Tuesday, February 19, 2008

All The Gory Details

“DROP YOUR COCK AND GRAB YOUR SOCKS SAM, IT’S TIME FOR CHOW!!!” Harry bellowed before rushing back to the kitchen. I groggily trundled out of my room and sat down at the table next to Nick and Ross. Before my butt hit the chair, my plate was piled high with eggs, potatoes, bacon and bagels. Harry is Ross’ grandfather. He was in the military and clearly knows how to feed a bunch of young, hungry men. This is by far the best kind of homestay.

It had to rain, didn’t it? I come all the way down to Tucson to ride my bike in warm weather and get my tan on, and what do I get? COLD AND RAIN??? Ross and I were unenthusiastic, and woefully underdressed when we arrived to the first stage of the Valley of the Sun to find temperatures in the 50’s and spitting rain. It was so cold that I mostly waited in the truck while Ross raced his TT. I was able to charm the nice girls next to us into letting me use their trainer under their tent so I didn’t have to warm up in the rain. The course was as pure of a TT course as it gets: 14 miles out-and-back, pancake flat, super smooth roads. I was able to procure an extremely fast front wheel in the nick of time (while I was en rout to the start line – thanks Cammie), and I raced with my powertap in the rear so I could give a nice powerfile for my coach at the end of the day. I honestly didn’t expect to go as well as I did. After I was done racing, we were all tired and cold, and really wanted to get home. Since one of the Cat 2 guys beat me, I figured I wouldn’t have a time in the top three of the Cat 1 field, and agreed to drive home without waiting around for the results. We joked about how funny it would be if I actually made the podium somehow, but missed the presentation -- Alan Schmitz, our team manager would probably strangle me! Hahaha! Little did I know that Cat 2 guy had the fastest time of the day, and my time was good enough for second place in the 1’s (.04 seconds ahead of 3rd). I missed the podium presentation – very unprofessional of me. Lesson learned. It won’t happen again.

Day 2 was a ninety-mile road race, 5.5 laps on a mostly-flat course with one short climb right before the finish. I had no teammates, and I doubted the field would let me get up the road, so I mostly just hung out in the back half of the pack and let the race play out. The pace was pretty tame on the flats and speedy on the climbs, but not blistering. Halfway through, a 14 man break got up the road, and gained a good 2.5 minutes on the field. Race leader Ben Kneller (of Jittery Joe’s) put all his teammates on the front, along with a few Waste Management guys (who missed the break). Those poor Jittery Joe’s guys sure did work hard, and I did not envy them for it. But they did their jobs well, and the break came back with less than a lap to go. Once things were all back together, attacks started going, and a three man break with Stefano Barberi got up the road. The final time up the hill, I got to the front and started looking for opportunities. Maybe a mile from the finish, the Slipstream guy right in front of me launched off the front. I hung on his wheel until he started to pop, and then I leapfrogged my way to the tiny breakaway. I came around Stefano with maybe 500 meters to go, and it was all me ‘til the last 100. Just as I started to think my move might work, ten guys zoomed past me right at the line, one of them Carl Bordine, who took third, giving him the time bonus he needed to take the leaders jersey and bump me to third in GC. Darn.

After the road race was over, Ross and I had a bit of an adventure hitch-hiking to the gas station – yeah that’s right, we ran out of gas AS we pulled up to the race course, so we were stranded once the race was over. I had to bum a ride (thanks again Cammie) to the minuscule town of Sacatone (pronounced Sak-a-Tone), to the only gas station in the town. I asked the attendant if they sold gas cans, which they didn’t, but the guy offered to let me use his gas can if I promised to bring it right back. I accepted his offer. We had to drive into the trailer park where (we hoped) he lived, to the trailer that (we hoped) was his, and snatch (hopefully) his gas can of the porch. We were hoping pretty hard; it looked like the kind of trailer park where people don’t treat gas can thieves too kindly. Fortunately, upon returning to the Shell station the clerk claimed the gas can as his, and we proceeded on our way.

Sunday’s crit was a fast, flat, wide-open course in downtown Phoenix. I was still in 3rd place, and had no ambition to do anything other than keep that spot. The first 10 minutes were really fast, and I had a hard time staying towards the front, but after a while things settled down (or I warmed up), and I held my own. The race was mostly uneventful, but with 5 laps to go, all hell broke loose – there was a major crash on the long straightaway on the back side of the course that took down Ben Kneller (2nd place GC). [Note: Ben is a friend who raced in the Northwest Collegiate Cycling Conference for years. He had a killer season last year, and I’m really stoked to see him make it to the pros, but this is a rough way to start his season off: his team had a flat on the way to the TT (so he nearly missed his start time), the poor guy went from winning the TT on stage 1, to getting punked by Bordine on stage 2, to breaking his collarbone on stage 3. Ouch. Welcome to the pros Ben. See ya in two months.] With 3 laps go to, to my horror, my rear tire started feeling squishy. Yep, I had a flat. I made my way to the wheel pit, and franticly tried to get a wheel change, but the officials quickly calmed me down by letting me know that everyone who had a mechanical problem within the last 5 laps would receive the same time as the pack (including the guys who crashed, so Kneller kept his spot too). My flat couldn’t have been better timed; there were no neutral wheels, so if it had happened earlier I would have been shit-out-of-luck. I got to sit back and watch the last two laps from the sidelines – which were awesome! Rock and Republic made up for their fairly unimpressive first two stages by grabbing the field by the scruff if its neck and showing them how it’s done. They had at least 6 guys at the front, and gave their sprinter a lead out so good they took second place as well.

So I hung onto third place GC. After the race, I was sure to rectify my earlier mistake by staying in my sweaty kit until the podium presentation. Ross helped me make sure I looked as presentable as possible by loaning me his set of Gin optics. Thanks Ross. Since Kneller was well on his way to the hospital, the podium looked not unlike a hockey player’s smile: mostly there, but with a large, glaring gap somewhere in the middle. Even so, that only put a slight damper on my weekend. It was a pretty good weekend.

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