|Clarke 2nd, Aleman 1st, Chaddock 3rd|
Back on the podium! It is always a good feeling! Last year Wilmington
marked my first trip to the podium and it hosts again as a good day in 2012. I've been waiting for this result for a long time and after last week, I'm just happy to tick it off the 'to-do' list. My teammates have been supporting me every day for the last four races so it was great feeling to share the result with them during the cool down lap and in the hours following the race. In general however this result really shows how well our small eastern criterium team has kept it together despite unusual circumstances with the majority of the team out west at the Tour of California. The weekend as a whole went pretty smoothly and the race organizing committee here at Wilmington made our lives as comfortable as possible. Our weekend included 3 elementary school assemblies, a 40 mile "Ride with the Pro's", an evening "Meet the Pro's" dinner, a 5km prologue time trial, Saturday's NCC criterium event and a 100km Gran Fondo on Sunday. Fortunately our tired legs could rest at one of the nicest apartment buildings I have ever been to which included a full kitchen, washer/dryers and 3 tv's! There was even a billards table and a small breakfast each morning! Bravo Wilmington GP!
The course has everything required to make a hard criterium: 3% shallow climb along the main straightaway, bumps and small cobblestones to lose one's water bottles, elevation change to suit the technical rider and weed out the weaker, a long run down to the final corner for the brave and a good-sized crowd for the mid afternoon time slot. Things to expect: run out of water, have to pedal as hard out of corner 8 at 7th wheel as you would at 30th wheel and that in the finale, the run down to the downhill corner 7 will be crazy fast...so save some energy.
With full squads from United Healthcare, Jamis-Sutter Home and Mountain Khakis, it would probably be similar to last weekend's NCC event. The goal of the day was once again gain representation in the move, if Hilton Clarke (NCC points leader) was in it, then UHC would let it go; otherwise keep me in good position in the final laps and hopefully put me onto the UHC train late or take over if we have enough riders left. 2010 NRC overall champion Luis Amaran (Jamis), Athens Twilight 2012 Breakaway artist Jackie Simes (Jamis) and all of the amateur squads were looking for a breakaway so we had to stay attentive right from the beginning.
|Conor driving the pace early|
In the opening laps, due the hard nature of the course, it took a while for all of us to reach the front. A few dangerous moves launched off immediately to which Tino and I were able to cover. Fortunately however Quinn came to the rescue after 10 minutes and launched up the road to let us rest. He took off with an XO Communications rider and gapped the field by 7-10 seconds for 3-4 laps. As we neared the halfway point of the 35 lap, 35 mile distance, Quinn and Kevin made it into a large 10 rider move. This move was originally two groups of 4-5 riders than joined together and quickly created a 10 second gap. It included 3 UHC riders, 2 Team Exergy, 2 Mountain Khakis and 2 Jamis-Sutter Home. Although I didn't know the breakaway was as balanced as it was at the time, in which case there was really a 50/50 chance it would come back at the hands of the smaller squads, I made an executive decision after discovering that Hilton was in fact in the move. In hindsight I shouldn't have done what I did, a very selfish move, but I knew that if I didn't make some kind of decision quickly and act upon it, I would lose another chance to race in the finale; so I closed down the gap over the course of the following lap.
Fortunately Conor and I also made it into the counterattack which was again well set up with 3 Jamis, 2 UHC and 2 Exergy. Jamis worked to keep the pace high and Conor took the majority of my turns in the early going. We quickly gained 25 seconds on the field as our smaller group of 10 riders could negate the corners smoother than the swarming and chaotic flow of the peloton. But I was now caught between a rock and a hard place. Should I work?n And how much? We had 25 laps to go and I felt good, but if it comes back it is still up to me...especially after my earlier stunt in pulling back Quinn and Kevin (there was a good chance that they could have medaled out of that 10 man move if stayed away). So how much do I work? I know that it is just as hard in the field as it is in the break, if not harder so I figure we should try to stay away as long as possible and hopefully get caught late or launch away with another strong rider in the closing laps.
The laps keep counting down and our gap is still strong at over 20 seconds. Apparently it was absolutely chaotic back in the pack as UHC rode tempo at the front but the rest of the field scrambled for position behind. With 10 laps to go, Conor stopped to change his front wheel and at 6 laps to go the glimmer of breakaway glory crossed my mind as we maintained our advantage. At this point, David Frattini (UHC) dropped out of the breakaway to help his teammates on the front of the field, leaving only Karl Menzies (UHC) in the move; but you can never count out Karl in the finale, he could jump away in the last lap if he needed to. So I started to prepare myself for what may happen in the finale: 1) an all-in effort at 2 to go? 2) a late catch in which I slot in? 3) or a late catch and a swarm in which I need to take great risk to regain my position? Either way...stay attentive and make the race hard so it is strung out when we are caught.
With 4 laps to go, Conor suffered another mechanical and was now out of the race due to the 5 lap-free lap rule; the gap down to only 12 seconds. Luis Amaran (Jamis-Sutter Home) moved to the front in support of his sprinter Demis Aleman (also in the break of the day) to drive the pace. I joined in with Amaran, trying to make UHC's leadout train's life as tired as possible by taking "calculated" risk in the corners and stringing out the breakaway. My legs were strong today but missing that unlimited snap so I was actually worried that if someone did try to go with 2 to go, I would have trouble following. As it worked out, we were caught with 1.5 laps to go and after some elbowing and jousting, I slotted in behind the UHC and Jamis riders at 9th wheel. But this was too far back and with half a lap to go Tino rushed up beside me to take me past all of the Jamis riders except 1 heading into the final corners at 5th wheel behind 3 UHC and Demis Aleman (Jamis). Having removed the barriers on the exit of 7 this year, we were able to go right up onto the shallow sidewalk and tackle the final, cobblestoned corner with great speed. Rounding the final bend and onto the 300 metre sprint to the line, a gap opened up in front as I was slow in my acceleration but I knew that is was a very long head wind sprint and that I could come back. Winding up my gear, the legs responded and I closed hard in the final 120 metres to pass Jake at place 3rd behind Demis and Hilton. Demis got the jump on Hilton at 200 metres on the right hand side and held it all the way to the line. It was a great feeling to move up in the sprint finish and do a good sprint.
Team Exergy is now 2nd in the NCC team standings and I'm hunting a space in the top ten.
Wilmington GP 2012: 1st Demis Aleman, 2nd Hilton Clarke, 3rd Ben Chaddock, 4th Jake Keogh