One might think that fitness is the most important part in bike racing. It does have its place, but this past weekend really showed me the importance of having team support. It all began with the decision to race for the General Classification in the 10th Annual Tour de Millersburg. This is a two day, three race stage race located in Millersburg, PA. This was going to be a long and stressful drive for me (10 hours from Knoxville). Reason I say stressful is because 90% of the drive takes place on US-81 which is notoriously packed with semi-trucks and similar large and slow vehicles.
I left Knoxville before the sun came out, hoping to beat any traffic that would be around Knoxville. I got out of Knoxville without any problems. The drive was gray and boring for the first 3-4 hours. I started to encounter some heavier traffic around Harrisonburg (James Madison University) which is where I stopped for lunch, at Panera. Now, one thing I don’t understand is how Panera always seems to place their locations in corners or areas with little to no parking. I would say that 75% of the Panera locations I go to have very limited parking around the building. This forces people to park farther away and walk to the restaurant, sometimes crossing busy suburban mall streets. This particular location was the same story, where I had to park across a busy mall street. A somewhat dangerous walk but always still worth it in the end. After a quick lunch it was back on the traffic-laden road.
My final destination for the drive up was my sister’s house, MillersVILLE. This was another 4 hours of driving, and the congestion was starting to grow. The final 4 hours were filled with flashing highbeams, honking horns, and headaches caused by drivers who don’t understand the two-lane system. America, the left lane is for passing! Do not get into the left lane and just chill there at or below the speed limit. Once you complete a pass get back into the right lane so other people can go around you. Biggest pet peeve, second to lazy people not using turn signals. America needs to learn how to drive again.
Ok, on to the more exciting stuff. My sister was gracious enough to lend me her bed for the night. I ended up getting an alright night of sleep. It was enough to make me feel ready to race and fresh. I got up around 05:20 to make the 90 minute drive to Millersville. I arrived to a cloudy and wet Millersburg. It had been raining on and off in the early morning. I was not too concerned about this since it was just a TT. I also had 2 hours before my start time of 09:16. My warmup was 30 minutes with a couple 2 minute efforts. I used the 2 minute efforts to gauge what kind of power I could sustain for the 18 minute TT. I decided that 370w would be a good place to start. I would adjust at the turn-around, which is 4.5 miles in to the 8.7 mile event. On to the TT…
The organizers had secured a ramp for us to start on. This was a new experience for me and made me feel a little nervous. It was also only the second time I started from a held position. It takes a lot of trust to let someone hold your seatpost and hope you don’t fall. The organizer starts to count down. I take a deep breath. Three….two…one… GO! I immediately realize I was in too tough of a gear. I barely get my feet to crank one revolution. All I am thinking at this point is do not fall off the ramp! I luckily get enough of a revolution to begin rolling down the ramp. I get up to speed and tuck down as soon as possible. The course is a rolling one with two longer very gradual rollers. After that it is a flat, straight road out to the turn around. I started 30 seconds behind the guy in front of me. So catching him was the first goal. The rider in front of me did not have a TT bike so I expected to catch him relatively quickly. This ended up being the case and within the first 2 miles I was passing him and moving on to the next target. I ended up catching one more athlete before the turn around, with the third athlete in sight. It took me maybe another half mile after the turnaround to catch the third man, a USMES teammate. I passed him feeling strong and with the fourth athlete in sight. If I could catch him then I would be 2-minutes ahead which would give me some security in my placing. I ended up raising my power output and caught the athlete meters before the finish. I felt very confident about my performance and felt that I had paced it as perfectly. I ended up getting third in the TT, putting me in good position for the criterium in the evening.
The starting field for the criterium was the largest I had ever been a part of. There were 60 starters for the Crit which included 7 of my USMES teammates. The organizers called up the top 10 in the GC so there was no worry about starting position. I ended up struggling, per usual, to clip into my pedals. This failure pushed me back to the middle of the pack. Position early on in a crit can be important because of crashes, and the high intensity of the first couple of laps can cause gaps. Usually, those gaps are closed and the race will calm down after 2-3 laps.
The crit course was a long rectangle with a fast downhill section between turns 2 and 3. There is a slight uphill going into turn 3 which caused the peloton to slow down. Coming out of turn three is a little kicker that can sear the legs off of even the most experienced punchy rider. This slowing down going into the climb caused the climb to be even harder because you had to regain your momentum. After two laps I was back in the top 5 of the race. I noticed that the yellow jersey wearer was starting to struggle on the climb. A small gap would appear between him and the rider in front of him. His body language also screamed pain and fatigue. I knew this was my time to make my first move. At the top of the climb I pushed the pace high and stretched out the gap between the yellow jersey and my group. My group consisted of 5-6 riders. We grew our gap over the next couple of laps. I did a couple small attacks to see how the group would react. I noticed that they were not reacting fast enough and I could get a significant gap if I attacked hard enough. So I waited for my marked rider to take his pull and then popped around him. There were about 10 laps to go on the 1km course. It was going to be a long move but I knew I could hold it. So I got a small gap, it held for a lap or so and then the chase group began to stop working together. My gap began to grow and I knew if I could hold out for the final couple of laps that I would win the crit. I ended up having enough to hold out and crossed the line in first. This was enough to give me the yellow jersey and enough points to guarantee a category upgrade.
There was a lot of excitement in the air the morning of the road race. Our team had the yellow jersey, and we also just had a solid team showing. 8 riders on the same team for a cat 4/5 race is almost unheard of. We began our morning hanging out around our cars talking about strategy for the race, cleaning up our steeds, and pinning our numbers. Our strategy for the race was to control the group for the first lap, cover any moves from marked riders, and stay relaxed/have fun. We rolled up to the start line two by two, looking as professional as Team BMC or any other World Tour Team. USMES showed that we were not to mess with and we had the support to keep the top spot in GC.
The whistle blew, we clipped in, and began our three laps around the 18 mile rolling course. Immediately one of the riders from King Kog takes control and begins to drive the group towards the first climb. Billy Osterman, a USMES rider that would volunteer to protect me on the day, helps move me up to the front of the group. We wanted to stay safe going into the hard climb of the course. The hard climb was 2 miles after the start line and was a quarter mile climb. The first time up the climb was rough mostly caused from lack of a warmup and everybody having fresh legs.
We get over the first climb, everybody gasping for air. Billy and I take notice of where people begin to falter. Other than the initial climb, the remainder of the first lap was fairly uneventful. Some athletes attacked but were quickly brought in. One interesting note on the first lap was the fact that a couple guys decided to increase the pace and speed through the neutral feed zone. This tends to happen in the Cat 4/5 race. I was not happy with the group and expressed my concern for the safety of the pack as well as the volunteers. I explained that there was no need to hammer it through the feed zone when there was no breakaway. So, next time through the feed zone Billy, me, and the previous yellow jersey wearer took up the road so nobody could increase the pace. We went through the feed zone the second time much more civil. At this point there was still nobody up the road. The previous lap was controlled mostly by USMES with Billy Osterman, Chris Spurrier, and Tyler Moyer working at the front.
Final lap of the race started out with a shuffling of position going into the climb. There were KOM points available for the first rider across the line. I knew that some of the top athletes would push the pace to get those points. I start the climb in 4th or 5th position. I follow the first attack up the climb. There is a slight flat section in middle of the climb which allows some minor recovery. I was in second position at this point so I just decided to go for the points. I was quickly passed and decided that I would conserve some energy in order to mount an attack at the crest of the climb. We cross the KOM line, lungs burning, legs heavy, but still enough energy to push on. Billy and I had discussed on the previous lap that we would attack at the top of the climb. We jumped at the opportunity, got a gap, but the climb took too much out of Billy. I tried to wait for Billy as much as I could but the group was starting to recover and mount the counter attack. After a minute or so of hanging out in no-man’s land Billy decides he wasn’t going to survive the entire lap in a break. He sits up and I yell back at him to try and block for me. I continue on the attack solo. I hang out for about 10 minutes but every time I turn around it seems that the group is getting closer. I make the decision to sit up and try my luck with an attack later.
The group swallows me and I shuffle into the top 5 riders. I want to stay here because attacks could come at any moment and I need to be ready. Luckily, nobody really attacks. We make the turn on to Route 25 where I know there are a couple more small climbs I can make a move on. The first climb I make a hard move, sustain it for a minute or so and realize I gained little ground and hide back in the pack. The next climb I attack and the move is covered. I immediately attack again, off the front. I do this once more in an attempt to gain some ground. All I was doing was stringing out the pack. This was good because there was a fast downhill into a right turn. Going into the turn a rider gets in front of me and creates a small gap. A second rider sprints in front of me and closes the gap down. I am third wheel going into the final sprint, perfect place. The lead guy has a small gap and opens up his sprint. The guy in front of me opens his sprint. Learning from previous races I remain patient and hold off on my sprint until absolutely necessary. 200m to go and I start to wind up. I pass the rider in front of me and eyes on the rider in first. I begin to gain ground on him. I am only thinking of two things at this point. First is all out effort and second is catch the guy in front of me. 50m to go and I am half a bike length behind him. He crosses the line and lets out a scream of joy. I immediately cross the line in second, securing the overall General Classification. That was by far the best sprint I have ever executed. I still need to get my max power up but still feel very proud of the sprint.
Overall, the race went very well. I enjoyed racing with my teammates, learning more about stage racing, and testing my abilities. This past weekend would not have been possible without my amazing sponsors Infinit Nutrition, Culprit Bicycles, Roots Hummus, and Trisports.com. This weekend was a huge boost for my mood and should provide the motivation to get me to my next race, River Gorge Omnium.