MUST be in the RIGHT position for a sprint. It’s worth it – move up!
-Don’t kill yourself with hard pulls in the break.
-If other guys aren’t pulling, you shouldn’t pull either. One man can’t make an early/mid race break unless he’s a monster. And monsters are rare.
Sunday’s IL Cup Urbana Grand Prix:
Same players, new board. The figure 8 was edited in a last minute change to avoid some unpatched pot-holes, with a longer straight and a 180 deg turn added (a nice touch), the figure 8 became a “bubble letter ‘L’.” Also, the temps were another 10 degrees hotter. I was sipping water all day, but 2 laps in I was parched. Yikes.
Nick covered the first few moves as I didn’t feel great during the warmup. Not sure if it was the heat or Saturday’s racing in the legs. All eyes were on Scott (ISCorp w/ the orange Madone, who pulled out the win the previous day).
In a repeat of Saturday I found myself bridging with Joe (Verizon) up to Scott and another rider (or 2/3/4?) in an early move. We knew Scott could ride away with the race and even more than the previous day, the course, with it’s 5 corners and short straights, favored a breakaway. Not surprisingly, Scott powered the break, doin his thang. The pack was strung out in chase and eventually our group ballooned to 15 (?) or so as I think a field split was occuring. I watched as out of turn 3, John Whipple (Tati) accelerated to catch 2 who had just attacked our group. Thus, the break du jour.
Scott, Joe, myself, and one other guy chased for several laps in a replay of the previous day’s break. We were all very tired in the heat and Scott was getting fed up with pulling our lazy butts around – for the second day in a row no less. He would holler for someone to pull through, and I think I was the only one to oblige him. Granted, my pulls were short and sweet (1/4 lap? ½ lap?) but I figured if I could give him a little rest, it would go a long way for our group. Besides, everybody feels like poo currently, right? Well, Scott eventually had enough and the field caught us while Whipple was pushing the break to an insurmountable lead.
I remember bridging solo to a move later in the race (halfway?) but the details are blurry in my mind. It wasn’t pleasant, but I made it across, unlike on Saturday. +1. Like every break prior, we got caught after not working well together.
I sat in and noticed I was drifting further and further back in the field. Efforts to move up brought cold chills and I started to think about pulling the plug. After a few more laps I decide I had enough and I let the group ride ahead. After the 180, off the back, the breakaway lapped me. Within 5 laps they would lap the field. Whipple ended up winning the sprint and the race by a millimeter (NOT an exageration – Rob took some slow-motion footage at the line, and it was too tight to call after 3 viewings!).
The Sunday Pro/1/2 race followed the 3’s in more ways than one - more than 50% of their field dropped out, just like the 3’s. After my race I felt like crying. I haven’t cried about a sporting event since middle school soccer (as a player – not a coach!). I didn’t, but that’s probably since my body knew it needed the water elsewhere. The words of a certain narrator keep coming to mind: “Sometimes you eat the bar (bear), and sometimes, the bar eats you.”
Bike racing is fun but hard. I’m happy with my result from Saturday and I’m glad I rode hard in the Sunday race and helped animate it while I was in it. I certainly have a lot to learn in this game and can’t bank on superior fitness to make up for naïve tactical decisions. Frankly, I’m brand new at this breakaway stuff as I don’t think I was ever in a break that lasted very long in the 4’s. The heat was a factor all weekend long and I hope my body has begun acclimating to it as the June races aren’t going to be any easier. A further positive is the fact that I’m active in these races and see the winning moves happening. As Joe (Verizon) commented after Sunday’s race: “We were too early in the race for the breakaway.” And he’s exactly right. The next step is moving from the 2nd best move of the day to the winning move. This incremental increase I doubt is easy to attain. Yet, I feel I was on the cusp of the fitness and tactics necessary to be in that elusive right place and right time. I hope I can continue to get fitter and smarter here in the cat 3’s, and for crying out loud – it’s only my second weekend in this category.
Finally, my wife was super patient letting me participate in the crits, help out here and there, and cheer on my teamates in other categories.