Nature Valley Stages 1-3

Going to bike races is all about getting pampered. I’m being taken care of the right way here at the Faulkner residence. CJ is a bike racer himself so he knows the rules. If I have a bag that needs carrying he’s there at the snap of my fingers. If my wheel needs truing at the bike shop every day he’s there to drive me to and from. I need groceries? From which store? he asks. I need to be driven to packet pick-up during rush hour after he’s been laying bricks since 5am and done intervals afterwards? He’s on it. I desire a car to drive around for leisure? He asks which one I’d prefer to take. Yep, I can pretty point my good results directly at being spoiled rotten by CJ and his wife Jen.

That and a shit load of intervals.

I’m here guest riding with Full Circle. My teammates for the week include Marcel DeLisser, Chad Adair, and Brad Tuhi.

Day one (Wednesday) was really spread out over what I think may have been 73 hours. It was a really long day. Time definitely slowed to some extent, maybe even stopped completely for a while. An observer of my life would have witnessed me come to a complete halt as time, for me alone, appeared to stop as if I were approaching a black hole. It definitely felt like I was at a halt during the morning’s 7.7-mile time trial.

Stage 1

I woke to rain and dark thunderclouds. The ride to the course and the health of my knees were saved by a bright metallic blue pair of warmers I had to borrow from Jen. I tried to remember the last real time I spent riding in the rain. Two years ago. Colorado ‘rain’ doesn’t count. I did my warm up near the course under increasing precipitation and increasingly soggy shoes. Thunder and lightning shook and flashed awake the black sky. The rain turned into a downpour. Potholes and gravel strewn about the crappy road surface were covered in thigh-deep puddles. Small poodles would have drown if they’d been taken for a walk. The only reason I wrote that last line was because the word puddle triggered my mind to think of the word poodle. I should have used them in the same sentence. Small poodles would have drown in the deepening puddles.

My hope for smashing out a top 20 was high since this was an Eddy Merckx style TT: no time trial equipment. I have to admit, I did enjoy the effort. Who wouldn’t? It was pouring rain with thunder and lighting! Aside from the pain and terrible time I put in, it was fun. I finished 40th. I was shivering within minutes of finishing but of course CJ was there to drive me home.

Stage 2

The Wednesday evening crit in Saint Paul was much more pleasant. After spending six hours in bed watching TubePlus and scouring facebook I rode downtown for the 75-minute crash fest–or what I assumed would be a crash fest. It turned out to be pretty safe, at least for me and the guys directly in front of me. The course was technical and fast but all the mayhem seemed to occur directly behind me. Causation or correlation? It was safe up front. I finished 27th and ended the day with a 33rd on GC. I got home at 9:45 and had the lights out by 2AM.

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Photo by Mathew Pastick

Stage 3

And now onto the main event–for this blog post anyways. The 93-mile Cannon Falls road race on Thursday went better than I expected. I assumed it would be a straightforward race: a small break gets away and Jelly Belly sets tempo until Jamis takes over for the leadout sprint, resulting in a boring group ride for three hours and a fast, lined-out 15 minutes at the end where I come in 38th.

Ten miles into the race, a strong group of 20 just up and split off the front at the top of the second KOM. It was hardly even a hill, but it was enough for some weak-assed punk to let the wheel go. I was too far back to respond. I’d been up near the front for the first KOM and had been following wheels and attacking in between the two climbs but was caught with my dick in my hands leading into that second KOM. No really, I think I might have been peeing.

The next two plus hours were spent chasing and attacking as teams and riders tried to bring back the large group, which contained many of the overall contenders.

I bided my time, not doing any work or attacking whatsoever until half of the breakaway had come back to us. The eight leaders’ gap was down to 45 seconds when I tested the waters for the first time. No dice. Still too may people willing to chase every little move down. I continued waiting for another 20 minutes before I did my second attempt. It was inspired mainly because I felt like a big pileup was about to happen and I wanted to be up the road when it went down. We were in one of the many crosswind sections of the day with everyone crowded on the very left side of the road, trying to avoid the rumble strips while remaining in the draft. I’d had enough of the jostling around and rolled off to the right side of the road once we slowed down for a moment. I pretended I was just drinking water and looked over across to the left side of the road at the front of the peloton, taking extra long sips as if saying “Hey guys, I’m just really thirsty right now and for some reason I can’t drink within the peloton and I have to ride way out over here in the wind by myself to properly rehydrate.”

I slowly accelerated, still with the bottle up to my mouth, without making a sudden jump, ramping my speed up as un-threateningly as I could. I looked back and had a large gap already. The field was still sitting up and no one had responded to my move. Excellent. Wait. This is the opposite of excellent. I was headed for no-man’s land. The break was almost two minutes of the road. This would be impossible to bridge alone and just a huge, amateur, waste of energy.

Head down into the wind, I decided I must keep going. If I sat up immediately I would look weak. I’d rather blow myself up than look weak. A few minutes later I picked up one rider along the way. I’m not sure if he’d been dropped from the break or if he was a remnant of an attack 10 minutes prior, but I can tell you one thing: he was completely worthless in my pursuit of the leaders. I used more energy yelling at him to pull than I gained from sitting in his draft for the six seconds at a time that he did pull. The only real work he did was when the TV camera was on us for a few minutes. He complained that he was hurting bad, and I’m sure he was, but if you can talk you’re not hurting that much. Some people need to learn how to suffer.

The gap went down: 1:20, 1:10, 50 seconds, 25 seconds. The eight leaders were agonizingly close for the last six or seven minutes.

After 20 or 30 minutes since I got away, I finally made contact with the leaders. I’d thought about attacking the guy on my wheel and dropping him so that he didn’t get up there with me (because I was still mad at him), but decided to not make an enemy out of that team. We came up on the back of the break during a small rise, I took a bottle from the Optum car, and went straight to the front for double time pulls. If I alone could catch these guys, that meant that others behind could do it in half the time. Our gap to the peloton was three minutes, which was a good amount of time but easily catchable with 25 miles left to go. We needed more speed.

Within maybe eight minutes of catching the break, the moto came by and told us there was a group of 18 just 30 seconds behind us. Great. All that time in the wind and I could have just sat up and gotten a free ride. Oh well. At least I was in what would certainly be the winning move. I didn’t stop taking pulls though. My legs felt good and I thought that as long as I wasn’t pulling above 500 watts I’d remain pretty fresh. What an arrogant bastard I am!

Just seconds before the 18 guys caught us, and right before the final KOM climb, I launched another crafty attack and got away alone.

Nature Valley Grand Prix, 2013

Photo from Velonews

I plugged away up the climb, looking back to check on my gap every twenty seconds to gauge my effort. No sense in going too hard. All I wanted was the KOM points. I began soft pedaling with 200 meters to go in order to let them catch me right after I crossed the KOM line. 15 seconds later Janier Acevedo (Jamis) blew by me on the left. A second after that an Optum rider, Jesse Anthony, came by in pursuit of Acevedo. I got on his wheel, wondering what was going on. Were they really attacking each other already? I thought the new group of 28 (18+10) would motor along together to at least the finishing circuits. Shows how much I know about bike racing.

A minute later, next to join us through the feed zone was Freddie Rodriguez (Jelly Belly) and Andres Diaz (Elbowz). Freddie immediately began pulling the hardest, and once we all began cooperating, which didn’t take more than a minute, our gap grew quickly. Soon we had 1:26 on the group behind. I became excited, thinking of the finish already. At the very worst I’d finish 5th and be 5th on GC, assuming we kept this gap or grew it. I pulled but took a break every few minutes, just to keep my legs from going acidic. I wanted to be able to respond immediately to any attacks and knew that it wasn’t even expected that I take a pull at all, since I’m obviously just a weak, worthless amateur.

I took us onto the 1-mile gravel section that lead into town, which was fun, even pleasant, in a small group as opposed the the chaos of a large peloton. Freddie and Janier took over soon afterwards.

Nature Valley Grand Prix, 2013

As we came upon the town and the final four, two-mile finishing circuits, I looked back to see that our gap had come down to just a handful of seconds. Doomed. The group that consumed us at the start/finish line was down to 14 riders (now 18 with us). I sat eight or 10 guys back, wondering what I should do. I was one of the only guys without a teammate in the group, so sitting in seemed like the best option.

I attacked a minute later but quickly sat up once I looked over my shoulder to see them just a few bike lengths back. Guys continued to attack on those first two laps. Freddie took a hard pull to bring back Joe Schmalz (Elbowz) and an Optum and a Cash Call rider. I thought about doing the counter attack since I was right on Freddie’s wheel but hesitated. Sean Mazich (Jelly Belly) took off on the left. I almost got out of the saddle to join him, but again hesitated. There seemed to be too much fire power in the group and I was certain it would come down to a sprint. It took all my will power to not go with Mazich as I saw his move out of the corner of my eye.

That hesitation, in this case, turned out to be the wrong decision. I thought I was being smart but he ended up staying away to win. I botched the finish sprint and came in 10th. I need more practice at this whole trying to win thing. I’ve got to get out of the survival mode to which I’ve grown accustomed over the past couple years on the NRC circuit.

I secretly hoped for the most aggressive rider’s jersey as a consolation but didn’t get it. Anthony was a good choice since he’d been up the road in the original move all day. I currently sit 13th on GC and hope to improve on that tomorrow, and of course the final day–Stillwater. My main goal remains to win that stage. After witnessing the mayhem yesterday, all my prior belief that a team can hold onto the lead by setting tempo on the front is gone–for tomorrow’s road race or Stillwater. Pure agression will win, and that’s what I like best anyways.

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