Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Joe Martin Stage Race - trouble in Arkansas

Last Thursday Mark Hekman and I headed out for the double header stage races of Joe Martin and Tri-Peaks in Arkansas. After a 13 hour drive from Ashevegas to Fayetteville we made it just in time for the “manger meeting” at the JMSR. Since we have no team car here the meeting was pretty much useless to us except for the fact that with over 200 riders in the race they were going to enforce a 15% time cut for all stages…including the hill climb TT. The trip out was uneventful…mark likes Howard Stern so we got our fix of that….but we did discover what Mark called “the best fast food combination meal ever” at a Taco Bell/ KFC. Yes folks the #11 at this fine establishment contains: 2 tacos, 2 chicken strips, potato wedges and a drink ….all for about the price of 1.5 gallons of regular gasoline.

Ok, Ok to the racing….but I’ll warn you: there is not a lot of positive experiences to follow. JMSR is a 3 day/4 stage affair staring off with a 110 mile road race Friday afternoon. This race is on beautiful rolling roads and has a not-so steep, but almost 10 mile long climb about 25 miles from the finish downtown. We rolled out at a quick pace …all 200 + riders… and a break was established almost immediately. My initial intention was to try to get into the early move…and stick with being aggressive….but with all the very best pro teams and the size of the field, I pretty much chickened out. Of course I knew a break would most likely be suicide…..but my chances for any result here were nil to begin with anyway. Soooo after a long, fast, but not too difficult first half of the race, things started to get interesting. On a set of rail road tracks there was a HUGE crash….over 20 riders involved with some serious carnage….mostly to equipment. Turns out A&F teammate Ryan Gamm was involved….but we didn’t know for sure until later. The rest of us attempted to conserve and save energy for the big climb. As the climb started I was in OK position, but I didn’t see any of our other guys….HealthNet hit the front and set a solid field-reducing pace. I struggled at the back for the first few miles of the climb…then ….I was reduced myself. As I was yo-yoing off the lead group I saw teammates Mark and Abe in the next group behind so I let up a bit and went back to them. The three of us actually drove this group all the way to the top of the climb….picking up the shrapnel coming back from the front along the way. As we topped out the climb it became clear that we were NOT getting back to the front of the race. Turns out the front group was about 65 guys….this was THE split and none of us made it. You could have called us a “chase” group, but in fact we were the “laughing group”….essentially out of the race. I knew no matter how hard we rode with our group of now almost 50 riders we would lose between 5 and 10 minutes (we lost 8).

A little bit about etiquette in the laughing group: when you get “stuck” in this group there are generally some guidelines to follow…first you have to realize that you are out of the race for the day…save some of your energy for the next race. The group will most likely have some VERY experienced riders in it…and maybe even some really good riders who did their work for their team and are now just getting to the finish. They will know what they, and the group, need to do to make the time cut. Don’t attack the group!….you won’t get away and you won’t make any friends. You can ride as hard as you want at the front on the flats, but make sure you don’t ride so hard as to drop riders out the back on any climbs...also: if there is a crosswind….DON’T gutter the group…this is just common courtesy…you are not going to win the race today.

Ok, so we get to the finish and the 3 of us are a bit bummed that no one made the front group. Mark has been sick for a week and is still not feeling well, Abe is in his first race of this size, but I really don’t have any other excuse than I just didn’t make it. Shawn is the next rider in, but no Ryan. After a while I start asking around about crashed riders. The SRAM guy points to a DESTROYED Masi on the ground near his car. Ouch. The time cut is 40 minutes…Ryan arrives on his neutral support bike at 39 minutes down…but he is physically ok.

Saturday morning at 8 am was another 92 mile rolling race…. super fast with a pair of short climbs each 23 mile lap that were testing. On the 3rd lap the field splits on these climbs… Abe makes it and Ryan and I catch on after a bit of a chase. About 100 riders speed toward the finish…half the field left. The run-in was super high speed… 35 mph for about 10 miles. A crash at 5km to go made things a little scary, but we finished on same time as the leaders. Where were Shawn and Mark? We go the car and see Mark’s bike….but Shawn is there. Turns out Mark broke his chain at the decisive moment in the race and Shawn gave him his bike. With neutral support ahead of them, Shawn had to hitch a ride back. Mark comes in about 15 minutes down on a bike about 4 sizes too small. Man… we just cannot seem to catch a break this weekend!

Saturday afternoon was a 2.5 mile uphill TT. We went off in number order, so the team was all together as opposed to GC order….this was cool….and the only good news was that since Mark was on Shawn’s bike, they recorded both of them as finishers and Shawn was able to ride the TT. This might be stretching the rules a bit….but it didn’t hurt anyone or affect the results at all. I rode well…or I thought I did but my time was extremely mediocre…disappointing in fact. With a 15% time cut we knew none of us was assured a start in the crit Sunday. I ended up like 70th….damn….last year I was in the 20s here.

Sunday was the notoriously hard crit on one of the most difficult courses I have ridden. My moral was low, but I was determined to at least stay in long enough to get a finishing time and GC place. I suffered for the first 3 laps near the back, but was not going to give up. Then, just after a tough chicane, I stood to sprint and my bike just went sideways. I flailed and slammed my shin on my pedal but kept the bike up. I thought I had broken the pedal and rode around the course, pedaling mostly with one leg, headed for the pit and a free lap. At fist I thought we could just put a new pedal on and get me pushed back into the race…and it took me more than a few moments to realize that my cleat had broken off the plate on my shoe and was still stuck to the pedal. Without another shoe, I was out of luck: race over. That was almost the shortest amount of time in a race…4 laps and about 8 minutes…, an incredibly disappointing weekend for me. Mark actually stayed in and finished the race with only about 55 guys…impressive.

All in all not a particularly auspicious weekend for team A&F…however, the road races were a great experience…riding in that big a field at those speeds should have a positive training effect…..let’s hope for better luck at Tri-Peaks next week….


1 comment:

PolishPostal said...

Excellent writeup!