BAM! I did it! I grabbed my first NRC podium as a professional! So stoked!
This year the Wilmington Grand Prix expanded from a prestigious & punishing one day criterium to a multi-day omnium featuring the classic stages of the Tour de Pont. Fresh off of a one week vacation, I was very excited to go for big results despite facing 6-man teams from UnitedHealthCare, Kelly Benefit Strategies and Kenda Pro Cycling with only 1 teammate for support.
Tour de Pont: More than just a race, the Tour de Pont developed into an American classic through the early 90's. It's list of champions include some of the top international cyclists and featured difficult and diverse stages such as the cobbled Monkey Hill time trial and the Dover Air Force road race.
With near perfect preparation, I was extremly determinded to post a strong result in at least 1 of the 3 stages. It was time to start taking a little bit more risk when appropriate so when the skies opened up during the prologue time trial, I turned off the brain and ramped up the instinct. Although the prologue was included in the omnium for all other categories, it was excluded from the Pro men's omnium to the surprise of many riders. This meant that only the weekend's 90 minute criterium and 111 mile (173km) road race would count towards the overall omnium.
What is an omnium? An omnium is a points based competition (similar to a King of the Mountains [Polka Dots @ TourdeFrance] or Sprint Competition [Green @ TourdeFrance]) as opposed to a stage race general classification which is decided by time. This means that if a rider wins the first event by either 1 second or 1 minute, they can still lose the overall race if they miss the top end of the field in the remaining events. So consistency is important.
But the lack of omnium points and thus prize money for the Friday afternoon exhibition race did not deter my intentions of giving it everything. Thankfully the rain stopped just in time for the start of the Pro men's category. I was first out of the start hut so the very wet surface did make for some difficult conditions but at least I could see my lines.
After almost dumping it entering the third corner (a long blind mossy left hander with potholes), I tapped the breaks for the first cobbled section. ZING! And the bike is sideways! And it's way out there! Some woman screamed. But the rear wheel came back (Kenda tires, Williams wheels and a balanced Felt F1 road frame = one hell of a racing machine) and I muscle the front wheel into the apex of the cobbled corner for a smooth exit. Actually there was a bump in the cobbles 1.5ft from the right curb (right turn) so in the morning's pre-ride I figured that you'd need to be on the inside of that bump (essentially creating a massive banked corner), otherwise you'd hit the barriers on the outside (it was only a half lane of cobbles because the other side of the road also played host to the final 200metre drag to the finish). Already in the big ring, I threw the gears down to the 11 and churned out some big watts. The bike battled underneath, my teeth chattered up above.
Down on the smooth cement bridge I could take one calm breath before a few big pedal strokes brought my speed back up to 30mph for the entrance to the main climb of the day. A small 15 foot cobbled section brought the speed down though following the bridge so it was big power right from the base. Twisting up and to the right, the 5% grade was smooth and enclosed under a canopy of green. This was one of the few places to ride extremely hard. Essentially a 90 second effort, I tried to get as aerodynamic as I could while trying hard to break my cranks. Good thing my FSA Kforce Light's are way strong!
A small descent into a fast left right complex would take me down to the river (the 2nd section of fast pedaling) but despite slowing down, the off-camber apex sent my rear wheel way out once again. But with patience the rear wheel came back and I slowed down a little bit more for the dipping, blind-apex right hander leading down to the water. Kask helmet tucked, I pressed my FootDynamic footbeds into my Speedplay pedals as hard as I could, yanking my heels up against the thin heel cup of my white Bont shoes. Tree branches littered the roadway after the day's high winds and thunderstorms, then I rode into a massive puddle! It was way deeper than I was hoping too! What is this? CYCLOCROSS!
The roadway swung to the left and right as the final turnaround point neared. Left, slightly blind, white paint-covered and lined with orange cones, only 1km remained. A slight 2% drag led into the final 200metre cobbled finish, but a mossy, pothole filled uphill right hand swing made sure that each rider started the glossy cobbles with no speed. In the pre-ride I rode the finish twice in the 53.25, staying to the smoother right-hand edge. But after only three pedals strokes along the cobbles my chain dropped off the big ring! PANIC! OH WAIT...I'm good! Thanks to my K-edge chain guard, the chain slotted right onto the small ring so a few clicks of my fast-action, custom painted Microshift shifter and I was still rolling up the hill as if nothing'd happened. The crowd was pretty good too and they was some serious noise as the line approached and the power in the legs faded. Halfway through the field, I held the 3rd fastest time but the sun came out and dried the course for the final 15 minutes. UnitedHealthcare strongman and Northwest Collegiate Alumni Adrian Hegyvary crushed the course just over six minutes. A very impressive ride!
Saturday's figure eight criterium course included some significant elevation change but the layout's flow and peloton's attitude made for a smooth race that discouraged a breakaway. But that doesn't mean many didn't try! I felt great and covered/initiated a few moves in the first twenty minutes, including a quick bridge to a promising group with National Champion Dan Holloway (Kelly Benefit Strategies) and one UnitedHealthcare rider. Essentially, no breakaway would be allowed to survive if UHC didn't have the odds (2 riders in a group of 4, 3 in 6, etc). So we were back quite soon.
There were no prime sprints in this race either which made for a bit of a boring dynamic (it took the field a while to figure out that they weren't calling any!) and after losing my last water bottle after a near-catastrophic crash at the halfway point, I started to develop a salty mustache. Being a midday race (my first since I graduated college last year) it was hot so without water, it definitely required a little bit of "hardin up and get this shit done" attitude.
The backstraight was very fast. It's 2% downward slope and tailwind made for some brake burning and nervous jockeying (aka, diving down the inside and hoping someone opened a hole by accident) each time we entered the 2nd last corner. If taken at the front, one could almost coast the entire way up to the final corner (1 block away) leaving a 400 metre drag up to the line featuring strips of cobbles and a roaring downtown crowd. In the finale, UHC lined out the field and I positioned myself just at the edge of the top ten. A gap opened up at 5th wheel along the backstraight though so after some crafty go-kart tactics (passing 3 guys in the final two corners) I got a grip on my Microshift shifters to edge out Kyle wamsley (Bissell Pro Cycling) in the drag to the line for 6th on the day. A solid result and the best of my year so far!
With the Philadelphia Invititational only two weeks away, I grabbed some food and fresh water for more training. Saturday's racing and training made for a big day so dinner at the local buffet was very welcome, afterall, Sunday's 111 mile road race would be tough without feedzone love (no neutral!).
Overcast conditions on Sunday were a welcome change and after the main break of the day went (it took a while), it was a game of staying out of the wind and near the front for the difficult crosswind sections. The first hour the peloton averaged a touch over 30mph, so fast that breakaway attempts demanded the hardest of efforts. There were two KOM sprints and 1 intermediate sprint at the turnaround point near Dover Air Force Base. Although the KOM sprints (both on the Reedy Point Bridge at 15miles and 15miles to go) didn't offer omnium points, the intermediate sprint did. Fortunately, the first KOM created the day's 3-man break, which also swept up the 3,2,1 points available at the intermediate sprint. Starting the day I sat 6th overall at 25 points. Each of the two stages included a point breakdown of 1st: 30, 2nd: 29, 3rd: 28 and etc so those intermediate sprints could have been very important to the overall. Once the break was established, UnitedHealthcare's five man squad took over and rode strong and fast for 50 miles. With 10 miles remaining, Kelly Benefit Strategies took the front and wheeled in the final rememants of the break (one rider solo). The wide road made for some great surfing practice.
Surfing? You may hear racers talk about The Wave. This the section of riders in the peloton who are overtaking the riders currently at the front of the race. If the peloton is 8 riders wide, imagine 5 of those riders (or rows of riders) holding station (all those directly behind are essentially blocked); this means that 3 rows of riders can overtake those five by passing on either side. But those driving the wave or stuck on the outside of it, are in the wind. Thus a rider wants to find just the right balance of riding the wave without sticking their nose in the wind. So if you can find the row that divides those holding station and those in the wave, you'll have the option of staying put or moving up without wasting energy.
As our 172km trek neared an end, the tall towers of downtown Wilmington appeared. The finish was located at the same point as Saturday's criterium so the peloton would have to make its way over a few small steel bridges and a tight left-right before the final 650 metre 5-7% drag up to the line. Many crashes and surges occurred in these final tense kilometres but as we hit the 1km to go banner, Kyle Wamsley (Bissell Pro Cycling) hit out. Kelly Benefit Strategies couldn't follow the move and before I knew it we were taking the first to two corners. Positioned poorly in the mid-front pack, I took the outside line and surged quickly along the inside of the peloton, moving up to the top 15 for the final corner. But my speed was high and I had no where to go so I took to the sidewalk. Back on the roadway I started my acceleration with the banner still well out of sight. When should I sprint? How far is it? There were no markers. Wamsley still held onto the lead, taking the final corner with a 5 second advantage; two UHC riders drove the pace. The top ten riders strung out in the straight line, opening a three foot gap on the right side. I took it and surged up, fast approaching the UHC riders. Where is the banner? Now in the top five I realized that this was going to be a good day so I better harden up and take it. The banner came into view. Should I go? 400 metres. Out of the left, a Jamis rider appears and we quickly met side by side. Jake Keough (UHC) now fully kicks at 250 metres. Wamsley holds on ahead by 15 feet. The Jamis rider and I are kicking now furiously for 3rd place on the day. At 100 metres he starts to edge out and we take it right to the line. 4th on the day! Very good!
After a few tense moments, the points were tallied and with two consistent results, I moved up to 3rd overall! BAM! AWESOME!!!
But I still haven't found a photo of the podium! Anyone have one?