Aggieland Road Trip

Last weekend I went with the Tulane riders, of which there were only four, over to the Texas A&M “Tunis Roubaix” collegiate omnium. Although the only legitimate reason I had to go was to do the 13+ hours of driving, I was actually looking forward to the trip and hoping to get in a few miles on Saturday while the road races were going on. All week prior to the race the weather forecast had been looking pretty dismal. It wasn’t until Friday that things started to change and the rain chances got buLast weekend I went with the Tulane riders, of which there were only four, over to the Texas A&M “Tunis Roubaix” collegiate omnium. Although the only legitimate reason I had to go was to do the 13+ hours of driving, I was actually looking forward to the trip and hoping to get in a few miles on Saturday while the road races were going on. All week prior to the race the weather forecast had been looking pretty dismal. It wasn’t until Friday that things started to change and the rain chances got bumped down from 90% to more like 50%. Still, I was fully expecting to spend most of Saturday and Sunday in the rain. We had a couple of Tulane motor pool minivans lined up and they wanted to get to College Station at a reasonable hour, so I decided to take Friday off from work so we could pick up the vans at 11 am and one of them, mine, could get an early start. After a quick ride Friday morning I stuffed enough riding gear into my bulging race bag to handle anything from 40° and raining to 70° and sunny. The forecast seemed to be changing hourly and there was just no telling what we’d actually see for the weekend. After loading up the minivan with three people, bikes, tent, wheels and luggage we headed out before noon and right away Waze re-routed us north of Houston for some reason. I guess the combination of ongoing road construction and probably a major accident made what would normally be a 15 minute longer route the better option. So we left I-10 around Beaumont and spent a lot of time on smaller state and county highways with stoplights and constantly shifting speed limits. On the subject of speed limits, I should mention that the Tulane motor pool vans now have GPS and cameras recording and reporting everything, including speeding, so I was trying not to stray much above the speed limit the whole time. The whole trip I had that feeling you get when you’re getting dropped and watching the pack stream past you but you just can’t keep up. To say it was stressful would be an understatement. On the plus side, we lucked into a practically new Toyota Sienna that had a number of features I wasn’t expecting to find in a motor pool minivan (they are actually from Enterprise car rental under some sort of special arrangement). This one had a rear camera, numerous USB ports, Lane Departure Alert, and Dynamic Radar Cruise Control. Once on the interstate you could basically take your hands off the wheel and if it drifted too far to one side or the other of the lane, it would automatically steer itself back to the middle. Meanwhile, if were on cruise control and started to roll up on the car ahead of you, it would automatically slow down to maintain a safe distance. It was strange to have a car making its own decisions like that, but I could certainly see how it would be helpful for really late night driving when you’re tired and maybe not quite as alert as usual. Anyway, other than the long detour, the drive went fine and both vans arrived in time for dinner. Saturday morning the weather was way better than I’d expected. There was virtually no chance of rain until evening, winds were light to moderate, and the morning temperature was above 50°. Dustin and I decided to start behind the Cat. A race, which was the first one of the day. The Cat. Bs would be starting ten minutes later, with the Cs and Ds not starting until the first two races had finished. There was a short stretch of “gravel” for the start that was maybe 0.8 miles and was by no means actual gravel except for a section right in front of the parking area. Otherwise it was well packed down dirt with a few little washboard sections. No problem at all, really. I had decided to bring my old Orbea, both because I didn’t want the Bianchi to get banged up in the van and because it had some wider “gravel-king” tires on it. Since I wasn’t technically in the race and was supposed to stay at the back, I had my usual heavy seat bag with a couple of tubes, along with my daytime-visible tail light. Compared to the Bianchi in race mode, the bike felt like a truck, especially when I’d get out of the saddle to accelerate. Photo by Brooks Bixler As soon as we got out of the “neutral” gravel section the attacks started. It was really hard hanging on at the back where the accordion was in full effect with the pace constantly surging from 25 to 35 mph. When we made a right turn into a crosswind and the front of the group attacked again I decided it was time to let them go rather than ride in the oncoming traffic lane to get a draft. This was probably only about 7 miles into the race. A little while later I came up on another rider who had been shelled from the group, so we rode together for a lap of so until the Category B group caught us. At that point I went to the back of the Bs and followed them for a couple more laps, which was way, way easier than it had been with the As. With a lap or two left to go I felt my front tire going soft and just made it around to the start/finish area where dropped off the back of the B group and stopped to fix it. While I was there the Cat. A break came by, followed by a 4-man chase group. With the flat fixed, I took a shortcut to the feed zone and just as I arrived I saw the 4-man chase group coming, so I jumped onto the back of that group for most of a lap. That was by far the most fun part of the day. They were taking pretty smooth pulls and it was super easy to just shift over the wheel of each riders as he dropped back. Well, they were going fast enough, and the B group slowly enough, that we caught the B group, at which point I let them go and once again went to the back of the Bs, following them until they finished. After those races finished I lined up again with Dustin behind the Category C group when they started. This time I brought my camera so I could take some photos (we had two riders in that race, and one in the A race and another in the D race). That was fun but significantly slower, and when they had one lap left to go I dropped off, rode across the loop to the feed zone and then back to the finish to watch the sprints. Jerry won the pack sprint for 3rd with Elliott finishing 10th. Gavin, who was in his first ever road race in the D race, finished 4th out of 35 in his road race. I ended up with like 80 miles, some of it hard, so I was feeling pretty satisfied. That evening for the TT it started getting colder and a steady mist started falling, making the streets wet. They shortened the Cat. A and B Time Trial from 20 km to 10 km. As usual, full road race results weren’t available and there was no start list. Dustin and I tried to keep the riders lined up more or less in number order, with moderate success. By the time that was done we were pretty wet and cold. Sunday morning was more mist and fog and wet roads. I was a little surprised, since I thought the rainy stuff would be gone by then, but no such luck. Fortunately the on-campus course was all pretty good concrete, so there were only a couple of crashes, one of which was Elliott, who nonetheless took 3rd after establishing the race’s winning breakaway in the first few laps. In the C race Jerry and Gavin worked well together with Gavin instigating the winning break and finishing 3rd and Jerry taking 2nd in the pack sprint for 5th. Grayson raced really well in the A races but kind of blew up toward the end. In the criterium he was in the winning break for a while, but the other riders basically kept attacking until they dropped him a few laps before the finish. All-in-all, it was a good weekend. Now I just have to decided if I want to make the 8-hour trip to Auburn next weekend where I can get my butt kicked some more.

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