Tour of Walla! Walla! Stage 3 and 4

Stage 3 was a janky little downtown crit that was too easy to sit in on, too hard to get away on, and too hard to move up on that was shortened from 55 minutes to 48 minutes with almost no warning (because it got too dark for the cameras to read our numbers?).  Not much to be said about it other than it was dumb and uneventful, for me at least.  I attacked a grand total of 2 times and got away for 3/4 of a lap to miss out on a $50 prime by a few bike lengths.  I went straight to the back after that and before I knew it there were only two laps to go (officials decided to shorten it suddenly from 2 laps to go from 8) and I couldn’t move up in time to help out with our planned lead out for Ian.  Dan and Spencer took the reigns though and did a hard pull for the last 2 or 3 laps, but Ian wasn’t positioned in time and we lost out.

Stage 4: 91 miles of treeless, hilly terrain out in the barren plains of Eastern Washington.  It was windy.  Very windy.  We had Dan sitting at 5th GC and Chris at 7th, so our plan was to attack the shit outa that shit and destroy the field and get one of those two guys up the road for the GC win.  Lang, Phil, and Ian were also pretty close behind on GC, so we had a lot of options going into the day.

I attacked hard from the gun, got brought back.  Then I attacked over the crest of the first climb a couple miles later and got away for five minutes by myself, then got brought back.  A mile later I attacked into the headwind and didn’t get away at all.  Shortly after that attack we rounded a corner and started the uphill brutality into a tail/crosswind.  The peleton shattered.  We were only a few miles into the race at this point, but guys were getting shot out the back faster than something something I can’t think right now because it’s 1 in the morning and I drank a beer.   Uhhh, where was I?  Ah yes, my favorite animal is the sea lion, followed by the wolf, followed by the dhynonocus.  Not sure if that last word was spelled right.  Now I’m really off track.  OK just read the sentence before I got distracted and I was talking about the race.  One guy rode off the road into the ditch on the uphill tailwind section.  Can you believe that?!?!?  I almost wanted to get off my bike and laugh.  But I didn’t.  I kept riding, realized there was a gap between my group and the two groups ahead, but didn’t panic or take any pulls.  I was still feeling pretty fine at this point and was calm enough to remember there would eventually be a descent, another tailwind climb, another descent, and then finally a long headwind section where I knew the race would come back together.  I sat in and waited for this to eventually happen.  10 minutes later, it did and I went straight from off the back to off the front.  I put my head down and stuck it hard at threshold into the headwind, knowing that no one would be stupid enough to chase.  No one did for a while.

Eventually I began looking over my shoulder, hoping to see some teammates bridging across.  At last I realized that there were two guys coming up to me so I sat up and waited.  The pack was another 30 seconds behind them by the time they caught me and the three of us drilled it up the next tailwind climb (damn tailwind climbs every direction I looked today!).  We worked well together until one of the guys decided that he had weak little girly girl legs and wouldn’t pull anymore because there were still 75 miles left to race and our gap was coming down (1 minute at this point).  He sat on for a long time until even sitting on was too much of a chore for him and he retreated back to the pack.  Good.  I was glad to see him go since I distinctly remembered him sitting on a 6 man break away all day long two years ago and attacking with 5K to go to steal the win.

Now it was just one guy (named Kyle) and me.  Kyle and I took even pulls for the next lap until he cracked.  At one point he was the GC leader on the road, but Alan, who was driving the team car for us today, handed me a Snickers bar and a big bottle of Hammer Perpetuim and I must have gained a few dozen watts because I dropped him up the next climb.  Shit was going down back in the field at this point, with Phil, Lang, Spencer, Chris, Ian, and Dan all going ape shit and attacking like spider monkeys with terribly itchy ticks.  They were going nuts.  I’m glad I was up the road riding easy threshold in the wind by myself, because the watts I would have had to do holing onto wheels and following the HB surges would have been much more painful.

As I climbed the longer tailwind climb and the wheel and lead cars came around me (signifying my gap was under a minute) I began looking back in fear at the approaching field.  They were gaining time on me at an alarming rate.  Especially two riders in black.  Shit, they were going to catch me before the top of the climb!  I grimaced and sped up.  I looked back again, did a double take and realized the two riders with the large gap to the field were Dan and Chris, the very two riders we were trying to have bridge to me all freaking day.  And they were alone.  And this was the last lap!  I sat up for a minute or less to rest my dying legs (at this point I had been off the front for about 65 miles or something) and caught onto Chris’ wheel as he came speeding by.  I had to yell at him every 30 seconds or so to slow down, since I was getting absolutely no draft and he climbs like an animal.  I hurt pretty bad for that climb and the next one too as I pleaded with Chris and Dan to keep the pace down just a quarter of a mile an hour slower.  “I swear, I won’t pimp you at the line!!”  This was a lie, because shortly after I attacked them hard on a descent.  Nah, just kidding.  Can you imagine though?  Anyways I held on for dear life until we got to the descent and then headwind section, where I pulled my brains out.  Our gap ballooned as the field sat up, not wanting to put in the effort at the front in the wind.  Stanglend’s team (GC leader) was cracked by this point and it was down to him and a few others to do the pulling.

I contemplated my options here, in between wincing in pain, and decided to go all in on this flat headwind section, drop myself for the final tailwind climb, let those guys go hard on it, and hope that they had enough time on the field to last during the final 10 miles of headwind climb and descent.  In hindsight, I should have held back and conserved energy for the tailwind climb and gone all in on the next headwind section, but whatever.  I decided to do myself in NOW just in case I didn’t get a chance to later.  I took one final big pull as we turned into the tailwind climb and waved goodbye to the front of the race.  Chris and Dan stayed in sight for a long time as I regained my strength and hammered up the climb alone.  By the top I was only 30 or 40 seconds down on them and realized I had made a mistake.  They could have used me on the next headwind section.

A short descent later and the final climb of the day found itself under my aching wheels.  Headwind, steep, and super slow.  I got caught by the field at here at last, having been off the front now for around 80 miles.  Man, it was super easy sitting in getting a draft.  I spent the next 10K looking up the road in anxiety, hoping for a crash or something to slow down the now very motivated (for some reason) chase that was very quickly closing in on Chris and Dan.  I’ve never wanted someone else to win the bike race more than I did now.  I sat at the back of the tiny 30-man peloton, just coasting, while 10 guys rotated at the front.  This was the worst part of the race for me.  Before, when the gap would come down while I was off the front, I could just ride harder.  But now, even though I was just coasting, this was by far the most painful part of the race for me because I couldn’t do a damn thing about it.  I cursed out loud as Dan and Chris came into close view with 3K to go.  “HOLD THEM OFF YOU SONS A BITCHES!!!!” I yelled from the back of the pack.  I thought about going to the front and crashing.  Instead, I cursed some more fro them to stay off and win.  And they did!  By 7 seconds (though it seemed like 2).  HB finally wins a road race.  Dan moved up to 2nd GC as well, and the team moved up to 1st GC with 4 guys in the top 10.  Not a bad way to end the week.  I got to ride hard all day long and the team won.  This was by far the best we’ve ever ridden together.  Flawless tactics by everyone on the team.  Now I’m in Boise for a night at Dan’s and tomorrow morning I’ll begin my long voyage to Silver City New Mexico via a 35 hour greyhound bus ride.  The perfect way to recover the legs after a stage race.

After the final road race today.  Left to right: Phil, Spencer, me, Ian, Dan.  Missing are Chris and Lang, who were off in the porta pottie together having a good time.  Just two dudes.  Having a good time, having a good time, having a good time…

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