Saturday, June 11, 2011

O'Fallon Grand Prix (Cat 3, 2011) a.k.a. The Sour Grapes

IL RR Championships (O’Fallon Grand Prix, Cat 3, 2011)

June is already here!  And with June came the first state championship of the season for the 708 Racing team: the Illinois state road race championships.  O’Fallon has a good course for determining an all-around racing champion.  There are three climbs per lap but they aren’t long enough for the mountain goats to distinguish themselves.  There are open areas and long stretches exposed to wind but nobody will argue that this is the Leland Kermesse, favoring the big gear grinders.  Meanwhile, the final climb (which on the third approach in 104F heat doesn’t tickle) is inside 1K from the new finish line, meaning the sprinters have to earn it.  In sum, it’s a course that produces a well rounded winner.

The conditions on Saturday were hot.  Air temp reached 97 or 98 degrees, while the sun’s heat reflected from the black pavement cooking the riders in 100+ conditions.  Winds were up to 11mph out of the WNW if memory serves.

The field was a little small considering (in my view) this is THE most important road race on the calendar.  But no matter, you have to show up to win and many were choosing not to win.  With only 26 riders pre-registered in the cat 3 field, my homework was pretty easy.  Two IL riders to watch were Dustin Morici (Burnham) - who has had a great year so far and was strong in the heat and hills of the Hermann RR - and Patrick L ( - a MTBer who had some good RR results.

The 708 plan was to work for someone other than me in a 2008“Ronde Van Vlaanderen” scenario.  In 2008 all eyes were on Tom Boonen who was marked heavily.  This allowed strong man and Quick Step teammate Stijn Devolder to get away for the win!  Is it not a little bit of vanity that I thought of myself as Tommeke?  The plan fell apart and I’d rather not get into the kiss-and-tell.  As it worked out, I was by myself in a selection of 10+/- that included 4 other IL riders.  3 MO riders were up the road.  I mistook Joe Fuller (Veda, MO) for Brett Bohanan (Proctor, IL) and instigated his capture.  2 MO riders up the road.

Speaking of Joe, I need to write a few words about him.  I was in the break with Joe and Shawn (Momentum) at Forrest Park a couple months ago.  He’s a strong rider and comports himself with class in the pack.  At the end of the first lap in O’Fallon he attacked immediately following the final turn.  I took it as an “attack the feed zone” move at the time and complained about him to others in the pack (we were not actually in the feed zone yet).  He, being the classy rider he is, bridged to 2 guys off the front and was not to be seen till the latter stages of lap 3.  My grumbling (and surprise) about his move reached his ear so he came to me the next day at the crit to talk it over – a class gesture.  I was wrong to say he was attacking the feed – he thought there was a prime for the intermediate laps. 

I don’t think I saw anyone attack the feed but the eventual winner did take feeds outside of the feedzone from his significant other.  Not his only clever tactic.  (Yes, my sour grapes are quite sour.  Nobody like a sore loser, i.e. me.)  The whole “attack the feed” concept lacks the class that makes cycling a sport of gentlemen.  These unwritten rules of etiquette belie the honor that each man carries into the race.  You may dismiss this but remember, these are the guys who follow decorum to the point of shaving their legs, wearing specific shoes, and piloting $4K carbon fiber rigs.  Alright, enough of that rant.

Back to the race, Dustin (Burnham) and I had done a lot of work at the front through the race and the heat and miles were starting to wear on us.  But about 8 miles out guys started attacking the group (remember, about 10 of us).  Dennis K. (Dogfish) took off with a nice seated move before a turn and dutifully applied a little pressure.  Brian K. (Dogfish) kept telling me what a good move it was.  I guess I agreed as I jumped hard (bike creaking and wailing – more on this in the sour grapes section below), going over the top of him into the corner I shouted for him to get on.  The group chased and after the next two turns we were back together again.  Dustin smartly countered, taking Patrick with him.  I jumped to close the gap.  This kind of thing went on more or less to the finish.  Dustin looked completely smoked yet he put in at least 3 such attacks.  Patrick always followed then sat up.

Sums up my day.  Photo Credit: Dennis Fickinger

Coming into the finish I asked Brian to lead it out and promised him $20 if I was the first IL rider across the line.  Tyler (The Hub) lead us after the penultimate hill, then Brian took the front up the final climb.  Patrick held his wheel and I was on Dustin’s.  I moved up to Patrick’s wheel during the climb, cresting third.  We took the corner nice and fast and Patrick jumped around Brian.  I held his wheel as he sat back down before jumping again.  In the last 100 meters Patrick stood up and I jumped trying to come around him on the left.  I threw at the line but knew I wasn’t there.  I had lost the state road race by half a wheel.  0.035 seconds.  Thanks chip timing.

Photo Credit: Nikki Cyp

The Sour Grapes:

Two days later I took my bike to Champion Cycling in Ft. Smith, AR for repair during a business trip.  My bars would flex a good inch up and down when out of the saddle.  I suggested that the fork might be broken as I was sure the stem and handlebars were installed properly.  As it turns out, the carbon steerer tube was flexing all over as it was debonding (a word?) from the crown of the fork.  You can see the crack/separation on the unit.  When I think back to all the attacks, all the hillsides I stood on, and the sprint at the finish, I consider the wasted watts of the flexy front end.  Would it have been enough to give me a wheel in the sprint?  I think it would have.  Regardless, I have nobody to blame but myself as I am responsible for my bike and I am the one that cancelled the work order at Mesa Cycles two weeks prior.  Ugh.  My new Orbea Orca…fork is super solid and I feel like I have a new bike underneath me.  I’m pretty sure I’d have a new jersey in the closet had I raced in the new configuration.  Wah wah wah.

The two MO riders that stayed away had big earned results.  Trent (Michelob) and Brian (Momentum) both stayed away after bold early moves.  The gap at the finish was over 2 minutes.  Big ups!

Big big thanks to the Momentum crew who fed me each lap.  Thank you!

O’Fallon Grand Prix Criterium

Sunday we were back in O’Fallon for a technical crit.  Turnout was low but the conditions were near perfect: 92F (which felt nice after the previous day!) with minimal wind.  The pavement was horrendous.  It was the worst pavement I’ve raced all year.  I watched riders get air coming out of the penultimate corner! 
We had a few new faces on Sunday (Jason (CBC), Chris (The Hub)) but a lot of tired legs after Saturday’s deathmarch.  The pace was brisk and I noticed we were taking the corners foolishly – only using half of the road.  I noticed I wasn’t comfortable on those lines and getting gapped a little bit out of a few turns.  What gives?  I also noticed that I was breathing through my nose while we were lined out, so maybe things weren’t so bad.  I just had to focus on where the apex of the turns should be, as most of them had potholes in the actual corner.

Photo Credit:
The early move was Mike and Keith (708) going off the front tempting the pack to chase.  I didn’t counter it as I think Trent and Joe (CX guy?) got off the front.  They are both motors so I bridged up – it only took an entire lap!  The two South Chicago Wheelmen juniors bridged up too.  More and more guys bridged up and soon our group was 10 strong, starting to look more like a field split than a break.  The field eventually came together and more attacks were tried and brought back.  Permit me to add that Trent (Michelob) is really rolling right now.  Keith (708) also got in a good looking move a little later but everybody had too much juice and it came back together.

Photo Credit: Elizabeth Rangel
Coming into the finish we decided we’d work for one of our sprinters.  I would do leadout work with Nick.  Trent was on the front (jeez!) as we crossed 3 to go.  I thought I could hold the front long enough such that Nick and maybe Keith would only have to lead Mike the last lap.  I pulled for the next two laps and felt like a fighter pilot, taking the turns how I wanted – outside, inside, outside – and just focused on picking up the pace on the straights (so as to keep it lined out).  Trent jumped me into the chicane entering one to go and I jumped back up to him as I flicked off coming out of turn one.  Unfortunately our train got derailed on that last lap as 5 guys swarmed the front.  Mike (708) managed a solid 5th place.  I’m convinced we had the right tactic, but we’re still ironing out the leadout.  On that course, first one out of the last corner wins.  Another “next time.”

Post race chat w/ Mike.  Photo Credit: Elizabeth Rangel


The results this weekend were disappointing but our team expectations are pretty high: a cat 3 win every time.  The state championship was a personal and team goal and we took 2nd by a pretty close margin.  Vittoria, you are elusive.

I’ve been weighing whether to upgrade or finish the season in the cat 3’s.  The prospect of getting smoked by the P/1/2’s is inviting, but I think I should race a full year as a 3.  It should be the last time I do so.  Further I have these opportunities each weekend to work as a teammate.  I truly enjoy it.  It is also an area that needs improvement.  Tous pour un, un pour tous!  

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