Sunny King Criterium – NRC Pro Race
With Sunny King bumped up a couple weeks from its normal spot on the calendar, this turned out to be my first NRC race of the year. There were lots of strong pro teams represented in the field, and there were lots of people lining the streets, making lots of noise, and watching the race online and on the jumbotron tv. My teammate Terry Duran and myself lined up at the start to represent our team. I had a great start and worked hard to stay towards the front, but eventually the surges leading into turn 3 saw me lose position and drift farther back than I would like to be. It’s nearly impossible to survive on that course if you are at the back of the pack because you have to maintain such a high speed through the corners to maintain contact with the people in front of you who are already accelerating up to full speed — sometimes this is called the slinky effect. So after about 15 laps, I was starting to really struggle far back in the field when a break of 15 riders separated themselves off the front. Our pace in the field slowed down which gave me a bit of time to recover and then work my way back up to the front of the race.
I attacked and got away from the main field with about 16 laps to go in the race. I managed to stay away for two complete laps before getting caught. I was hoping that the announcer would ring the bell to indicate a cash prime — plus I wanted to get some good exposure for our sponsors! I was caught, though, and settled in near the front of the field and resigned myself to hanging on and placing as high up in the field sprint as possible. Terry and I surfed the pack together, constantly fighting for position and passing people wherever we could find room. In the final sprint, I placed in the top 20, but with the break having lapped our field it worked out to 27th in the race. Terry finished a couple spots behind in 29th. Good start to the upcoming crit racing series!
- Incredibly intense first 20 laps
- The breakaway of 15 riders got away here, and our pace slowed
- Bahati attacked here and the pace ramped way up as the field chased him
- My two-lap getaway
- The intense finishing laps
Foothills Road Race
New this year for the weekend was the addition of a road race on Sunday. The start location was the same as the Cheaha Challenge century in Piedmont, AL, but we did a different course that was still very challenging with nearly constantly rolling terrain a few steep kickers. I lined up with Stuart, Wes, and Paul in the field which still had all the same pro teams represented as the crit last night. The route did have a couple miles of flat roads towards the beginning, and the attacks were pretty much nonstop until the first big hill at which point our pace up the hill was fast enough to prevent most attacks. A small group of 3 or 4 guys did emerge across the top with a small gap and extended their lead on the downhill and next few rolling hills. Then we came to the steepest hill of the course, and a group of 5 more guys chased onto the original breakaway making a total of 9 up the road. I had drifted too far back and couldn’t get around people on the hill to go with them.
So this group of 9 is off, and I was thinking the race was over because all the pro teams were represented in the break. So when Michael Stone (Hincapie Development) attacked a couple miles later, I went with him. One other guy went with us and the three of us had a nice gap on the field and were working hard to cross the gap to the breakaway. It looked like we were making progress, but after we turned a corner we saw that the field was strung out and closing very fast. Once they caught us, however, the pace dropped off again and the break re-extended its lead. A bit frustrated I rolled off the front on the next hill and three guys bridged up to me — Travis Sherman (Moontoast/Tristar/Warp9) and two other guys. We worked really well on some rolling uphill terrain and caught the leaders by the top of the last hill.
The lead group wasn’t working well together, though, so I thought the field would be joining us shortly. Instead, there was some attacks right as we joined the back of the group and our pace skyrocketed for about 5 minutes. Then a United Healthcare rider flatted, which meant the other United Healthcare rider wasn’t going to do any more work until his teammate rejoined our break. So the break was somewhat neutralized until he rejoined the field. In the meantime, four or five more guys had crossed the gap between the field and our break, including one more Kenda rider. Kenda had 3 or 4 guys in the break against United Healthcare’s two so they were super motivated and drove the pace. Unfortunately, there were too many people and we never got a smooth rotation going. Several times I would pull through, and instead of the next person pulling through, they or somebody behind them would attack. So our break consisted of numerous small attacks, breaks, chases, etc… Eventually we extended our lead to over 5 minutes as the relentless attacks kept our overall pace pretty high. Also, eventually a group of three got away with Fly V, Bahati Foundation (Cesar Grejales), and United Healthcare represented. So it was up to Kenda and Team Type I to chase, but the attacks had tired everyone — so the three strongmen up front extended their lead.
I made it into a small group of about 8-10 riders who crested the hill together. I was next to Karl Menzies (United Healthcare) when he saw we had a gap and launched himself off the front of our group. I just watched him go, legs burning too much from the climb to try and catch onto his wheel. It was amazing though – 5-10 hard pedal strokes, tuck onto the top bar of the bike, and he was easily going 5mph faster than us on the descent. Oscar Clark (Mountain Khakis) worked hard and eventually brought back Menzies and a small group of riders who had bridged up to him. So we were all together going into the final corner with 500 meters to go, and I was sitting 5th wheel, when the rider in front of me opened up a gap on the first 3 riders going into the corner. In retrospect, I should have immediately come around and closed the gap, but I was hoping somebody from behind would — but nobody did so those guys sprinted it out for 4th, 5th, and 6th just ahead of the rest of us. When the surge finally came, I lost some position and then regained a few spots to finish 5th in our sprint — 11th for the race. Overall, I was happy with the race, but disappointed with not being aggressive enough to immediately jump across the gap at the finish. Sometimes you have to be patient, sometimes you have to be aggressive — it’s really hard to know how to play out a sprint finish. It helps to have really fast legs, but experience can usually buy you a few places as well. I’ll chalk this one up to experience and next time will hopefully place a few spots higher!
- Faulty readings, HR probably in the red zone
- The first climb where the group of 4 got away
- The next climb where a chase group of 5 formed
- Working in the 3-man chase group
- Attacking and then bridging up to the break
- Notice all the HR spikes — lots of attack,chase,rest,repeat
- The final climb
- The finishing sprint