Four Races and a Crash Fest

Memorial Day Weekend

Our team for this five race weekend is: Chuck, Dan, Greg, Hayden and me. The two Kiwis don't make it for the road race thanks to a malfunctioning aircraft.

Burlington-Wapello-Burlington Road Race, 80mi

“I'm pretty inspired by how tough Tyler Hamilton is. If he can ride five hours a day as banged up as his body is, I can putz around for a few hours in Iowa with a head cold!”

Cool, cloudy, light winds, humid. 185 riders in a combined Pro/1/2/3 categories race. I drove down from Ames with my Iowa State Cyclones training partners Jack West and Justin Rumley, Cat 3's who are quite nervous about their first real race against pros, 1's and 2's. I get much satisfaction out of coaching them with advice about how to ride in the pack -- the kind of stuff I had to learn by trial and error over many years. It's not in books and it has nothing to do with typical physiological (training) coaching. I recall that one of our strongest riders on the powerhouse Coors Light squad, Mike Engleman (winningest US rider in was it '92?) couldn't ride the pack at all. We had to go back and drag him to the front before the climbs, then set him loose. Mike was about the only guy that could climb with Armstrong at DuPont, WV Tour, and Pittsburgh, but he'd be back around 100th in the pack between climbs.

Anyway, I'm not sure if I should be racing yet with this raging case of sinusitis, but if I don't get in some competition before US Pro week I'll be useless there. Plus I'm pretty inspired by how tough Tyler Hamilton is. If he can ride five hours a day as banged up as his body is, I can putz around for a few hours in Iowa with a head cold!

The crosswinds take their toll and a fifteen man group rolls off the front, composed of mostly pro riders. I'm unsurprised that my energy tails off significantly in the waning miles. When the lead group begins letting up from its previously smooth rotation, three riders attack. I was dangling at the back feeling quite spent, but figured that I could set up Dan and Chuck by getting things going with a feint bridging move. Problem is, I didn't make it across and it didn't get the rest of the break going. Paul Martin came across to me and proceeded to thrash me, but we never got closer than a couple hundred meters behind the trio while the rest of the break dwindled into the distance behind us. I was giving it everything but I felt about as weak as I did at the end of Housatonic. Later I found out that Jay Sweet (Saturn) incorrectly thought there was about 30km remaining when there really was about 3km, and that was one reason that he and Victor didn't respond to the break or my failed bridging attempt. I could only watch the sprint from behind and crawled across the finish line in fifth. Jason McCartney won in front of his hometown crowd, which was pretty good sized for a little Iowa town.

20th Annual Snake Alley Criterium, Burlington IA

Pretty old town, dying out ever since the freeway bypass was put through. You can buy an 1880's, brick, two story fixer-upper with features like pocket doors, twelve foot ceilings, and built-ins galore for the princely sum of $40,000.

20 laps. Downtown eight turn course plus multi switchback brick climb called you guessed it, Snake Alley. Lined with cheering fans. Wide enough only for one rider at a time, and the fans are right in your face, sometimes running alongside. One fan is dressed like the Devil and running around with a 12 pack of Schlitz (cheap USA beer), handing a beer to guys as they're dropped.

“I was hacking and snotting all over myself, but I knew it was up to me to redeem our lackluster performance yesterday and impress the regional 7UP bottler.”

The start of this race highlights one of the unique aspects of midwest cycling: organized callup to the start line in order of your number, which is assigned in order of registration. If you enter on the day of the race, your number could be 100 and you'll be lucky to ever see the front on the Snake. Thankfully, 7UP co-sponsored the race and one benefit of that was that our whole team got called forward. Didn't help too much as mechanicals took out two of our five guys right away. I was hacking and snotting all over myself, but I knew it was up to me to redeem our lackluster performance yesterday and impress the regional 7UP bottler. Through lap ten I hung on between fourth and tenth, while Jason McCartney's Jelly Belly men worked at the front setting tempo and reeling in attacks from Jason Waddell and Paul Martin.

I figured that if I tried to attack Jason would have plenty of help neutralizing my effort. I said, "Jason, I'll open a gap on the Snake for you, but you have to wait for me the next lap." He agreed and took the lead going into the climb. Now I just had to get on his wheel- easier said than done as this lap Victor Repinski decided he was going to have it. I had to jump Victor and slam the door on him in the first switchback, then just before the summit (over the cacophony of cheering) I told Jason to go. By the time the rest of the riders could get around me, Jason had ten seconds. Now I just had to sit on them as Paul and Steve Cate chased all the way around the course to the next climb, and then jump them on the next ascent. After cresting alone I chased Jason for a whole lap, wondering the whole time if he'd uphold his end of it. He didn't appear to be looking back, but despite being less than full power today I was closing on him. When we joined forces it was two (or three?) laps to go. The announcer wasn't saying, and I never could find the lap cards. We ended up doing an extra lap, much to the confusion of our pursuers (who almost ran into the back of us sprinting for 3rd, and then watched us power up the Snake again). On the descent while we played cat and mouse trying to get the other to lead out the sprint, I'm sure Jason was wondering -- as I was -- where the chasers were. I managed to get him to lead it out, and came around for the win in front of impressed sponsors.

Melon City Criterium, Weed Park, Muscatine IA

The groundskeepers have cultivated a picturesque, rolling park that has little in common with its name. The terrain and trees remind me of my Western North Carolina, not the fields of Iowa. Chuck and I have covered the first few moves but are out of position when McCartney and a couple others break away. I'm getting worried but then Greg shoots across the gap to make it four. Phew. Labbe (USPS), Martin (GoMart), Leon, Vogels (Mercury) all have goes at closing or bridging, but only Repinski (Saturn) succeeds and that's only much later, after the other two guys were dropped and it was only Greg and Jason. For the last three laps I'm on the front for Hayden, trying to haul in a couple guys who are in-between. Nobody could predict that up the road the three are just looking at each other and squandering a 40 second lead. At one lap to go I'm cooked and get out of the way to watch. There's a big gasp from the crowd as over the top of the hill with 200m to go it's not the break, but a massive field sprint. Hayden takes it from Robbie Ventura (USPS) to make it two in a row for 7UP/NutraFig.

Street Sprints

The top three started in a big ring x 23 cog gear and achieved dizzying pedal rpm's, jackrabbitting away from our vaunted internationally ranked track stars. A guy named Hill, apparently undefeated in the midwest, took the win from street sprint specialist Marco Aledia. Marco has played host to our New Zealanders for much of the spring.

Quad Cities Criterium, Rock Island IL

This is the big one as far as spectators and prizelist. eight turns. We figure that with Dan, Hayden and Greg we stand a great chance of winning. Before the race we agree that if it comes down to a field sprint we shouldn't start the leadout before three laps to go. Oh wellÉ

Despite winning two out of the last three events this weekend the announcer and race organizer ignore Team 7UP for the callups. We must start dead last. In the opening laps I get more and more angry. Here I am, taking chances I haven't had to take all year to pass 140 guys. Every time a Cat 2 bobbles in a turn ahead of me all I can think is it's six days to the start of USPro Week, I'm risking bones in an unranked crit. In '92 I was a few days from the start of the biggest race in America (Tour de Trump or DuPont, can't remember which it was called then) and our Saturn D.S. wanted us to do a little crit. Somebody pulled a hare-brained stunt and in the ensuing crash I dislocated my shoulder. National Team coach Chris Carmichael had to select Jonas Carney to ride in my place at the tour because of that.

It took us a third of the race to get up there. Then at one point I thought we had it made with a break of Greg and me and two Jelly Bellys, but the course is 90 percent cornering and this mostly amateur Midwestern peloton does have some horsepower in it. Our break was short-lived. With a dozen laps to go I drifted as far back as about fifteenth, but as the weekend warriors got tired they began taking each other out, and taking out good guys like Hayden and Kenny Labbe. I could hear huge crashes just behind me. Motivated by nothing more than raw fear I'm up front pulling with Dan, way too early at ten to go. RV wins it for the second year running, while all we can muster is a couple minor top ten placings.

The worst bit is that I have to drive Hayden to the hospital for stitches to close up a deep cut in his ankle. The best thing is that we survived without broken bones. Maybe the organizers should just have the Cat 2 World championships next year. They can call it Crash Fest 2003. They don't need to have any nationally ranked riders. It's certainly not for lack of spectators, media attention, or prizemoney that Navigators, Mercury and Saturn aren't sending full squads or any men at all. General note to race organizers: if you want to have a tactical race with major teams in attendance, reserve spots in your start list for them. Or maybe you don't care who turns up as long as the field is full.

I'm encouraged that my legs seem to be there. It also seems likely that I can beat this sinusitis without antibiotics. It is a bit late to cram for the final test, so to speak, but I'll try doing a few more hours this week and hope that I can do that and come around to 100 percent before Lancaster.


To all my cat 2 and weekend warrior friends and readers: Someday soon I'll be a weekend warrior too. My comments above are not a criticism of your cycling skills. Take Athens Twilight for example: this was the first year it was Pro/1 only, some spectators thought it was a bit boring, and I didn't see or hear one crash, in stark contrast to previous years when 2's were included. I think it comes down to fitness: the pros and full time amateurs have more time to train harder and race frequently, whereas there aren't too many 2's without school or work occupying a good part of their lives. A friend brought up a good point: he knows of several local cat 2 riders who elected not to participate in the races this weekend just because they were going up against pros and tough 1's. At the local industrial park 100 rider pro 1/2/3 race, game on. But it's time to give the 2's their own race when there are over a 150 pro/1/2's together.

If I were Robbie Ventura, Jonas Carney or Dave McCook, I'd have no problem racing crits like Quad Cities every day of the month. Guys of their talent have nerves of steel. I wonder if they even flinch when they hear metal on pavement. I don't recall exactly but sometime before 1994 I don't think I flinched. Now I think I was just crazy.

Finally, it was great to see the rider turnout this weekend - two fields of women (1/2/3 and separate 4's) totalling probably 80 women, and the number of categories kept the organizers and officials busy all day for four long days.