North Star Grand Prix Stages 1-3

I’m racing with Horizon Organic/Einstein Bagels here at the North Star Grand Prix, formerly known as that race where you can make off with 1 billion Nature Valley bars. I forget what the name used to be.

Racing this weekend:
Fabio Calabria
Chris Winn
Kit Recca
Mac Cassin
Emerson Oronte
Me

Staff:
Nick Traggis
Faith Clauson

Wednesday: Stages 1 and 2. It all has to start with a damn time trial for some reason. Why? WHY??? For the love of humanity why does it always start with a time trial?!?! At least it was short and we were on road bikes. I was 42nd, which was two places worse than last year and like 32 places worse than I’d hoped for. I chalk that up to me not being fast enough. Mac had the best result for the team with 15th, and just four seconds shy of the best amateur jersey. So close yet…so close.

Tom Zirbel (Optum) won (by a lot). And no one was surprised.

The second stage of the day is the dreaded downtown St. Paul crit. It’s dreaded because there are generally quite a few crashes and it’s lined with Rastafarian spectators (get it?). Personally I didn’t have any close calls, mainly cause I rode like a wimp, took the corners like a bulldozer (wide and slow) and never factored into the race. I did a terrific job chopping 300 cars on the highway during the drive to the race when I snuck up the exit lane and cut back into the long line of stopped cars to the left (that was an accident by the way). But that was the extent of my nastiness for the evening. And crits are all about being nasty and chopping the shit out of your close friends competition.

I got a solid warm up on the trainer while watching the women’s field crash, I mean race, through corner Two. Every other lap had a pile up. It was great for my nerves.

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Photo: Velonews

It took me half an hour to move up from near the back where I’d lined up and into 30th position with Chris and Fabio. I lasted there until seven or eight laps to go and drifted backwards again to finish 48th, thankfully without a time gap. None of us crashed but Kit did flat with two to go and was docked some serious time. My crit skills are lacking from lack of crit racing, and my top end is still lagging quite a bit. I’m happy with how my form has come along since coming home but I’m continuing to see that I still have a ways to go, which is frustrating. Usually I’m at my peak this time of year.

Ian Crane (Jamis) won! He’s on fire this year.

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Photo: Velonews

Faith brought us Chipotle afterwards and we sat in the dark parking lot and argued about who’s burrito was who’s. I quickly ate mine and hoped that someone might not want theirs and give it to me. I was not in luck.

Thursday: Stage 3. The Cannon Falls road race goes one of two ways: it’s cancelled because of T-storms or tornadoes, or it’s not cancelled and is one of the best races of the year. This year was the latter. It was “off of the hook,” as the kids say. While a flatter rolling course doesn’t typically cause much drama, last year’s race, as well as this year’s, had some major action right from the start.

With a complete course change from last year, the dirt section began at mile 4. It was false flat downhill and thankfully there was a freshly laid, thick and loose layer of gravel. Eric Marcotte of SmartStop drilled it at the front, which caused mayhem behind. I was close enough to the front to avoid the crashes, but behind guys were dropping like it’s hot. Thick dust made it hard to see and huge chunks of gravel barraged bikes, shins, and faces. I got all drifty numerous times but kept upright just fine and dandy. I countered an attack by Emerson once we got onto the pavement and right then the officials neutralized the race, which pissed off all of us in the front and caused joyous celebration for those behind.

North Star Grand Prix Stage 3

Marcotte in the gravel. Photo: Velonews

Crashes and flats had caused a large split in the field, with only 50-60 making it through unscathed. After 10 minutes of being stopped in the middle of the road, we began again.

Steve Fisher (Jelly Belly) smartly slipped off the front a mile from the first KOM and got full points. I had my eye on the jersey so I was kicking myself for not attempting the same maneuver. I jumped across to an attack at the top and rotated through a few times before we were caught. That was the first taste of the cross winds for the day and it was obvious that the race was going to be heavily influenced by wind. I attacked again a short while later when things calmed down but I went nowhere. I followed another four or five moves in the course of the next several miles, hoping and praying to get away without too much effort. It was not to be, so I decided to wait until the next KOM to make another attempt. I didn’t have to wait long, as it was coming up in just two short miles.

My positioning going into the ‘climb’ wasn’t great and I had to come from way back out in the wind to latch onto the move as five guys attacked part way up the climb. Steve was there again and I realized I wasn’t going to be able to sprint for any points with 250 meters to go. I’d used up too much to just be there and was quickly dying. Three of the guys vied for the points while me and another guy got dropped, though we powered along and made contact a few hundred meters later.

The wind at the top was strong and blowing fiercely from the right. We worked together and our group turned into an echelon as guys behind began bridging up. Within a few minutes it swelled to 15 riders. Things behind were chaotic as the field blew up in the wind.

I fell out of the rotation and was guttered for a few minutes, wishing I’d stayed up front and somewhat protected from the wind. I decided to move up and came around Marcotte just as he crashed hard in front of me. If I’d stayed on his wheel for a quarter second longer there’s no way I wouldn’t have gone down. I got back into the rotation.

By now I’d been in and out of the red for quite some time, and the front group of 40 was getting too big to find shelter from the crosswinds unless you were up front, which I no longer was. I’d been guttered off and on and had to close gaps, so my legs were building with more and more acid. I was on my limit and all it took was a few more sprints in the gutter to dislodge me from the front. By then the group was blowing up everywhere. 20 or so guys formed the front echelon, while a few smaller groups chased. Myself, Luis Lemus (Jelly Belly) and Benny Swedberg (Cal Giant) rotated for a few minutes and were soon reinforced.

With a large number of riders coming up from behind, we eventually caught the leaders 15 minutes later. I wasted no time, taking advantage of the momentary lull, and attacked with three others, once again including Steve. It only lasted for a mile or so and I wasn’t a huge help since my legs were already trashed from chasing and my pulls were weak.

The group was back up to 70 or more riders at this point and I continued following moves off the front until the first feed zone at mile 39 ( yes all this took place in the first 39 miles). I noticed the wind was strong from the left as we went up the short but exposed climb and I had a hunch that whoever was at the front might be dickish enough to attack in the feed zone. I started to move up as we climbed and decided I didn’t need water after all, but it wasn’t in time. Sure enough, Optum attacked and the race blew apart once again with Jamis’ help (I would have done the same had I been up there I guess). The race situation was now 14 off the front including many of the GC contenders and the strongest guys, a group of 8 chasing, my group of 30, and 90 guys behind in various groups. We caught the group of 8 and continued drilling it for miles afterwards, keeping the gap to the leaders at one minute for well over an hour but never getting closer than 55 seconds.

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Race blowing up in the wind. Photo: Velonews.

Fabio and Emerson were with me in that large chase group and Emerson did way more than his fair share of work. The Belgian 3M squad kept the momentum high with five of their guys all angrily pulling, as well as guttering at times. I pulled off and on, doing more work than I needed to but less than Emerson. I was on the verge of telling him to ease up and save himself but decided to keep my mouth shut since it was actually safer to be near the front and in the rotation since even our chase group would attack itself when the wind really picked up. When the gap went up to 1:35 I stopped pulling altogether, figuring that guys would begin attacking out of frustration and split the group.

It didn’t take long. I made it over the roller that spurred that attack and I went cross eyed, suffering in the gutter for the millionth time that day before a series of corners lead us to the first head wind of the stage. Everything else had been cross wind or cross tail. Peace at last! Our group was down to 25 by then and  I just sat on for the most part. The gap was over 2 minutes now and the chance of catching the leaders in the final 20 miles was slim. I’d done enough work and attacking anyways.

Fabio was my last teammate in the group and he took 3rd in our group’s sad sprint, which was for 16th place. I came in 22nd after 97 miles of balls to the wall racing. No one from our team crashed and everyone made the time cut. It was a very hard day. That’s all I have to say about that.

Ryan Anderson won and took the leader’s jersey. He was my pre-race pick for the overall so I’m feeling pretty smart about that prediction.

We ate burritos during the car ride home. I have to say that Faith’s cooking and Nick’s and our team’s general stage race preparedness is pretty fantastic. Tonight we have another crit. Tomorrow a road race. And Sunday a circuit race.

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