Stage 4: 90 minute crit through downtown. Usually NRC crits are hard and strung out for the majority of them and I haven’t been able to contribute to the action other than just hanging on. This one wasn’t that bad. In fact, I’d say it was one of the easiest NRC crits I’ve done. But I never attacked. I spent the entire time moving up, and moving up, and moving up…only to see that I was still mid-pack. I don’t know what it was, but for some reason I never quite got to the front and attacked. In the back of my mind I was waiting for a last minute attack with a few laps to go, but even that never panned out as I was still too far back. I was pretty disappointed in how I rode the crit, since I had the legs to at least make a few attempts. My teammate, Chris, got off the front with five laps to go with a few other guys and Dan attacked a few times as well. We all finished in the pack, the officials giving everyone the same time after the confusing finish where there the lap board said “1 to go” for two laps.
Stage 5: 106 miles with 9,500 ft of climbing. My goal for this race was to get in a move early, as there would be no chance for glory later on when the big climbs started. At this point I had nothing to lose in terms of GC either, so I was all in. Dan and Lang were also planning on getting into the break, so the three of us stayed near the front and went with moves during the first six miles of fast, tailwind, highway-grade rollers. Everyone was too eager to get in the move, similar to the first stage, and nothing was sticking. At one point Dan, Lang and I were all there up the road with a group of other guys. It seemed too good to be true, having three teammates in the same break, and it was. Shortly after that move got brought back we took a left turn onto highway 152 and began the cat 4 climb out of town. It was the hardest cat 4 climb I’ve ever done. It started out with a strong false flat crosswind section on newly chip-sealed pavement. It was guttered hard on the right side of the road and gaps from blown legs and blown tires created big holes in the tail-end of the peloton. Lang, Dan, and I were at the tail-end of course, having blown what was left in our legs a few minutes before.
I think I had about a half match to burn for the day. My legs were shot by day 5 and attacking those few times in the first couple miles (where the break gets away “every time”) had burnt that last half match. So now I was screwed. I could have held on if no one opened gaps up in front of me, but after jumping across a few large holes and doing an all out sprint over the top of one of the risers on this cat 4 climb, I was too far in the red to recover for the next uphill sections. Lang and I got back on after a short decent with another group and he made it all the way to the peloton. Dan was gone by this point and I started getting absorbed by the cars. I held on and surfed the cars for a while (still uphill) until a group of a few guys came up from behind. I worked with them until we all split up going our separate ways.
The undulating climb never seemed to end. My legs would never clear up and the descents were all out sprints at 52mph to catch onto passing cars. The pack was still right up ahead and at one point I finally saw that I was going to catch back on. A short descent in the cars and I’d be there. Wrong. As the road curved and I saw that there was more uphill, I knew the rest of my race would likely be contesting for last place.
After the final uphill section and the blistering tailwind downhill section, six of us began rotating through fairly hard on the flats. We picked up individual riders and eventually merged with a larger group to make a good-sized laughing group of 20 or so demoralized guys. The pace was still high though and who knew if the field would slow down a bit during the headwind here? We kept it up hoping to see them around a bend. All of a sudden I had a glimmer of hope that the pack was just up ahead. It turned out to be the cat 5 B field though. We passed them but our pace was never quite the same afterwards. Fewer and fewer guys took turns at the front. Riders were dropping off, getting into sag vans and team cars. For a while it was just me and one other guy at the front. Even that was too fast for some of the guys’ moral and I found myself off the front of the groupetto–never a good idea. I sat up and it looked like the chase was off. We got re-passed by the cat 5 B field, which was actually the cat 5 B chase group. When your groupetto gets passed by the cat 5 groupetto, that’s when you call it a day.
A few of us planned on finishing the race and took a right turn to complete the out and back section of the race that goes up a cat 2 and then a cat 1 climb. Everyone else took a sag vehicle or went left to complete the loop back to the finish line. I went right and rode up with a few guys chatting, going at 200 watts. I thought about my options here. I wanted to finish, yet I knew the more recovery time I had from now to Joe Martin (which starts on Thursday) the better. I decided to just finish the damn thing. There were only 40 miles anyways (almost all uphill though).
I pulled off to the left side of the road to grab some food on the descent from my mom in the feed zone and almost crashed in the process. I realized my front tire was at almost zero PSI. I had just been descending at 50+ mph. That was close. By the time I put on a new wheel I heard someone say the leaders were coming back up the hill and I figured I could hand a bottle to Chris or Lang. It ended up being another 15 or 20 minutes until the race came by, and at that point I had lost motivation to ride for 90th place. Resting up for the next stage race was the smart thing to do anyways.
I got in the van and we followed the fragmented race to the finish line. But I couldn’t take it for long. I got out a short while later, took my race numbers off, put my shoes back on, and rode the rest of the way by myself. I couldn’t stand sitting in the car seeing everyone else ride.
At first thought I was pretty disappointed in how I did. The last two stages in particular. But looking back on the first two stages, I’m satisfied. I think I was one of the more aggressive riders during stage 1. I had the legs of ten horses that day. Maybe I spent a little too much, but it could have gone differently and paid out more. Some other universe…
Day 2 was very hard. In years past I would have been off the back during a stage like this one. As it was, I was able to stay with the group the entire time without every going off the back. If it had been a little harder, I know the group coming to the line would have been half the size and completing the race in the front group would have felt like a much bigger achievement.
Day 3 was just the TT. I rode hard but tried to conserve somewhat for the next two days.
Days 3 was pretty crappy. I didn’t ride with guts. That’s the one stage I really effd up on.
Day 4. Eh. I gave it a go when I could and it didn’t work out. It could have gone much differently though if the peloton was in a different mood. Apparently this year’s race was much different than in years past. No breakaways went all day until the big climbs and a lot of the guys trying to get off the front in the first 10 miles ended up being off the back for the rest of the day.
Chris had a great race and killed himself 12 times that last day to finish 17th, taking 20th GC. Lang also finished with a 39th GC.
I’m in Arkansas now, trying to get a few more hours of recovery before tomorrow’s uphill TT.