It was great to see such large fields at a collegiate race. Last weekend was another road trip, this one to the Auburn University Cycling Weekend race up in, of course, Auburn AL. There were just two Tulane riders for this one, since it was outside of Tulane’s conference (so no points on the line), but the goal for the weekend wasn’t really to score any points. Instead, the goal was for these two guys to accumulate some good experience in larger fields and at the same time tally up some mass-st It was great to see such large fields at a collegiate race. Last weekend was another road trip, this one to the Auburn University Cycling Weekend race up in, of course, Auburn AL. There were just two Tulane riders for this one, since it was outside of Tulane’s conference (so no points on the line), but the goal for the weekend wasn’t really to score any points. Instead, the goal was for these two guys to accumulate some good experience in larger fields and at the same time tally up some mass-start finishes to count toward future upgrades. Since this event offered both collegiate and non-collegiate races, each of them could race twice each day. Dustin and I could also race our category, or in my case age-group, races. The weather leading up to the race weekend was looking pretty bad for Sunday, but not so bad for Saturday. Since it’s so early in the season (for me) I was planning on racing the 35+/45+ road race on Saturday but was not at all committed to racing the criterium on Sunday that I figured would be wet. A nice climb right after the start. The drive up to Auburn went really smoothly, even with the constant added stress of worrying about (a) not exceeding the speed limit and (b) not getting run over from behind because of not exceeding the speed limit, and (c) not getting killed while passing people who were going slower than the speed limit by getting into the left lane and not exceeding the speed limit (by much). Anyway, compared to a lot of the drives we make to the South-Central Conference races, this little 6-hour jaunt was a piece of cake. I was fully expecting to drive home through blinding rainstorms in the middle of the night, however. The event was being run by TopView Sports, a professional events management company, which meant we had to pay an extra $10 for timing chip rental. On the plus side, the races went off on time and most of the results were correct, and I was glad to see Stuart Lamp serving as Chief Referee. Elliott and Gavin both rode well in both their collegiate and category races and I think gained a lot of great experience. Gavin elected to also ride the afternoon Time Trial that consisted of a full lap of the 8-mile course. Knowing how easy it is to screw up time trial results, especially when relying so heavily on timing chips, I took the precaution of timing him myself. When the TT results were posted the next morning, he told me that his posted time was almost 30 seconds slower than what I’d gotten. Sigh…. I went over to the big red officials’ trailer motor-home thing and asked them to check it out since I had absolutely no doubt it was wrong. Fortunately, one of the officials had been doing a manual backup and could confirm the error. They had been starting riders about ten feet before the single timing mat so that when they rolled over it the first time their start times would be recorded and then when they rolled over it a second time their finish times would be recorded. Unfortunately, when Gavin picked up his bike to shift it to a different gear while waiting to start, it must have gotten too close to the mat and tripped the sensor and started his clock early. Safely tucked into the masters pack The Masters race had a decent sized field of 20 or 25, which was pretty good for an early season low-key road race like that. The course was moderately hilly with a couple of short but significant climbs along the 8-mile course. My race was only 5 laps or 40 miles, which was shorter than I’d have liked, but then again I was rather worried I’d get dropped like a rock if there were a bunch of attacks on the hills. After a nice easy climb up the first hill, just past the start line, there were a few rather hard attacks that strung things out. I was just trying to stay on wheels and wasn’t even paying attention to whatever kind of battle might be going on up at the front. I think it was before the start of the second lap that one rider finally got away and the pace settled down a bit. Too few people willing to chase, I guess. As we got close to the final lap things started heating up again with a few tentative attacks here and there. I was surprised that there hadn’t been a big attack each time we climbed the 1-km hill on the back side of the course, but on the last lap someone launched near the top, bringing another rider with him. There wasn’t a big response from the field. I guess most of them, like me, were suffering from early-season insecurity. I had already started trying to stay closer to the front, and in retrospect could probably have gone with that attack. Whether I’d have been able to stay with them is another question altogether. Found GW a the criterium So it was looking like a pack sprint for, I think, 4th place, and as we got into the final few miles I concentrated on maintaining a good position near the front. There was a right-hand turn a little less than a kilometer before the finish, and we had access to the left lane for the final 200 meters. With the wind coming from the right, I positioned myself on the left side of the group, coming around the last turn a bit farther back than I’d have liked. As soon as we cleared the turn someone jumped, which was good for me. As riders started to fade, I found myself on a solid wheel up against the center line approaching the 200 meter mark. I could tell that the rider in front of me was going to jump hard at 200 meters, and when he did, I was on him like white on rice, easily coming around well before the line. I think I was 2nd or 3rd in the pack sprint (never saw overall results, just the 35+ and 45+ placings) and ended up 3rd in the 45+ race. I was happy with how I felt and in fact a little surprised that I felt as competitive as I did. A little while later I was down by the start/finish and heard them calling my name for the podium, which was up on a hill across the road. I grabbed my bike and climbed up the wash-out / path, and when I went to lean the bike on a nearby tree slashed the hell out of my shin on a piece of rebar they were using as a stake to hold up the backdrop. After the obligatory photo I looked down to see blood dripping down my leg onto my sock and went off to find the first-aid kit I’d thoughtfully remembered to bring along. The women got thoroughly doused during their criterium. Sunday’s weather was better than predicted, which isn’t saying much since the prediction was for nothing but rain. As it turned out, the first race, Gavin’s, went off entirely without rain, although the street was wet anyway. At one point I heard someone say hello and turned around to find good ol’ GW Wenzel who is famous in the cycling community for always wearing his cowboy hat, boots, and Auburn shorts at bike races. I should have expected to see him there since he’s a researcher at the Vet school there. The course was a long rectangle with a nice little uphill toward the finish and a back stretch on a brick road alongside the railroad track. There was a 12-inch concrete apron between the bricks and the curb, and every lap it was just a long string of riders lined up on that narrow little strip avoiding the bumpy bricks. The tricky part was coming down a short downhill to a right turn onto the relatively slippery bricks. There were a few crashes there, including Elliott who went down in his category race just after free laps ended. I’m sure he would have had a very high placing if that hadn’t happened. Anyway, the guys learned a lot about riding criteriums on wet roads with larger fields. Dustin and I both passed on racing the criterium. It had started to rain during the women’s race(s) and we knew the field sizes for the non-collegiate races would be pretty thin (there were 6 for the masters race). Also, it would have kept us in Auburn another couple of hours, so it wasn’t really worth it considering the long drive home. Amazingly, there was practically no rain on the drive home. I was shocked. I’d been dreading a long drive in the dark in pouring rain for days, so it was just wonderful to have dry roads and light traffic for the drive home. I think we got back around 9 pm or so, which was really nice compared to the midnight arrival times we usually see for some of the Texas races. More photos are at HERE.