Thursday, August 25, 2011

Morton Crit Race Report

Racing in Peoria

The Proctor/Peoria crit has been a favorite the past several years.  Not only was the race on a really fun course, just a short drive from Urbana, it also served as the state championship criterium.  I was disappointed to see the classic 8 corner removed from the schedule but excited to return to greater Peoria nonetheless for the Morton Community Bank Cycling Classic.

I was excited since Peoria served up my very first bike race back in 2007.  I was reminded of this when I bumped into Nick Ramirez (Psimet/Enzo’s) and he introduced me to a cat 5 named Michael.  Mike just completed his first race and (I think) placed fifth!  I hope Mike finds the rewards we all enjoy through the challenge and discipline of competitive cycling.

Like Michael, this part of the season is all about experience for me.  As a new cat 2 I have a lot to learn about racing, so I approached Morton with this in mind.

At registration I handed in my waiver and said I was there to race.  The woman responded: “Cat 4’s?”  Ouch.  Nice ego bruise that.  Whatever, I cheerfully said what race I was in and was given the number five.  I love low numbers.  It is clear you are in the big boy race.  But five?!  It didn’t look like a big field would be showing up today, meaning there would be no place to hide in the peloton.  I’d need a lot of tactical nous and good legs to finish well. 

Morton Crit P/1/2 Field.  Photo Credit: Niki Campen Nation.

Sixteen other riders found their way to the start-line: Hogan Sills (ABD), Nick (Psimet/Enzo’s), the Stone Pony (Scarlet Fire Racing), Drew (Nuvo), Joey Iuliano (Racing for Riley), James Bird (ISCorp), two Wheelfasts, two Bloomingtons, two Proctors, two Panache, a guy in orange/purple kit, and an SCW rider.  There were lots of fast dudes in the group but I was particularly concerned with Sills, Ramirez, and Drew.  The only reason I was not watching Mr. Stone that carefully was that he already raced twice that day!!  (And if you know about this guy you know that he races at and off the front.)

The race was very exciting with numerous attacks from the start (Joey gets the “most attacks” prize by a nose over Nick!) and (perhaps wrongfully) I was concerned not to be left out of early moves.  I was bridging and jumping with early stuff as I had witnessed Hogan get away early in other races and I watched Nick ride away with the Hermann Cat 3 RR earlier in the year.  Nick was hyper-active during this time, jumping away and driving breaks.  My legs hadn’t really come around to feel good but there was little time for that – go go go!

Holding on to Hogan's wheel for dear life during an early attack.  Photo Credit: Niki Campen Nation.

75 minutes is a long time to be on the gas, but you need time to separate the racers.  After numerous attacks, counters, and reshuffling of the breaks two men were off the front with a good gap.  I think Dave Stone was one of them.  Nick and two others got free of the pack and began chasing.  Perhaps Hogan was in this group, perhaps Drew.  The rest of us were largely looking for others to do the work of pulling these guys back as the frenetic race had left many on the ropes – myself included.  If you’ve been in a race you know exactly the moment I’m describing: legs and lungs hurt, wits are dulled, and gaps are opening.  It is THE time to get away if you can.  Well, three more opportunists (including Sills – the order of the second and third groups may be off) broke the elastic and now half the field was up the road and half the field was left in the “pack”.  I was in the pack.  Then I saw it – the coup de grace – the moto ref pulled ahead of our group.  I don’t recall what time/lap we were at but I’d say about 45 minutes in (complete guess).  Was my race over?  Were we fighting for the distinction of “also ran”?  Would we get pulled?

It was gut-check time as a lot of firepower was up the road.  There were no more games, we had to chase!  Joey, a Wheelfast rider (#12), myself, a Proctor, and occasionally a Panache rider began rotating.  I recall several times having both legs light up with lactic acid on pulls going into the red as we chewed up tarmac to reach that front group.  Miraculously, we made it!  We closed down the gap and brought it back together.  The dark humor in the moment came when I looked up and the announcer/officials called out “22 laps to go!”  Oh, only 22 more laps?!  Then, on the next lap (or so) 2 guys went off the front.  Here we go again…

Ramirez, Bird, and Bloomington (?) took off and a new chase began.  I guess my legs came around as I did help a little.  Hogan, Drew, Joey, and some others did work and as the laps ticked down it looked like we could catch them.  During this chase we lapped several riders who got dropped in the field split chase.  The Stone Pony came unglued during this time, too.  The man made the big split in the race, only to have it blow up again.  His racing was absolutely incredible considering: 1) he had already podiumed in a master’s race on the day, 2) he already raced yet another masters race, 3) he has a son my age (!), and 4) it took an hour plus of an all-out-knife-fight to pop him.  Studly stuff that.

The last three laps I skipped pulls to try to save something for the finish.  I had a top ten on account of the lapped/dropped riders but maybe I could finish higher.  Perhaps this is the loathsome lazy sprinter in me, or perhaps said tactical nous.  Sometimes they are hard to differentiate.  The finishing stretch was quite long and I was too timid coming into the line.  Rather than jump multiple times to try to hang on to Hogan, I waited at the back and then moved up late to take 3rd in the bunch, 5th on the day.  I am still pleased with a top 5 finish in this race.  Racing with the big boys (and this isn’t even Gateway we’re talking about!) is much more taxing mentally and physically but also much more exciting and rewarding.  Of note: James (ISCorp) hung on for the win while Hogan (ABD) took the field sprint for 3rd.

It is worth noting that this is the third race on the new Tarmac.  I can't believe the difference.  Cornering and sprinting are noticeably better. I'm super pleased with the bike.

After the race Nick took me aside and clued me in to some needed tactical advice.  Here’s to gaining wisdom!  Then the wife and I headed to a state park for a fun night of camping with the kids. 

I am really thankful for that Saturday.

Next up: the Sedalia Crit and Otterville RR!

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