After a barrier balloon grabbing my brake hood at the end of April at the Roswell Criterium, I wasn’t able to race due to cracked ribs and later a family vacation until the end of July. With such a long layoff, it’s hard to determine where fit/form will be upon return.
First race back was the Pro/1/2 Gainesville Criterium presented by Dingo at a circuit course at the Allen Creek Soccer Complex in Gainesville, GA. The first day of racing was rained out, but the 2nd day had a good field with some local strong riders like Thomas Brown – Mountain Khakis, Alexey Shmidt – Team Type 1, Daniel Holt – Team Type 1, plus some Locos, Loganville, and several others who are strong. The total count was around 17 riders on a hot July day. Dan Holt went from the gun, so I bridged halfway up and couldn’t decide whether I wanted to go with him or wait. Since it was my first race in three months, I was concerned about an early move which such a strong rider, so I sat in no man’s land for a lap trying to gauge whether he would stay away or not. On the next lap, Thomas Brown and Alexey Shmidt bridged up, and we were gone. I was hoping to work with the breakaway and finish 4th, but neither Alexey or Thomas had any interest in allowing me to rotate with them. So, they attacked me every lap on the long 750m climb on the backside of the course. Luckily, a 3% – 4% grade climb at less than 1k is just about my sweet spot climb, and they were unable to drop me. However, they attacked me every lap for the first five or six laps and tired themselves out a bit. Finally, we rotated a bit for the next 45 minutes until I saw that the pack caught us with 3 laps to go. I think Thomas and Alexey were comfortable letting the pack get close and then attacking again as they got near us to shed me one final time. I didn’t like that idea, so I pulled a lot the last 3 laps, but I pulled off prior to the final climb on the last lap. Alexey went to the front with Thomas on his wheel. Then, at about 600m, I let a small gap open behind Thomas and took off hard on the uphill sprint. Normally, I can sprint in the 1400 – 1550 watts – 5 sec, 1300 – 1400 watts for 10 sec, and 1000 – 1022 for 30 sec. On this day, it was high 90′s, and we were in a 3 man break the whole race climbing a hill every lap, so I was more tired than usual. I ended up posting low 5 sec power around 1250 watts, but I held that for 20 sec to make up for the low start. That was enough to get a nice gap of around 8 – 10 bike lengths from after 500m, so the last 100m was focused on taking the turn carefully and sprinting across for 2nd place. The sprint for 3rd was close as Thomas was forced off the road by Alexey and relegated by the official. I didn’t see it, but that is what the official stated. So, Dan took 1st, I took 2nd, Thomas was awarded 3rd, and Alexey got 4th. Leonardo Marquez won the field sprint for 5th.
Five days later, I lined up with a stacked United Healthcare of Georgia and Team Type 1 field in the Georgia Cycling Gran Prix. It was another hot day, and 70 miles of rolling hills was on tap for the day. Brian Toone took off from the start line with some funny comments as nobody felt like chasing on such a hot day so early in the race. David Guttenplan immediately bridged up, and I went halfway again trying to figure out if I wanted to bridge or not. Benjamin Bryant was right in front of me and punctured about 100m off the start line, so I figured it was a good time to bridge as that would be a distraction for the field to pass by. I rode hard the first lap and put in a lot of long pulls because I was more interested in the break surviving than winning any end of race sprint. I like to race with my cards showing right now because I’m still an unknown rider to most people, and riding a little harder gives my breakaway companions incentive to work with me even if they don’t know whether or not I can last the entire break. I felt pretty good that day with the exception of a tickling nose/sore throat, but all of that was out of mind after the race started. We averaged 26.5mph on the first lap and put 3+ minutes on the Pro/1/2 field. I averaged a normalized power of 369 watts NP during that first 30 min period and around 350 NP for the first hour as our lead stretched up to 4 minutes. Fast forward to the end of lap 4, and I see Oscar Clark bridge up to us with Alexey Shmidt. I was a little demoralized realizing that my 3rd place sewn up had become a 5th place potentially. At that point, I had been riding very, very hard with long pulls for over 2 hours and wasn’t leaving anything in the tank for a 5 rider sprint for the podium since I was banking on a 3 rider break with a podium. Right as Oscar started pulling, I could feel my left leg cramp up off and on, and I had to favor with my right leg more than the left from then on. Oscar attacked hard, and I started to help Brian chase, but it wasn’t possible. I probably should have just sat in the back as you need to switch into survival model when cramps hit. I tried to continue rotating for laps 5, 6, and 7. On lap 7, Brian attacked hard about 4 miles from the line, and both my legs locked up. I was in trouble, but Brian didn’t get separation, and I rode back on. I sat on from there to the finish. Brian started to pull away in front of me, so I pulled over and waved Alexey and David through. They continued to sit on my wheel and let Brian ride up the rode alone the final 500m. At 300m, I finally gave up and sprinted hard for the line. Luckily, I didn’t cramp, but David and Alexey came around me at the line for 5th place. I only squeezed out 1,000 watts on that final sprint. I had nothing left, and I learned a valuable lesson about playing cards and keeping something in reserve just in case. Either way, it was a great first two races back because the next night was the Covington Crit. I was already tired and sore, but I attacked and chased after Oscar again the first few minutes of the race. Brian got in the break, and I tried to ride the front which I was able to do for the first 45 minutes. After that, I faded to the back, and at 72 minutes, my night was over. In hindsight, skipping that race and coming back for the Sunday circuit would have been the smart move. I haven’t ridden a technical crit all year, and the only P/1/2 crit I raced was really a circuit (Union City) back in March. So, the jumping out of each corner hurt the day after a 70 mile breakaway. I will not make that mistake again.