This past weekend I went to Columbia. The city. In South Carolina. Unfortunately not the country. The squad split with the Georgia boys going to Rouge Roubaix and everyone else to Columbia. I opted for the 2 hour drive instead of the 13 hour drive along with Andy, Ben, Blair, and the new kid, Australian Joe Lewis. Perhaps some readers remember that Joe guest rode for the team in China, which doesn’t make him so new after all. What you do need to know about Joe is that he’s a proud Canberra-ian, enjoys to talk down all things SEPO (thats ‘Stralian slang for Americans (and is short for ‘septic tank yanks’)), raced in the US for Trek-Livestrong in 2011, and was my roommate for the weekend.
We arrived in Columbia, Blythewood to be exact, late afternoon Friday and proceeded to unpack the unusually full vehicles. After storing my bikes and luggage in my room, I was surprised to see Brian pull an espresso machine out of the truck along with a rice maker and a food box that looked as though it had been packed by Chef Biju himself. Good to see he made a lasting influence. And then when Brian produced bags of granola that blew my own out of the water, I knew Biju was behind it all. It was hard to admit it then, but I can admit it now: Brian made way better granola than me and its killing me inside. Must. Know. Secret!
The surprises didn’t stop there. Each room got a pair of Normatec space legs for recovery and each head got a Giro Air Attack helmet for aero-ness. If you aren’t a bike racer, you might not experience any kind of hot flash over those two items but I got multiple.
The Normatecs are like having a massage therapist rolled up into a tiny bag and ready for action wherever there is an outlet. Just slip your legs into the nylon sleeves, connect the plastic tubing, and sit back. The sleeves are made of many different pockets that fill up with air to compress the muscles in your legs. The pockets inflate and deflate at different intervals to act like a massage. As they worked I could feel the blood rushing around like mad, aiding in recovery.
The Air Attack helmet is equally fantastic but in different way. First of all, aero is the new black; all the cool kids are doing it. Second, it helps you go fast and (almost more importantly) feel fast. Some might say the Air Attack is ugly and it does have a non traditional look but its not me that has to look at it!
The next morning I woke up early and headed to Brian’s room for an espresso and rice breakfast before strapping on the Air Attack (+1 only have to bring one helmet for the weekend) and heading out to check out the course and ultimately race. Everything was going smoothly until I left the start house. Something was wrong. 5 seconds into the race, I had reached the first corner and was forced to dismount. My tire was rubbing against the frame, to put it mildly. More like triturating against the frame. I suppose the holder had knocked the wheel askew as I leaned this way and that in his grasp. I had already been passed by the time I jumped back onto the bike. The wheel was still rubbing but I decided to just go. A few corners later, it was apparent to me that if I kept going the rubber would completely wear away and the wheel would puncture. I was passed by two more before I finally got the wheel in place and back on my bike. I was quite disappointed and upset when I crossed the finish line. I had won the Blythewood Omnium last year and this was the worst possible way to mount a repeat victory. The beauty of cycling though, is that no matter how bad the last race might have been, it has no reflection on the next, which happened to be later that day.
A little nap, a little Normatec-ing, and a lot of rice and espresso later, the team was back on our bikes and ready to race again. The first crit of the year is always a little dicey; people have to learn their place. That sounds cruel but knowing your limits is crucial in being safe. The race began and straight away Andy was off the front going as hard as he could. I had lined up at the back and with just a few good places to move up, I could only watch as a split formed in the middle of the peleton. I freaked out, forgot my limits, and nearly decked it in a corner trying to move up and then corner out of the gutter. Fortunately, the field let Andy, Blair, two Mountain Khaki, and a Globalbike up the road which slowed the pace and allowed me to jettison the final 25 riders to the front. Mountain Khaki, who had 11 guys at the race, tried sending guys up to the break, but Joe, Ben, and I made sure no one got anywhere without one of us accompanying them. A big crash caused the field to be neutralized and restarted while an ambulance carried someone who had forgotten their limits to a nearby hospital. It wasn’t long after the restart (crits are like Nascar!) that the break lapped the field, setting up one big field sprint between Mountain Khakis and Hincapie. Remember what I said about knowing your limits? This is the time to forget them. Its anything goes in the fight for the finish. 4 laps to go and Mountain Khakis had about 6 guys on the front with Ben, myself, Joe, Blair, and Andy lined up behind that. 2 laps to go on the finish stretch, the only good place to move up and Ben started to sprint around the Mountain Khakis with myself, Joe, Blair, and Andy in tow. The Khakis noticed and began to swing right to pinch us off against the curb but we were too fast. At the last second, one of them swung over right in front of Ben forcing us to hit our brakes and swerve. While we saw it as a questionable move, they had prevented us from coming over the top with our leadout. 1 lap to go, we had lost Blair and Andy in the incident and were dicked over a second time with one of the Khakis sitting up in the final corner causing a gap to his sprinter. While we managed all 5 guys in the top 9, the final result stung. We should have won. But the chess match didn’t work out that way. And the rivalry between the Khakis and the #boomtrain intensified.
The next morning was incredibly similar to the previous: espresso and lots of rice. It won’t take long to get sick of it. Need to make a mental note to bring some of Whole Food’s instant oatmeal. Its actually quite good. The team went for a little morning ride around the local roads before we headed back to the hotel to wait for the afternoon start. And of course some more rice and espresso. We talked strategy and decided everyone on the team was in a position to win, except myself. Andy was leading, Blair second, with Ben and Joe a few points behind them.
The two laps of the 3 mile circuit was hectic. Bike races are already controlled chaos and when you add overall points or time, it creates another parallel universe of insanity. I slipped of the front with Jimmy Shurman of Champion System and we worked together for about a lap before we looked around at a group of about 10 or 12 and the field no where in sight. Ben had made the move and so had 5 Khakis. It was the perfect situation until I saw the Globalbike rider, Josh, who had made the break the previous night. We couldn’t work. Josh was ahead of Ben in the points. So for the next hour or so, Ben and I sat on the back much to the disapproval of the breakaway. With about 5 laps left in the race, I heard a chase group had formed 2 minutes back. A lap later, Andy, Joe, a Mountain Kahki rider who was 3rd overall, and a few others joined the front move. More reshuffling and attacks until Andy slipped away with two others including the 3rd placed Kahkis rider on the final lap. And that was it. The break began to look at each other to see who would work but everyone was thinking about the finish. Towards the end, I found Joe and Ben and lead them out to win the field sprint and take 4th and 5th. Andy had been beat in the sprint by the Khaki but had retained his overall lead. Take note that Andy was not wearing his Air Attack… Coincidence? I think not.
So the team came home with yet another sweet trophy. Thanks for putting on a well run and fun early season race Blythewood! #boomtime