Straggling

My little group of stragglers in the road race, probably starting the second lap It was another long road trip last weekend. This time up to Fayetteville for the University of Arkansas collegiate (and some non-collegiate) races. My sore throat seemed to be on the mend and I wasn’t yet showing signs of pneumonia, so why not drive 10 hours to race in some nice cold, dry air after what was essentially five days off the bike? As fate would have it, we ended up with only one collegiate rider, Gavin, My little group of stragglers in the road race, probably starting the second lap It was another long road trip last weekend. This time up to Fayetteville for the University of Arkansas collegiate (and some non-collegiate) races. My sore throat seemed to be on the mend and I wasn’t yet showing signs of pneumonia, so why not drive 10 hours to race in some nice cold, dry air after what was essentially five days off the bike? As fate would have it, we ended up with only one collegiate rider, Gavin, plus Dustin and me. Gavin was thus assured of redundant and/or contradictory coaching advice plus lots of crit photos. This year’s Arkansas Classic used entirely different courses from prior years. The road race, which was the only one I’d be doing, was on a nice rolling 12-mile loop with one short but steep climb and one longer but not so steep climb. It was considerably more forgiving than the course used in prior years, although apparently not quite forgiving enough for me. Probably 1 lap to go. The road races didn’t start until late morning, after the time trial, with Dustin and I doing the “Open A” aka Cat. 1/2/3 race first, followed by Gavin in the collegiate Cat. C race a few hours later. Although I was feeling a little apprehensive about my pulmonary status, I can’t say I was feeling all that bad as we rolled out for the neutral 3 or 4 miles to start the first of four laps of the race loop. By the time we started the temperature was close to 60, the sky was clear, and the wind was blowing at probably 10 mph with little but a few scattered leafless little trees to block the it as it blew across the cow pastures. It was scenic, for sure, but I knew the crosswind section was going to take its toll on the field of around 30 riders. With the very first section of the loop being essentially a direct crosswind, I made sure I was up near the front as soon as we turned onto it. That worked out pretty well for a while, but then Dustin attacked maybe five miles into it and right away there was a split with six riders off the front. Over the next few miles a few more took off on the tailwind section and I think most of them made the bridge. I think there was some team strategy, aka blocking, going on in what was left of the field, so there wasn’t any sort of concerted effort to chase. Even so, the gap was growing pretty slowly at first. Then we came around a sandy right-hand corner and were immediately confronted by the big climb of the day, for which I was totally unprepared. It was maybe half a kilometer but also maybe 10%, and naturally I came around the corner still in my big ring near the back of the field. Someone up front attacked the hill. I didn’t, and got really bogged down in too big of a gear coming over the top. A few of us stragglers came together and kind of sort of started to chase, but the effort was inconsistent and we never made contact. In retrospect, I probably should have just put my head down and made the bridge by myself. Anyway, we had a nice little group of five or six. One or two were just sitting on the back. I was taking fairly good long pulls, and this big guy was doing the same, and soon the one woman in our group started taking some pulls too, but although the group ahead remained in sight for over a lap, it was clear that we lacked the necessary combined horsepower, or willpower, or both, to actually close the deal. Even so, I felt fine climbing the “big” climb on the succeeding laps, so I guess I just got caught off-guard on that first lap and wasn’t willing to dig deeply enough. Anyway, but then I was just focused on getting a good workout and unfortunately my pulls were causing some collateral damage behind me. The big guy was struggling on the climbs even though I thought I was going up them nice and smoothly. At one point I came off the front and dropped back to find only Ali, the woman from Arkansas, left. I said, ‘What happened to that big diesel engine we had?” She replied something like, “Well you kept pushing the pace too much. You training for Kona or something?”  Oops.  Anyway, I think we were down three when we caught a rider who’d been shelled from the original break, and then dropped from whatever was left of the disintegrating field. He stayed with us for a while but eventually dropped off. By the end there were just three of us and we spend the last half of the last lap doing more chatting than racing. Turned out all three of us were 40+. Meanwhile, up at the front, Dustin had spent half a lap solo and then gone back to the break. He ended up in 3rd place. After finishing I just kept on riding and did a nice cool-down lap. I mean, it was such a nice day I wasn’t going to waste it, especially after driving 10 hours to get there! I stopped at the start/finish and waited for the Cat. C race to come through for their 4-lap race. Naturally Gavin was already off the front less than two miles into the loop. Later he attacked again and ended up in a 2-rider break that made it all the way to the finish. He finished 2nd, but was very pleased with his result, remarking later that it had been the hardest ride he’d ever done. Anyway, when he came through the start/finish for his second lap he motioned that he needed water, so I filled up one of my bottles and Dustin and I started riding backwards around to course to get to the feed zone that was practically on the opposite side. He got there before us, so I had to wait until the next lap to make the hand-up. Meanwhile, Dustin was so wiped out from his earlier effort that he was starting to get cold and got a ride back to the start/finish while I rode back a bit later. We waited for Gavin’s finish then rode back into town as the sun was setting. By then the temperature had really started to drop and I was freezing. Sunday morning the weather was much different. There were a few scattered showers around and it was cloudy, but at least it wasn’t too cold. Gavin’s race was one of the earlier ones and once again it was his early attack that created the winning break. There were originally two of them, but the gap was hovering around 9 seconds so a couple more bridged up before they put their heads down and really got to work. Eventually that 4-rider break established a safe lead, though. The finish was probably only 100 meters from the last corner, and Gavin came into it 3rd wheel. Rider in front of him almost overshot the turn, though, and Gavin hesitated and changed his line a bit, losing enough momentum for the rider behind him to slip past, so he ended up 4th. Even so, he had accumulated enough prime points that together with his 4th place time trial, he was 2nd in the Cat. C Omnium competition. It started raining right after his race, so as soon as they did the podium and he collected his medal we jumped into the van and hit the road. That got us home at the entirely satisfactory hour of 9:30 pm, which was way better than the usual 12:30 am! Links to photos and, eventually results, are on the cycling.tulane.edu results page.

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