I call Spartanburg the circus. Why? Well first off the entire downtown is closed off with live bands, bouncy castles, a farmer’s market and an entire block of food karts. The total footprint of the event is at least 10 square blocks. Secondly, it was at last year’s edition that I stopped referring to these twilight criterium races as “races”; they were more like “shows”. This is all about entertainment and sometimes I feel a bit like an animal on display but hell, when the spotlight is on you and the announcer is screaming your name, it’s a good feeling and makes the pain the legs melt away...well at least a little.
Today’s plan: Carlos tests the legs in a small breakaway after we try to soften the field, looking for a move again after the mid-race points prime sprint (10 valuable points with respect to the overall week’s tally). If it doesn’t work, we try a leadout late with 2-3 laps to go despite Division 2 team United HealthCare showing up with 5 riders straight off of a successful campaign at last week’s UCI Tour of Turkey event. We try to show that we have the legs and put on a solid performance. Perhaps today both Kevin and I try to power through the post-leadout effort to also finish in the top twenty as we are also in contention for the team overall classification and Kevin in the U25 jersey.
The course was a quick one, only a thousand metres. The clockwise 4 corner course featured a very tight and patio-lined, slightly uphill main straightaway with pave over the start-finish. The back straightaway was windy from the right and downhill, making the off-camber corner 3 a +60kph entry on hot laps with plenty of swarming and swerving in the metres leading to its apex. Seventy laps served as today’s menu, making for a high speed chess match of approximately 85 minutes. Today’s water bottles included a few scoops of beet sugarcane, some sea salt and 4 Clifbar gels stuffed into the legs of my Castelli skinsuit as the humidity is ramping up here in South Carolina.
Despite feeling quite descent during this morning’s spin, I got stuck outside of the top thirty for the first five minutes of today’s race after Walterboro’s leadout effort and subsequent poor final placing dropped me out of the pre-race calls ups representing the week’s top ten Omnium point leaders. I quickly remembered just how difficult it is to move up on this course; it is all about diving down into corner 3 which means sprinting out of corner 2...but don’t waste your energy! Move UP! If you don’t go soon you’ll either get crashed or yelled at by Ken (our Director Sportif).
By the fifteen minute mark it was dark and the first crash occurred outside of the top thirty. The next time by the pace car blocked the road, 50 riders were scattered everywhere = race neutralized. Stopped at the finish line the combination of a windless night and our sweat-soaked skinsuits immediately shot our core temperatures through the roof; drink water now or wait for the race? Well you only have two bottles so be careful!
The race was awkwardly restarted after 5 minutes but within another 10, a second crashed occurred in the same spot along the main straightaway. However this time there was no neutralization, just 4 slow laps with Ivan Dominguez (former US Criterium Champion) sheparding the front of the field through the carnage; kind of like the safety car out during a Formula 1 race. Of course this doesn’t mean that guys weren’t aggressively repositioning themselves on the back straightaway = chaos.
Okay, restart #3. Conor and I find ourselves back outside of the top thirty as a large swarm dove down the inside into corner 3 on the previous lap. “Conor, let’s go on the outside through 1-2, follow me”. Immediately the middle of the peloton disappears as a twenty rider pile up occurs on the back straightaway. Dude, this is crazy. What going on? Is this the first night race of the year? The next time through the crash zone a motorbike signals the peloton over to the right of the straight...they aren’t going to stop us! One rider is injured badly and remains on the tarmac for at least ten laps, I hope he is okay.
Kenda 5hour Energy’s John Murphy broke away solo with 30 minutes remaining and gained a gap of 11 seconds. After our “little battle” in the closing moments of Walterboro, I decided that the gap was large enough and moved to the front. Shortly thereafter, Quinn and Conor both tried their hand at breakaway attempts but nothing was sticking due to the high-speed entry into corner 3, allowing the pack to swarm every lap and attain speeds much higher than that of smaller breakaway groups.
So with 16 laps to go, (about 18 minutes), United Healthcare’s leadout strongman like former NW collegiate racer Adrian Hegyvary (who just came off an all-day breakaway performance at stage 1 of the Tour of Turkey) and Brad White moved close to the front. My teammates and I followed closely, trying to watch the best of the best position themselves for the finale.
With five laps to go it was very chaotic down the back straightaway. Kenda held the top four spots with United tucked in behind. My Exergy teammates and I were near the front but split between the left and right sides...not good. But with 3.5 laps remaining we all met at the front and starting to count it down. The entry into corner 3 that lap was very fast; we barely had to pedal as we rounded through corner 4. Rotating every 20 seconds, Conor, Kevin, Quinn and I tried to hold a fast pace but with 1.5 laps to go United blasted by into corner 3. Fortunately Carlos was sitting in great position as our hard work to speed up the race helped him position behind one of the race favourites, Jake Keough of United Healthcare (no relation to Team Exergy’s Quinn Keogh). Gassed at this point and essentially sprinting in the saddle in the 53.11 down into corner 3, I tucked into the top ten but didn’t have anything left to get back up to Carlos at 4th wheel.
United riders started their peel on the back straightaway on the final lap and gaps behind us starting to form. Out of the final corner, cameras flashing and drunken fans leaning wide over the barriers, United Healthcare’s Robert Förster (Stage winner at the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España) led Jake, followed by Exergy’s Alzate. When Alzate kicked with 200 meters to go he came alongside Förster, who wisely bugged out to the right and opened the hole for Jake who’d been riding his draft. Jake is riding very well this season after numerous top ten results against some of the world’s top sprinters and managed to pass Carlos in the final dash.
So pretty wicked really. We continued to control the majority of the race and established our leadout train with 3 laps to go. We knew that United would bring the heat in the finale so to help position Carlos for the sprint and then secure a 2nd place finish was a great success. We also secured a large amount of points tonight in the team classification with Carlos’ main rival in the omnium, Frank Travieso (Team Cocos) finishing outside of the top ten (unofficial). Kevin and I also both finished in the top twenty so heading into the final two days we’ll look to continue our aggressive riding and secure as many classifications as possible.