Monday, June 4, 2012

Glencoe Grand Prix, Hellbender Road Race, great weekend.

This weekend was another busy one for me and the Quantum Mesa Cycles. On tap was the Lake Bluff Twilight Crit, the Glencoe Grand Prix which was the IL state crit championships, and the Hellbender Omnium in Rolla, MO.

I was not able to participate in the Twilight crit, but a big group of guys left early Friday morning to make it up. From what I was told it was a tight course with narrow roads and a large field. A few of the guys raced in Cat 123 race and two then jumped into the Masters 30+. Jason Wulff placed best out of the team in the 123, but had a tough spill in the 30+ and suffered the rest of the weekend from it.

I had work responsibilities on Friday night so I wasn't able to leave St Louis until after 9pm. I drove to my parents house west of Chicago which left me with just over and hour to the race in Glencoe, IL the next day. I could have made it all the way there, but I didn't want to happen to wake up the guys as I got in after 1am. The next morning I was supposed to meet the guys for breakfast but being tired the night before I set my alarm for 7pm, not am, and overslept. Not a good start to the day but I had time to get out there and meet them for our morning ride before we raced at 2:30pm. The race was a strange one for a state championship, as it was a Cat 2/3 and they were awarding both jerseys in the same race. The first 2 from IL would win a jersey, and the frist 3 from IL would win one as well. This could have made for some interesting racing, but none of our possible scenarios really happened so although the race was very hard physically, tactically it was pretty straight forward.

The goal was to race for both Mike Rickey (Cat 3) and Mark French (Cat 2). We planned to keep our team up in the front (we had 8 men line up), and be ready to do whatever our two leaders needed. Easier said than done. Glencoe is a great course in the middle of an affluent northern suburb of Chicago. The streets are average in terms of width, with great pavement. What makes the course great are the turns. They are fast and many. Then with the number of riders signed up you have to be fit, attentive, have no fear of blasting through turn after turn, and be a bit lucky to make it though the race. Our entire team was able to get a very good starting position on the line, this was the first win in a battle scheduled to last about an hour. As we lined up we were pointing out rider after rider to each other that we needed to watch for. There were more than I could remember, so I picked a few that I knew were strong and I hoped none of the rest ever figured in.

Well we started FAST, like o my god I hope we slow down soon fast. I swear to god I wanted to quit about ten minutes into the race and never though I was going to be able to last. My saving grace is my ability to corner on rails and take advantage of others fear and or inexperience with the course. I was able to get to the front and started watching for moves that would try to go up the road. We were supposed to latch onto anything and weigh it down. Very quickly this had me well into the red zone and looking for help. Just then I saw BJ Keane and Eric Finks (AKA Finkszilla) This allowed my to get just a few moments of rest, but if I rested too long I was afraid that I would drop back too far in the field and have to use up a "match" to make it back up where I needed to be. 

The entire race was marred with crashes in just about every corner. There were two pits on the course and just about every lap there were multiple riders jumping back into the race following their free lap, which is allowed after a crash or mechanical. It helps to ride at the front of a race as it leaves fewer riders in front of you who could crash, and generally the riders at the front have a cleaner line through turns and down the road. This didn't stop some riders from taking themselves and others out of the race. Our protected rider Mark French had to do some quick thinking and jump up a curb into someone's yard and then back over another curb to avoid a crash and then get back into the race. Like I have said before, most of the riders that were crashing were from stupid riding, and from guys who just don't seem to know how to handle their own power and speed on a bike. I guess some people look at it as a good problem to have, but not me.

Somewhere around the halfway point I believe a very strong and dangerous (one we were watching) rider exploded off the front. Our Cat 2 rider Mark had talked briefly about maybe going with a move like this, but Mark knows his body and knew he had the pop to get a good result in this race. But no where near the engine to hang with a powerful rider like Nick Ramirez. Nick wasn't going to go down easy and we chased hard and long to pull back his lead. This was one of the many moments durning the race where I thought it was all over for me. After every corner was a huge acceleration that didn't end until the next corner, even if you were at the front of the race. I don't know how anyone behind where I was riding could have handled that extreme accordion effect over and over, and I expect there were many riders who were popped because of it.

The next thing I knew we had only 3 laps to go, I was still near the front, and BJ, Mark, and I were still very much in the race. It was sad that we were not able to keep more guys in the race, but everyone has bad days, and many of our guys have been doing a huge amount of racing. We had finally pulled back Mr. Ramirez and his teammate, I believe, Tim Speciale made his move. With only a lap to go this was a scary move for our team and I didn't think I would be able to do anything to help. Then I saw BJ moving Mark up through the pack and I though "We are saved", then BJ pulled the plug and swung off to the left. He had given everything and could do no more. At the same time something strange happened. No one wanted to throw away their chance at a win and everyone sat up hoping someone else would chase down Tim. This saved me, and might be just the thing Mark needed. I quickly moved up the left side of the road after turn one and started yelling Mark's name. At first I though I heard him say "NO" as in wait to go to the front, I though, what the hell do you mean no, we got to go! Then I understood him, he was screaming GO, GO, GO! And off I went. I don't know where Mark slotted in but what he needed was the pack to string out to give him a shot. Similarly to last years race a rider from another team raced me to the front of the pack and took the lead. I don't know who he was, just that he had been at or near the front for most of the race and this was good for me. The pack flew through turn two and three, and the rider in front of me started to slow down. I began loudly pleading with him to keep driving, but he was having none of it. So going into the downhill turn 4 I took the lead and lit my final "match". I was hoping to be able to drive the pack to the final turn but really didn't think it was going to happen, but I had nothing to lose, and a State Championship for my team, to gain. Turning up the small hill on the course I stood up and kept the pressure on. I expected to be swarmed as we climbed but I guess I was able to hold the speed high enough for everyone as I lead onto the corses false flat and into turn 6. Then the power meter numbers started to drop quickly and I heard Mark yell for everything that I had. I tried to stand and give it a go but I was running on empty and quickly sat back down and shook my head trying to signal I was spent. Then I was swarmed on both sides with Mark going by somewhere around 5th or 6th I believe. I was pretty hypoxic though and it could have been 20th, I have no idea. I barley grabbed onto the back of the pack and tried to ride it in for a decent finish. Going into the 8th and final turn I saw Mark take a very aggressive inside line, the only problem was he wasn't in his normal 1st or 2nd position going through that turn. I figured I had failed and we missed out on the Jersey again.

We got lucky though, Mark was able to take 4th place in the field sprint, and as it so happens all the riders that beat him were from out of the state. That meant that Mark was the IL state crit champ, and Quantum Mesa Cycles had done it! We were so excited it was funny, like a bunch of little kids winning a baseball game or something. It was as exciting and gratifying as my level 9s winning their state championship in gymnastics earlier in the year. Mark was so happy he took paid for our dinner that night. After that we all had a 6+ hour drive back home. It wouldn't be such a big deal normally, but the next day I was going to drive down to Rolla, MO to help another teammate win a weekend stage race and more rest is always good. That was not meant to be however as I had to be up at 6 the next morning to drive our phenom Cat 4 to his race at 9 am. Whatever, my wife lives on 4 hours of sleep a day, so can I, right?

Hellbender is a weekend of racing in Rolla, MO. A great little town an hour and a half southwest of St. Louis. The crit is held on a technical course with amazing pavement. It is fast and fun. Jason Murphy was the only 3 that was able to go, and we had Grant (said Cat 4) doing the 4/5. Jason did a great job racing on his own and taking second in the race. He was first in the omnium however, as he had taken points in mid race preems. So as we were finishing up north of Chicago, Jason was killing it down south. When we got the news of his great performance it made the day even better! 

We had a plan for the race that we wanted to try out and it worked to perfection. We took the first part of the race pretty easy as there were a lot of miles to cover and we are only 3's not Pros. The plan was to heat things up going into the second lap of what could be described as a lolly-pop course. As we were getting closer to the planned launch point I actually had to ask one of our guys to push back his attack because I was afraid if he went when we originally planned I would get dropped. I felt great on the course but on the two climbs we had done so far in the race I struggled. I have not put in many miles as of late and I was mighty tired from the preceding day's race and drive. It worked out great though. Chris put in the first attack and was followed by 3 or 4 other riders. Too big really for such a small field as ours. Then Eric launched, and Chris and I did our best to hold off the followers but there were too many and they were still to fresh. Eric was back in the pack but things started to speed up. This was good for us. Another rider road off the front and Chris put in a good steady effort to keep the speed high and slowly reeled him back in. With only a few feet to go till we caught Eric launched another tremendous attack. This one was explosive and we were in great position to stall the pack's chase. One other rider was able to go with Eric (Finkszilla). This was helpful as he was a teammate of a rider right behind Jason in the GC. So their team, Big Shark, started to ride at the front doing some of the blocking duties. It wasn't long however till Eric's break-mate couldn't hold his wheel and Eric again attacked. The field started to get nervous about him being out there and there were a myriad of efforts to chase him down. All were pretty much snuffed out by Chris and I. It was a lot of fun jumping onto the wheels of chasers and foiling their efforts to pull back our teammate. As we neared the KOM on the couse I was feeling good, but I knew I could never make it over the climb with the group. I talked with Chris a bit telling him to try and just keep up what we had been doing. I figured if we made it to the KOM and didn't see Eric that he was going to take the day. A 40 mile solo break away would have been the most epic, amazing, Finkszillaisk thing I had ever seen. As I was shot straight out the back of the pack going up the hill it was all I could think of.

Alas it was not to be. As I and a couple other riders who had been dropped rolled back into the last stretch I could see a lone rider up the road. When he stood to keep up his pace I could tell it was the brave Finkszilla. When we reached him I almost hugged him from my bike, telling him how amazed I was with him. Then he told me how he had tried to attack the field at least 2 more times before he could go no more. It almost brought a tear to my eye! Thomas Vockler would have been proud. When Eric and I rolled to the finish line we saw Chris and Jason. Jason had great big smile on his face. We had done it, and he was so thankful for what we had done. I was so happy he had won! It makes all the hard work so worth it! Chris had done exactly what he needed to do. He used his amazing diesle engine and powered Jason at the front of the pack for 6 miles, up the final climb and into the final turn. No easy feet at all! Jason, so thankful for the work, rewarded us with a great sprint victory. 

I had such a great time this weekend that I know it is all worth it. This is why I race on a team, so that I can share something with others. Being part of something more than just myself. Next weekend is Ste Genevive, the MO state RR. I think we might have a good shot.

The guys getting loaded up for a weekend of winning races
At Glencoe, getting everything dialed in.
Jason Wulff (AKA Booty, AKA Bootylicious, AKA Hot Muffin) had a tough day before Glencoe, but that didn't stop him from saddling up and giving it a go.
Mark was letting us listen to his music selection, it's really bad. Good thing he is good at racing.

I think this proves that. You don't have to be first, just the first from Illinois.

Top step baby!

Murphy gets the top step for winning the race and the omnium. 3rd place must not know proper podium etiquette, one arm dude. 

Dude got a sweet new bike rack for the win, like Connolly says, "That thing is no joke!"

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