Again this year just like the past years, a lot of strong riders made the drive over to Tuscaloosa to be a part of the great early season racing action at the Tour de Tuscaloosa. I was amazed Saturday night at how many strong teams were there. Krystal, Locos, Herring Gas, Texas Roadhouse, Sonic and strong independent riders from Jamis/Sutter Home (Frank Travieso), Mountain Khakis (Oscar Clark), and Subaru (AJ Meyer). The weekend for me turned out to be a little better than expected on Saturday and then a lot of bad luck on Sunday with not one, not two, but THREE flat tires! I was happy to finish the race though and judging by how sore I am two days later, it was a much needed TT endurance effort.
The evening crit starts just after sunset and finishes in the dark. Night-time racing makes the already fast speeds seem that much faster. I had decided ahead of time to let my teammates cover the early moves so I started near the back of the group. Sure enough there were some very early attacks and we were strung out single file for the first couple of laps. My teammates covered moves while I watched for the top riders to attack. I could sense something coming about four laps into the race because we bunched up at the bottom of the course by the river. So I used my momentum from the downhill to go from near the very back to off the front in a small group of about six riders. We had good representation from all the teams and a good gap, but when a couple more riders bridged up to the break — there were just too many people. So even with a short rotation going, the pack caught back up to us after a few laps.
This left us with about half the race to go and Oscar Clark (Mountain Khakis) launched off the front for a prime and stayed out front solo sweeping up all the primes for the race. Behind, there were lots of accelerations that kept the pace high, but no organized chase attempts. In the closing laps, I worked hard to fight to stay at the front as the pace got faster. We reeled Oscar and Tiago (who had made a late solo attack) back into the group with a couple laps to go as the pace got faster and the jockeying began for the finishing sprint. I hopped onto the back of the Magner brothers train (Casey and Ty Magner riding for Locos) and moved into about 5th position coming across the top of the course behind Frank and the Magner brothers with only two corners left. There was a slight lull in the pace at the very front leading to a bunch of riders swarming up to us. We knew what was coming so those of us at the front attacked to accelerate again. But as I was accelerating back up to full speed, another rider came by and hit my foot with his foot. I had to stop pedaling for a second as I started to lose my balance. That was enough to let two riders pass me. I passed the same riders back almost immediately in the second to last corner by swinging wide which left me on the outside for the last corner as well – but the sprint for the race was already slightly ahead and so I was resigned to try to hold my position. I got passed by one or two riders at the finish to leave me in 7th place. That course and the finish are tough for me so I was happy with 7th but a little disappointed because I was in great position for a top 5 or top 3 finish before getting bumped and losing the main sprint train. But that’s racing!
Lake Lurleen Road Race
The forecast was for scattered thunderstorms, and as I drove from Birmingham to Tuscaloosa, there was some sunshine, but also some downpours and some dark clouds. It was sunny and warm for the start of our race, but by the time the official said “go” we felt a couple raindrops and within a few minutes of starting, it was a veritable thunderstorm/downpour. Frank Travieso (Jamis/Sutter Home) attacked and got away solo. Everybody knew that he was the strongest rider in the race so our pace went sky high as the group stretched out single file chasing. We spent the entire first lap chasing – well I spent the entire first lap hanging on towards the front watching for the stronger teams to chase / start a bridge attempt. Frank was still away when a chase group of 3 established itself on the feedzone hill towards the end of the first lap. I worked into a second small chase group of four riders through the start/finish hill. By the top, it was just me and Casey Magner still left across the top of the hill to finish the chase. But right about that time, the original chase group of 3 merged up with Frank and then because Casey now had a teammate in the break, he wasn’t going to be able to help me finish the bridge. I was tired and resigned myself to hoping that I could bridge across later with more riders from the group.
It wasn’t to be though, because shortly after we re-merged with the group, my rear tire flatted. I was hoping for a quick change and then to be paced back up to the field. But the wheel truck was nowhere in sight as he had been helping another rider who had flatted. So by the time we got my tire changed, the field was already a couple minutes up the road. I begged the wheel truck to pace me, and he did but I couldn’t keep up at 40mph with the cross wind so he had to slow down and then on the feedzone hill I couldn’t keep up at 20mph so he had to leave me to go help anyone else who flatted in the group. I resigned myself to chasing as hard as I could in the hopes that a small break would get away from the field that the field was happy with and the pace would plummet. But that didn’t happen and the pace continued to be high and I continued to lose ground. Two laps later, I flatted my front tire about a mile before the feedzone and rode it in gingerly to where I knew my teammate Mike Lackey was watching the race. He gave me his front wheel and I continued on. I caught a few riders who were still rolling the race. The first I came to was Travis Werts from the new Sonic team who had also flatted and was still persevering to the finish. We worked together for a couple laps before I flatted again in the same spot. He waited for me as I got another wheel from Mike in the feedzone, but then in my exuberance and renewed determination to finish the race, I ended up dropping Travis on the feedzone climb. He motioned for me to just go on ahead when I turned around to wait so I drilled it and set out on my own again. At the start of the last lap, I came up to David McNeal (BBC) and we worked together for most of the lap. When we made it to the feedzone climb, he told me he was just going to roll it easy the rest of the way so I drilled it for one final push to the finish.
And so finish I did — turns out it was for 23rd place with only about half the riders who started the race finishing. 23rd is a long way from the podium, but I am still very, very happy that I was able to finish the race! My out of town friends Steve and Corrie and their son Steven arrived with my #1 fan and beautiful wife Kristine and our two kids at about Lap 6 or 7. So they were surprised to see me so far off the back of the group – but they stayed and cheered each time even as I got farther and farther behind the field eventually finishing about 5 minutes behind the remnants of the field. Meanwhile at the front end of the race, Frank Travieso dropped his breakmates and won solo by over 3 minutes! A small chase group emerged from the main field and finished next with a field of less than 20 riders finishing a couple minutes behind them.
Here’s my heartrate data for Saturday’s criterium and Sunday’s road race:
Oh yeah – I forgot to mention that part of my Garmin mount broke during the crit on Saturday. So I had to take it off from under the rubber bands which kept it from falling completely off the bike and stick it in my pocket during the race. So I figured I would just race with it in my pocked on Sunday — but apparently it wasn’t picking up my heartrate readings correctly! Oh well!
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