Last Hurrah

We obliterated the Steamboat Springs stage race the weekend before last. It was such a dominating performance that I almost felt bad being on the giving end (though in reality the team could have given just as much without me there).

The bike racing season is over and since it was my last race with the team, this will be the last time I’m singing the praises of GS CIAO. If I race bikes at all next year, I’m sure I’ll be cursing and moaning about them like everyone else. So, I thought I’d enlighten my future self and the rest of you about what it’s like to be on a team like this–one that (at local events) is pretty much unstoppable and makes a mockery of nearly everyone else’s race.

#1 None of us take pity on you. We’re a bunch of greedy dick heads who look down on the rest of the field.

#2 It makes us feel good of ourselves when we get to sit on and not work in breakaways, since we have four equally strong teammates back in the field. Spitting on us and yelling for us to pull through when that particular breakaway doesn’t work to our advantage only strengthens the urge to mess with your brake calipers. It doesn’t make us want to pull through. Besides, working in the break is for posers. Trying is for posers.

#3 Winning feels good even if it isn’t you who crosses the line first.

Just so I don’t piss anyone off too much, a bit of that was sarcasm. (It feels best when you cross the line first yourself).

Okay onto the race.

Stage one was a 22km time trial. I sucked, majorly. I started out at an overly optimistic pace, which I held for about four minutes. After that I watched helplessly as my average power dipped down, down, down to China town. The one exciting bit of my TT occurred mid way into the race as I approached a railroad crossing. I heard the warning ding-ding-dings of a train crossing and looked up to see red lights flashing and the barriers starting to lower. I looked left and right and didn’t see a train yet, though there was a a bit of curve to the tracks as well as a high berm that blocked the view. Plus I was going 30mph, was somewhat cross-eyed, and had a sweat-streaked TT visor blurring my vision. I had a split second to make a decision. Should I risk my life for 25th place and duck below the lowering barriers, or do I slam on the brakes and get 75th place and live to see another day?

I swerved around the barriers as they lowered into place and made it across alive, immediately thinking OH FUCKING SHIT THAT WAS STUPID! But really, I think it’s a bigger risk than that just riding to and from Sprouts during rush hour traffic. I finished 25th, only two and a half minutes down on Adrian Costa (Cal Giant). Definitely worth it.

Going into the 80-mile road race the following day, we had Burleigh sitting 2nd on GC just six seconds behind Costa, George at 5th, Josh at 10th, and Chris in 13th–all within striking distance of 1st. Mitch and I would be the domestiques for the day and do what we could to further the other guys’ chances, either pulling our brains out in a breakaway if it was the right mix, or pulling on the front of the peloton if we needed things back together and re-shuffled.

I got the race going with the first attack of the day. Off to a good start. I could have pulled out of the race then and there and been happy with my performance. Instead, I continued trying hard, which I knew was lame but I did it anyways. I went again about half a dozen times but really, deep down I knew that my chances were very slim. I wasn’t even close to being strong enough to be a threat to Costa or Andrew Clemence (Colorado Collective), and I’d need a big size group (with Josh, Chris, and/or George in tow) to be able to work with if I was going to last even half the race off the front.

That scenario didn’t happen. Instead, race leader Costa attacked with Burleigh and Drew Christopher (Champion Systems) on the first “major” (4-minute) climb about 12 miles into the race. I was already blown up from attacking earlier and was sitting 5th to last wheel when this went down. Not an ideal spot to be, though since the climb curved to the left it did offer a good view of things.

The field shattered and I saw the life of my personal race flash before my eyes, but found a burst of anaerobic anger to propel me onto the tail end of the last large group just as they crested the climb. A twisting descent ensued, followed by a few hard minutes of chasing on the flat before we caught onto the field. Burleigh, Costa, and Drew were long gone.

Photo: Bob Simpson

Our plan had been to make Costa work, with the hope that we could put Chris, Josh, and/or George up the road with Mitch or I. This would put pressure on him and hopefully wear him out a bit while keeping Burleigh as fresh as possible to attack in the last 20 miles of the race. In bike racing, things rarely go as planned.

Colorado Collective sent all their guys to the front to pull the trio back for Clemence, who was 3rd on GC. Their efforts, though gallant, weren’t even close to enough. Costa was strong as fuck. Burleigh was just sitting on Drew and Costa the entire time since there was no reason for us to want that break to succeed. Despite that, the gap kept going up, eventually peaking at three minutes. Again, Burleigh was just sitting on so it was only Drew and, predominantly, Costa who were doing the damage.

I spent my time back in the field sitting behind/to the side of the Collective, helping to keep the rest of my team out of the crosswind and yelling about how tired I was. I was pretty certain that I’d be dropped on the main climb of the race at mile 50 and I knew that in order to be of help at all, I needed to do my part sooner rather than later. They probably didn’t need me sitting up there but it gave me something to do. Even 90 minutes into the race, I was hurting.

Up the road, Drew got dropped as they started the climb and it was just down to Costa and Burleigh. Costa attacked again and again, but Burleigh stayed glued to his wheel. No amount of angry snot rockets blown directly in his face could pry him loose. PS: ummm, fuck you for being a douche bag Adrian?

Back to my story: I got dropped on the climb and rode in for 30th or something with Mitch and a few other guys. I took pride in showing everyone else how strong I was and doing more than my fair share in the gruppetto. I attacked a few times to shed some dead weight. Everyone was super impressed when I rode off with one other guy and went as hard as I could to the line. In case you couldn’t tell, I’m talking about someone else.

And now back to the heat of the action: Burleigh attacked repeatedly in the final 15 miles, won, and put a few seconds into Costa, who finished 2nd. Josh attacked 20 miles from the finish to go solo, was joined by Chris six or seven miles later, and the two of them came in 3rd and 4th. To cap it all off, George took the field sprint for 5th. The field at that point was down to about 9 guys.

We celebrated that evening with burritos made by Faith, then sauntered on over to the Moots factory so Burleigh could win a $3000 Moots frame at the BBQ/podium presentation/Moots frame raffle. Everyone booed when he won, including me.

I won’t go into all the details of what we needed to have happen in the crit in order for all of our plans to work out, but here are 99% of them. Nick lead us in a six-hour long pre-race meeting the night before the crit and this is what we’d come up with:

1) We needed Burleigh to win the overall
2) There was an intermediate time bonus (three-deep) that we didn’t want Costa to get since he was just three seconds behind Burleigh
3) There were time bonuses at the finish (10, 6, and 4 seconds), and unless Burleigh got an intermediate time bonus, we couldn’t let Adrian finish 1st, 2nd, or 3rd unless Burleigh beat him.
4) We wanted the stage win also because we’re greedy
5) We wanted to keep Josh in 3rd, Chris in 4th, and move George up to 5th GC

In order to do all this, we had to have a break up the road for the intermediate sprint, as long as Costa wasn’t in it. We’d leave it be for the whole race if that was the case. Or if no break had managed to get away before the sprint, we’d have to do a big, mid-race lead out and make sure George and Josh went 1-2 and hopefully someone other than Costa was 3rd. After the intermediate sprint we could just leave whatever breakaway there was off the front if that was the case, or if things were still together we could just sit on the front and make sure it didn’t get too far out of control since I think we still wanted George to win the stage. Or something like that. I’m forgetting exactly what we wanted and even at the time it was a bit confusing since we’d discussed so many different options given the race scenario.

The next day:

During our warm up, George asked me when the last time I’d done any intensity was after I’d told him how hard the first 20 minutes of the road race had been for me. “Uhh, that would have been Winston-Salem,” I replied. George laughed and did a one-legged sprint at 1700 watts. Apparently he didn’t think the fitness I’d gained from a one-day race in May would hold me over till September. Well I’ll show HIM, I thought.

By lap two I was at the very back of the race, breathing like an out of shape, asthmatic bike racer who hadn’t done any intensity for over two months and was racing at an altitude of 7,000 feet at the Steamboat Springs stage race criterium, in the year of 2015. I like accurate metaphors.

I’d pull my brains out for half a lap, get shelled to the back for a lap, work my way through the field for two more laps, pull for half a lap. Repeat.

Amazingly, all of what we wanted to have happen, happened. Just barely. My teammates are all very strong. And smart. Costa, who was also incredibly strong for the third day in a row, almost spoiled our fun. If he’d been one place higher in the crit (3rd instead of 4th) he would have taken a time bonus and moved in front of Burleigh on GC. But that didn’t happen. In some other universe it did, but not in this one. Our secret weapon, The Monster From Fort Collins, won, Josh took second, and Burleigh held onto the lead by the three second margin he started the day with. The Monster also moved into 5th GC. Icing on the pancake. It couldn’t have possibly gone any better.

Photo: Bob Simpson

As an elite amateur team, we get our asses kicked in the NRC.  We know how if feels to be dominated by teams like UHC. It feels pretty shitty. Those guys are the worst. They act like they’re god’s gift and move about in the peloton like none of us even exist. But the same thing happens to them over in Europe, so that makes me feel a little better. There’s always someone bigger and better than you. So on the days when there isn’t, it’s pretty damn nice to win, even if it’s only a local race. You have to soak those moments up. GS CIAO, it’s been a pleasure. I’ll miss the amazing team work we did this year. And Faith’s cooking. Especially Faith’s cooking.

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