Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Tour De West Lafayette

The team made it's debut in stage racing this last weekend in the inaugural edition of the Tour de West Lafayette. We were excited about being able to test ourselves in this format of racing on the challenging courses that were to be presented, however, the organizers had a different plan. The first stage was to be a criterium held on a 1.3 mile course with 8 corners. As we rolled out to scope out the course and warm up we had difficulty finding the rest of the course. Sure we found the KoM hill climb portion and two out of the eight corners, problem was we couldn't find the rest of the course! It turns out that there was no more course to be found. We were to be faced with basically doing hill repeats for the next 35 minutes, or so we thought. The promoters also had another surprise for us in hand. They announced that the crit was also going to be held on an OPEN course, but we needn't worry, because only ONE car made it onto the course in the first race. Are you effen kidding me? An open road crit? My only question was where was the ambulance going to be parked?

After a somewhat neutral rollout the fireworks began in earnest. Not surprisingly our horrible position in the back of the pack caused problems early. There was nearly a crash in the first corner, and then a flat tire in the middle first climb caused quite a split. Elvis, Tony and Clark managed to stay ahead of the trouble wile Joe and myself had to work our way around it all. Here is where the racing gets a little screwy though. Joe and myself are working together and picking people off each lap, probably about 3-5 riders each lap, when we get pulled from the race. I'm a bit confused at this point and figure that we are getting down to the final few minutes of the race and they want a safe sprint. I also know that we were never lapped by the field, nor were we ever in danger of that happening anytime soon. I go to stop my watch and realize that we have been pulled only fifteen minutes into the race! What the hell is that all about!

As the racing continued it turns out we weren't the only ones pulled from the race. Out of 54 starters, the officials only allowed 13 riders to finish the race. Not only were they pulling lapped riders, but they also pulled everyone who wasn't in the main group. Why? Early in the race the commissar was also driving his pace car up and through groups of riders and telling them they were pulled. I have never seen this before in a race, and for the safety of the riders I hope I never see it again.
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of this was the fact that I was pulled without the opportunity to actually race. Sure if I had been lapped I could understand. But with each lap that went by, we were making up ground. We found ourselves at the back because we lined up poorly, not because we were unable to race. The other kicker is that they didn't even place us in the correct order when they pulled us, and they also applied some "scientific" formula to figure how far back we would have finished. According to their calculations we would have finished anywhere from 3-7 minutes back! Not likely in my opinion, and if so at least let me finish.

The next day Sunday brought with it cooler temperatures as well as cooler heads. Tony and I rode out to the course, only to realize that we had beaten the promoters there. So far this wasn't looking any better than the day before. Tactics were discussed and it was decided that we would get on the front and try and blow it apart from the gun. To no ones real surprise this plan didn't go so well, at least not for us. Sure we may have controlled the tempo leading into the 4 mile circuit, but an attack by Clark at the base of the wall really blew things apart. Unfortunately, it also blew apart our team as well. In trying to move up and block for Clark, Joe and I hit the climb in our big rings, BIG mistake. It cost us position and we slid back into the group and onto the tail of the pack. We tried to hold position, but our legs were cooked and the pack slowly slid away from us. Turns out however that Clark was actually behind us after his move and we worked together for the second half of the lap. The three of us worked together taking turns and bring riders back. On the long downhill Joe and Clark managed to ride away from me and my compact gearing. I did manage to catch Joe before the wall again, and Clark hooked onto a small group just behind the main pack.

Joe and I continued to work together for the next lap and a half when we were joined by Tony and Elvis who we assumed were actually ahead of us. Turns out they were also victims of the acceleration the first time up the climb. The next two laps were a text book version of team time trialing as we worked together around the course picking up riders and dropping them along the way. On the last lap we managed to pick up one rider too many though. At the start of the final lap we caught Voytek Glinkowski (WDT) on the roller section before the climb. In hindsight we should have sat behind him and then powered past on the climb, but instead allowed him to latch onto the group, mistake number one. After climbing the hill for the final time we made another mistake. Rather than attacking Voytek, we gave him a free ride to the finish, mistake number two. Then the plan was to lead out Elvis for a bit of vindication for his loss to Voytek in the sprint at Vernon Hills. This was working okay until Voytek launched his own counterattack and Elvis had to jump to grab his wheel. Things ended differently though this time in the their sprint and Elvis managed to just get him at the line, so all was not lost.

The final stage was to be the TT which was to be run in reverse order of GC. While the officials figured out everyones KoM points and times we were treated to lunches provided by the promoter. After what seemed like an eternity it was time to roll out for the start of the TT, which meant that problems and confusion would not be far behind. Because of our team time trial performance in the road race we were all positioned fairly close to each other in the GC. On the start line I asked the chief official where the finish line was just for the sake clarification. Turns out I probably should have kept my mouth shut because he told me and the next few riders that the finish line was at the KoM line at the top of the climb. No problem I thought, I would just absolutely bury myself on the climb and be done with it. I went out first and managed to flub getting into my pedal right off the bat. On the run in towards the climb I was managing anywhere from 19-23 mph depending on how hard the wind was blowing. Then came the climb and the plan to just turn myself inside out. Well believe me I did just that and left it all out there somewhere 3/4's of the way up. When I reached the KoM line I asked the official if I was done and he told me NO ! WTF? You mean I have about another kilometer or more to race! You have got to be kidding me? How does the chief official not know where his finish line is. Oh well, I guess that shouldn't come as too much of a surprise at this point. So I dug deep and managed to finish strong cranking out 26+ mph on the finish.

All bitching aside, I am really glad we did this race. It taught us many valuable lessons from tactics, to planning and camaraderie as well. After the crit we vowed to never return to this race again, but on the ride home, I knew that I had to come back next year to right the wrongs of this year.

Here is how everything ended up, or at least how the officials scored us:
Mens 4/5 Criterium
Elvis Falbo 21st
Tony Rienks 26th
Joe Castello 31st
Clark McCarthy 37th
Damon Nelson 39th

Mens 4/5 Road Race
Clark McCarthy 24th
Elvis Falbo 35th
Tony Rienks 37th
Joe Castello 38
Damon Nelson 39th

Mens 4/5 Individual TT
Clark McCarthy 20th
Tony Rienks 25th
Damon Nelson 34th
Joe Castello 35th
Elvis Falbo 39th

Mens 4/5 Overall GC
Clark McCarthy 23rd
Tony Rienks 31st
Joe Castello 33rd
Elvis Falbo 34th
Damon Nelson 35th

Mens 4/5 KoM Competition
Clark McCarthy 5th

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