Saturday: Stage 3- 87 mile Road Race
By Garrick Valverde
Saturday was the 87-mile road race with just over 5,000 feet of climbing, which is pretty significant. There’s an 8-mile trek out to a 25-mile course that we do three laps of. The stage started with a neutral roll out of about four miles. During this roll out, I was trying to convince myself that everyone’s legs were feeling as stiff as mine. Once the moto gave us the green flag, attacks were rapid. Benn and Kent got in several of these early moves. The temp was a bit hot, like 80 degrees or so. I haven’t done many hot races this year, so I wasn’t sure how my body would react. I was tentative in these early miles because I knew if I went too far into the red too early, I might have a hard time recovering.
The first major climb is about ten miles in. The pace was nearly full gas every time up this climb, and it was here where most riders were dropped. I knew I had decent legs after the first time up, which allowed me to shake off any concern that I hadn’t recovered well from the day before. By the first hour, the pace was very high, and our team had already lost two riders, Benn and Scott. But the worst event by far was that Michael flatted about hallway through the lap while I was in a small break. I had no idea until about a lap later when a rider asked me if Michael had made it back on. “Made it back on?” I thought, “Oh crap.” So I spent the next ten minutes wondering if I was the only one left, as I had also not seen Kent in a while. To my great relief, Michael eventually did end up making it back on.
Lap three, and the group is mostly all suffering. We’ve lost nearly half of the 100 starters. On the climbs, guys are grimacing, some actually cramping and grunting. It’s ugly. I’m able to stay top ten up these climbs, and I’m feeling better and better. With about 20 miles to go, I’m starting to think about the finish. I just want to be at the front. I wasn’t sure exactly how it would go down. The finish is different than years past with a 90-degree turn about 300 meters to the line, and the road is ever so slightly up hill.
With ten miles to go, riders are starting to get fidgety. There’s a break of 3 just up the road that are destined to be caught. Riders are already starting to bump with one another, and I’m just trying to move up every chance I get. There’s a major crash about 8 miles to go to my left. I hear tires popping and carbon colliding. I frantically look for Michael and Kent. Michael is in 2nd, so if he’s not with us, I’d need to go back right away and help him bridge back on. It’s one of those times where I really wish we had radios. Thankfully, I spot him and Kent. At this point, my adrenaline is high. I’m entirely focused on being at the front. Kent graciously moves me up, and takes a long pull with about 5 miles to go. I’m sitting 3rd wheel. I tell myself I’m not moving out of the top ten, but I keep getting swarmed.
Bike racing to me is kind of like a language you’re trying to decipher. Or maybe it’s like a complex math equation, or rather dozens of equations going on at the same time. Our brains are taking in huge volumes of information, analyzing it, and then deciding ok; take this riders spot, move up now, this guy isn’t going to let you in, try to take the spot of the guy in front of him. The rider on your left is trying to pass, move a few inches over, don’t let him in, let this guy in, he’ll keep the pace high; he’s working for so and so. Brake, let go of brakes, now move up again. It’s very frantic and a little stressful, but it’s maybe one of the most exciting aspects of bike racing.
With about a kilometer to go, I’m top ten. A few riders on the front peel off, and I’m going into the final turn in about 7th. I see an opening to my left, and I gun it. I’m passing riders one by one. An Arapahoe Resources rider veers into my line and we collide shoulders briefly. I have one more rider ahead. A few more pedal strokes and I come by him just before the line. I couldn’t believe I just won. I look back, almost in disbelief, and find Michael whose first words are “Duuuude!” with a massive grin on his face.
Sunday: Stage 4- 50 minute Criterium
By: Michael Allison
I came in to Sunday’s stage with two very strong, very different emotions. On the one hand, we had won the two road stages at the biggest stage race in the Midwest- super pumped! On the other, Kent and I had lost our 2nd and 15th placings in the GC, and I was gutted. The day before, when I flatted my rear wheel, Kent and Austin waited with me to help pace me back to the field. The wheel change took slightly longer than we would have hoped, but the moto ref waited with us, and I was expecting a nice, short TTT effort up to the field. It wasn’t a minute into the chase that I realized we were screwed. The moto had very clearly never motor paced before and we were doing 350-400 watts just to try to catch his wheel. Fast forward 20 minutes. My avg pwr from the chase is 310 watts. The field is in sight, but I’m about to blow. My HR is 190. Kent and Austin are both gone having wasted themselves to try to get me back to the pack. After making it up the wall, the moto ref leaves me, and I think my race is done. Shortly after my raced is saved, at least it seemed that way at the time. A cop pulls up alongside me, and I get a sticky bottle that allows me to rejoin the pack. Garrick wins the stage, I finish 11th, Kent gets same time. However, we quickly realized the consequences of the race saving scenario Kent and I had found ourselves in. There were protests, and we were relegated to the back of the front group. Kent and I were both penalized two minutes in GC. Really sad, but it was a lose-lose situation. Still, Garrick took the win, and that softened the blow big time.
So, Sunday’s race. My plan was to be as aggressive as possible. Partly out of frustration. But also to continue the previous three days efforts to showcase our team. The crit was only 50 minutes. The course is basically a short .1 mile steep climb to the finish, followed by two long descents, and two short flats leading into the finishing hill. I didn’t get a very good starting position, but I put in some hard efforts in the first half lap to move up quickly, knowing it wouldn’t take long for the early move to go. On the 2nd lap, the first move came from Luis Galaviz (Fayetteville Wheelman). I went with, hoping to bring along a couple other riders, however it was just me and him. The next lap around was a cash prime lap, and I suggested we work smoothly and split the money. I made the mistake of not looking back to see where the field was after the 2nd to last turn, and didn’t see the lone chaser that came up on us too fast after the final turn to react. Luis and I lost the prime, but I quickly jumped up to the other rider and went around him to keep the field off. The next four or five laps I was solo, but was quickly reeled in after being joined by 2 other riders. I was able to get a lap of recovery in the field before another group went off. The effort this new group put in to distance ourselves from the field hurt, and I was beginning to really feel the previous effort. We made it a few laps just the three of us, and were then somehow joined by another group of about 10 that had many of the GC favorites. I briefly thought that this large group might be the winning move however, it was too close to the finish and we were caught. I was fried anyways, and the rest of the race was a blur. There were 3 or 4 laps to go, and a suicide move went off the front, and I tried following. I couldn’t really pull, but the field wasn’t far off and this move had no chance anyways.
This final break got caught with two to go going up the finishing climb. I was shot. Garrick was in great position as the field came by. The group had been reduced to about 30 riders, and there were many smaller groups that passed in the final lap. I saw Kent, and tried to hang on to the group he was in, but I could hardly turn over the pedals. I finished the crit by myself, the moto ref behind me, meaning I was the last person on the course. I found Garrick, who had placed fifth, and the rest of the team and we sat near the finish reminiscing on the memories that we created from the weekend. The final lap of the race was an opportunity for me to reflect on our huge accomplishments, and it was clear to me that despite some of the setbacks and making some mistakes, we still were able to ride strong as a team and get major results at each stage of one of the biggest races on our calendar. Joe Martin was a stepping stone for us as we head into the summer calendar and the rest of the season.
We are so grateful for everyone’s support. Our next race is Quad Cities in Iowa over Memorial Day Weekend.