I know I’m late for the race report on this one, but here it is at last.
The Univest Grand Prix, 9/11 – 9/12, is a UCI race in Pennsylvania, about an hour north of Philadelphia. The day after the Univest GP is the Univest Doylestown crit, which has all the same teams but isn’t part of the UCI race.
It was warm out. I lined up close to the front after the call ups. I was faced with 11 laps of a 5.8 mile loop and then 5 laps of a 2.8 mile loop, one steep KOM climb that was about a minute long, thousands of spectators lining the road, a large contingent of pro and “amateur” european teams, and last but not least: 154 other riders who desperately wanted one last result before the year was over. Lucky for me, I had legs of steel.
My legs felt a little too good actually. After the previous week at the Green Mountain stage race in vermont where I took 9th GC, I was riding with new confidence. I had never felt better on a bike. I was riding like an entirely different person, able to climb at the front of the pack with ease while others were popping. This is also how I felt at Univest. Except even better. I was the first person to attack, and quickly got away by myself and caught the TV motorcycles within the first mile of the race. My effort was short lived though as the pack obviously wasn’t about to let a lone rider off the front. I got absorbed in the group and others attacked and chased for the next couple miles while I regained my strength. I attacked again before a sharp right hand corner (there was a total of 400 corners throughout all the laps of the race). I got away solo and bridged up to a guy who had been off the front for a little while. I blew past him as we went up the false flat. I hammered too hard actually. A minute later a group of five guys caught me and I clung on. Took a pull. Rotated back. I took a look behind and saw that the field was strung out in a long line of 150 riders with gaps opening up at the front, trying to bridge up to us. A UHC rider who was in the group with me attacked and one other guy and myself followed. This was only prolonging the futile move as I continued digging myself a large hole. We were caught right before the steep KOM climb. A perfect place to get caught after being off the front…not.
The KOM climb tore me a new one as I was pretty quickly shed to the middle of the pack. It was only half way through the first lap at this point and I had already attacked 3 times and was actually getting worried that I might get dropped if the pace continued on like it was. We tore around the countless corners at 30 mph, 35 mph, 40 mph. The 88 mile course was being raced like a 90 minute NRC crit, which are hard enough in themselves when they’re only 90 minutes. I hung on, continuing to lose places and slide further back in the group. WTF?!! I was supposed to be the strong guy on our team for this race. Before we started, Joe had chosen me to be the protected rider–for the first time all season. I was beginning to have my doubts as I hung on at the back of the single-file portion of the peloton, strung out with gaps forming in front of me.
I regained my strength by the start/finish though and made a hard chop in the next two corners and went from being 130th to 60th. Over the next lap, I continued moving up and soon found myself near the front. Although, now that I think about it, it might have taken me 2 laps to move up back to the front, which would have explained why I never saw the huge breakaway of 15 riders get off the front. Yep, I finally figured it out. Funny how writing something down helps flesh out the actual memory. Damn it. Reading this, I feel pretty dumb. Nearly attacked myself out of the race within the first 4 miles of an 88 mile race, which also caused me to miss the breakaway. Then spent the rest of the race trying to bridge up.
When the break was still only 45 seconds in front of us, there was a good chance at being able to bridge on the KOM climb. I attacked on the climb or closely followed attacks almost every time up it. And we went up it 16 times in the race. Once every lap. My best attempt was early on in the race, maybe on lap 6 or 7. I got onto Lang’s wheel and he took me up on the side of the pack during the beginning of the false flat section before the KOM. He then got on the very front and absolutely drilled it for about 2 minutes to the base of the KOM climb. A lot of guys were certainly hurting that time up it. Because Lang’s huge pull and then my attack on the KOM was by far the fastest and hardest we went on that section–which was the hardest section of the race.
Although none of my attacks worked, I guess I have to be happy with how my form was. Yes, I messed up tactic-wise for attacking to hard and early and missed my chance at being in the break. But at least I was ABLE to tactically mess it up. Most of the year I’ve just been hanging on mid pack or only able to throw in attacks at the very beginning of the race when it’s flat. Today, I was able to attack throughout the entire thing, and in my opinion was possibly one of the 10 strongest guys in the race.
Back to it:
I went off the front right before we started the 5 small circuits. The breakaway was still away by a minute or so (they never gained more than a minute). I wanted to be positioned well on the small laps since I knew they were technical and knew there would be crashes, seeing that it was our first time through. My attack was weak on purpose, and I let two guys catch and come around me. I was now sitting third wheel as we entered the first new turns onto the small laps. The rest of the field was right behind. Perfect spot to be. If I kept this position, I could even launch another attack on the KOM climb about a mile later. Perfect. Except that that didn’t happen and I crashed immediately as we went around a sharp right-hander. The guy in front took it too sharp and lost his front wheel to a pothole or bump in the middle of the turn. All three of us went down, me riding over the guy who had caused the crash and then flipping over the bars (flying mostly over the sidewalk and rolling into the grass). I was up on my feet BEFORE my bike was even done flying through the air. I grabbed it, set it down back on earth, and got on. The chain was off and the shifters were bent inwards. I got off and fiddled with it in a panic. The entire peloton was gone by the time I got it figured out and re-mounted. I wasn’t hurt, but was shaking with adrenaline and anger. I screamed FUCK!!! as loud as I possibly could and started sprinting off the sidewalk onto the road. Joe came up in the team car and I got into his draft. He yelled at me to calm down. He floored it and I sat on the bumper at 35mph. I looked ahead and saw Sean coming off the back of the pack. It looked like he was going to be helping me get back on, but he was never able to catch onto the car’s draft. I shot past Joe as we took some sharp corners leading into the climb. Out of the saddle, sprinting into the base of the KOM, I could see the pack up ahead, half way up. Part way up the climb, Joe caught me again and gave me a huge power feed. I was still pedaling. I had to because I couldn’t hold onto the bottle at the speed we were going up that hill.
We caught the car in front of us, nearing the end of the caravan. I let go of the bottle and hammered my way to the back of the pack and caught the field as they summited the climb. I wish I had a power meter for that whole section while I caught back on. It would have been a crazy number.
It took me the better part of a lap to get back to the front. But when I did, I felt strong and relaxed. The Amore Vita team was on the front bringing the breakaway back, although it didn’t look like they’d be caught. I sat easy on the climb the next couple laps, watching for moves as I sat in the top 15.
With 1 lap to go I realized I had lost about 30 spots in the group. Even worse, I got boxed in on the last time up the climb and lost more spots. After getting chopped in the next few corners I was sitting way back, roughly in 50th position. I made up some ground but by the time we came to the 1 km sign, the race was decided. I didn’t risk causing a crash trying to sprint for 25th place as we came into the final 200 meters and I rolled through at 31st. In a lot of other big races I did this year, 31st would have seemed pretty good. But I wasn’t happy at all with this one and I was pissed and bitter about it for a full week.
The next day was the crit. It was raining and I didn’t feel like racing. I had invested all my emotional energy into the day before and now I just didn’t give a shit anymore. I lined up near the back. Got stuck behind some crashes that caused the field to split apart (there were tons of crashes today). And eventually pulled out even though there were only 60 riders left and my group eventually caught the front a few laps later. Funny how one day you can be more motivated than you’ve ever been and the next day the least motivated you’ve ever been. I watched the race from the sideline and immediately regretted pulling out. My legs were probably decent enough to have sprinted to a top 10 that day. Oh well. There’s always next year.