Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Race Reports: Ste. Gen + Hellbender Crit

Le Tour de Sainte Genevieve Cat 3 [24/40?]

Ste. Gen served up the MO state RR championship this year.  Dare I say it was nearly perfect for a June bike race?  A gentle wind and some clouds were present as we started on 2 laps of hilly racing for a total of 69 miles in the cat 3’s.

The field was similar to the O’Fallon Grand Prix (2011 IL RR Championship), with fewer turning up than I expected.  It really puzzles me why more do not come out for these races.  They are in my view the biggest road races of the season.  With frequent complaints regarding the “critcentricity” of US racing, here we have two ~70 mile road races, with hills, and guys don’t come out to play.  Perhaps we just have too many races?  Between Tulsa Tough, Ste. Gen, and Galena, a limited number of racers were spread thin.  (This isn’t even accounting for MTB races, of which I know nothing.)  But it begs the question:  why do riders show up for training crits and early season races yet avoid the races for which the training exists?  Do we train all winter to be fast at Froze Toes?!  Or do we train all winter to win Ste. Gen?!

Anyway…the racing began as Shawn (Momentum) attacked through the feedzone (which marked when the neutral start ended, I think – but it’s humorous considering the recent discussions of feedzones following O’Fallon…).  Shawner was off and nobody seemed too interested in chasing or bridging – it was a suicide break with 67 miles to go.  But then, maybe it could work!  

 708 dispatched some riders to the front to keep pace.  Kudos to Keith, he did the thankless job of setting pace for many of those early miles.  Eventually it became clear that the other teams would not lend a hand in the chase, so Keith rolled off the front and was soon joined by an opportunistic Dogfish.  Several riders from other teams bridged.  The cards kept reshuffling as different breaks went up the road and came back.  Nothing very serious was let go as Momentum, Dogfish, and Hub instigated and chased moves alongside 708.  After several miles of this I considered myself a carrot, and with a few riders dangling off the front, I decided to provide something a teammate could counter – perhaps to glory.

On a slight incline I was joined by Aaron Koch (Dogfish) and we soon got out of sight of the peloton.  I did a fair amount of work on the front already and was hoping this would only last a few miles.  However, the pack didn’t chase too hard at first so Aaron and I kept cruising.  Soon we found ourselves on the KOM.   The benefits to my teammates of my little move were already showing up – no attacks on the KOM as the points had already been taken.

On the rollers into town we caught sight of the peloton and knew pretty quickly that they were chasing enough to doom our little run.  Alas.  We stayed off until the feedzone, which was good as I grabbed a few bags for teammates, allowing them to avoid that dangerzone.

After completing my domestique duties I returned to the pack while the pace ebbed and flowed.  I was starting to feel the day’s effort on the hills and was concerned several times that I would be dropped.  Always a humbling thought.  

Coming into the final hills Shawner had been caught (and was livid that no teammates countered his suicide break – Paging B.J.!) and Adam (Recycled Cycles) was off the front.  I found myself sag climbing the hills but the bunch wasn’t flying yet.  I ate a little something and the body woke up before the KOM.  Turns out my decision to use another product instead of my normal Hammer Gel was a poor one!  Nothing new on race day, genius!

Chris (708) is a big rider, so when he attacked the pack on the KOM, I was impressed.  The group surged to catch him over the top as gaps started opening.  Nick and I held tough and I paced him back up through the group.  Coming into town Adam (Recycled Cycles) was being drawn back from a long, bold move while the descents gave me a chance to rest the legs a bit before the finish.  Nick and Chris were with me and we discussed the leadout briefly.   I had a flash of adrenaline and excitement: “we really can do this, we are going to get a jersey” I thought.  The finish is a really cool one: a wide right, followed by a tight left, then another mile run-in to the line.  We had to nearly stop taking the sharp left turn – I think I took the worst line in the history of bike racing that didn’t end in a crash.  I paced Nick back to the front and Chris had taken the reigns and was doing his Berny Eisel impression.  I pulled through around 600 meters out (too far!) and pulled off after we went up the little hill under the rail road bridge – completely cooked.  Nick gave his best but the hills had softened his legs.  He finished as the 9th MO rider – a universe ahead of the DNF he had last year.  Just think of how he’s going to crush souls in this race in 2012!

So the team had a lock on places 21, 23, and 24 – a failure, right?  No.  While we didn’t win we raced our plan and wrote the story on the day.  While many teams race like individuals, we’re trying to execute team tactics.  Big ups to Momentum for taking the race to everyone, too.

Hellbender Criterium Cat 3 [3/12]

I wasn’t expecting to race the Hellbender Crit but the schedule got flipped around.  As preparation for the event I accepted a “challenge” from some coworkers to go for a 4 mile run during lunch the day prior.  Not a big deal, except I hadn’t run that distance since August of last year.  Add in that I was wearing my Chaco’s and we were at lunch with the power out from a t-storm and you have a fuller picture.  Oh, and I had just eaten a pizza.  Needless to say, my intent was to sit in and survive come Saturday!  My teammate Nick wanted to ride in a breakaway, so we were set for the day’s tactics.

The course had great pavement and featured some nice touches: tight cornering (2 corners were off camber), a little rise on the back stretch, and a false flat into the finish line.  A great course that would have been very tough with more than 30 riders.  12 showed up to contest the cat 3’s and what we lacked in quantity, we made up for in quality as I believe the top 10 in MOBAR were present for the 3’s.

Jason (CBC) got a little gap on the first lap through the tightest section of the course and decided to push it a little.  A lap later Nick decided to bridge.  I thought it was a little early for a move to stick (race was 45+5, and we were assured by Aaro that we’d be racing a full 45 minutes!), but Jason is a strong rider and I wouldn’t mind blocking a bit.  A few more laps go by and Trent (Michelob) rolls off the front.  At this point, alarm bells should be going off in everyone’s head: the best cat 3 TT rider in the area just snuck off the front – all hands on deck!  The group chased with a little more gusto but didn’t bring him back.  Once he made contact with Jason and Nick, I knew my boy would be safe up the road.  Trent is a diesel!

The rest of the race was good tactical fun.  I had a problem to figure out: to bridge or not?  As BJ, Brett, Chad, and Adam worked themselves down in the chase I constantly took stock of myself, should I bridge now?  Next lap?  The last thing I wanted to do was bring back Nick, and with crappy legs, would I even be able to get away?

I found myself continually saying: “next lap, Mark.  Attack on the rise next lap.”  But each time there was a reason not to: I haven’t seen BJ for a while, oh, he’s been sitting on my wheel!  Or, I just had to close a gap and don’t have the confidence, etc.  I missed an opportunity to do something great, but at least I didn’t screw it up for my teammate up the road.  It’s the least I could do: no harm to his chances.

As the minutes switched to laps I knew it was very unlikely that I would bridge and focused on preparing for the sprint.  At the end of the penultimate lap I tested everyone’s legs (including my own) to see if I could get away early.  The results were ok, but not as good as I had hoped.  So when Adam (Recycled Cycles) put in an attack on the back stretch, I made sure I got his wheel.  Coming around the final bend I managed to hold off B.J. in the sprint, taking 3rd on the day.

Jason popped in the break and Nick fought it out with Trent, getting bested but learning a lot.  I was very pleased with the result considering the quality of my legs and I think Nick was rightfully happy.  Big congrats to Nick who rode strong and notched his first cat 3 podium finish!  Five out of six cat three 708 racers have gotten on a podium this season!!
Nick (708) 2nd, Trent (Michelob) 1st, Frenchy (708) 3rd - who happens to be channeling his inner male model.

On Sunday I skipped the hilly road race but Nick rode to a top ten, earning 4th in the weekend omnium.

Next up: the Glencoe Grand Prix (IL Crit Champs!) and the Webster Groves Crit (MOBAR points!).

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