Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Oh The Mighty and Glorious Tour of Walla Walla, How I Love You....

What a wonderful race. Tour of Walla Walla, once again, you do me just right. Here's the skinny:

Stage 1:

The Kellogg Hollow road race involved two loops around a hilly, windy, 30-some mile course. It's a rough way to race 60 miles, and it makes for a much more interesting race than the previous 3-stage version of the Tour of Walla Walla. For the most part, the race is just about being in good position: out of the wind, towards the front. Things got strung out so many times, being in a bad part of the back could really cost you; ultimately things came down to a bunch sprint, but only fifty guys finished in the front group (out of nearly 120 starters). The race went ok for us for the most part -- we had some bad luck, but recovered from it nicely. As we crested the KOM climb on the first lap, Nick and I made the little split that happened. Nick went with one of the accelerations put in by a Red Truck rider over the top, only to somehow dislodge his water bottle from its cage, and send it into the spokes of his rear wheel. His wheel came to a complete halt, and he promptly skidded clean through his tire, flatting his brand new, $75 tubular. Not only that, he did so when the wheel cars couldn't have been further back (things were strung out into the base of the climb, and got really stung out over the top), so we had Chris Daifuku sacrifice his wheel so Nick could continue, a noble gesture for sure. Nick eventually made it back up to the front group, but Chris, sadly, had to wait for minutes before the caravan got to him, and never reconnected to the group.

I went off the front with maybe 15 k left to go, and ended up getting bridged to by two Red Truck riders (including last year's winner Rob Britton). They were looking a lot fresher than I, so I was extremely relieved when the field chased us down inside 4 k to go and it turned into a pack sprint.

Stage 2

The Russell Creek time trial was a cool course! Nearly two miles longer, and including a much wider variety of terrain, the Russell Creek TT was an excellent upgrade from previous years. It took advantage of one of the best short loops in Walla Walla, one that I've done dozens of times throughout my years at Whitman. It was a tricky course, and despite knowing the roads like the back of my hand, I still didn't nail the pacing of it -- I think I went a little too hard over the crest of the climb, and didn't have quite enough left in the tank for a strong finish. I got 5th in the TT, behind my teammates Nick Clayville in 4th (who is riding his time trials several notches better than he ever has, kudos Nick!), and our Hunky Hungarian Adrian Hegyvary who got 2nd. None of us could unseat Rob Britton, last year's (deserving) winner, however, who beat Adrian by a scant 8 second.

Stage 3:

Walla Walla Downtown Crit started at dusk, and lasted for 50 minutes, into the dark. There were maybe 6 additional flood lights set up at certain corners, but the course was huge (1.1 miles), so it was mostly unlit or poorly lit. Night time crit racing is a whole different animal: you feel like you're going really really fast (even though we only averaged something like 27); the flood lights cast huge shadows of the racers, and I kept thinking they were other guys trying to come around me (I closed the door on my shadow at least once per lap); and the drastically changing light conditions make cornering "tricky" to put it lightly -- I often found myself forcing my eyes to focus past my brightly lit forground into the darkness of the road ahead. It was really fun, albeit a tad sketchy. The Red Truck team rode at the front for the entire race, keeping things steady, and setting up Adrian for two prime wins worth two seconds each. He slashed his deficit to the race leader in half, from 8 seconds to 4. We didn't set up terribly well for the final sprint, but thankfully, nobody went down in the crash that took place on the final corner of the final lap. Several guys went down, including race leader Rob Britton, who lost a lot of skin, and supposedly totaled his bike, but was ok enough to start the next day, much to our relief: nothing strips the glory of a stage race victory faster than having the leader (and former winner) crash out with one stage remaining.

Stage 4:
The Waitsburg Road Race is long, and hilly. It's possible to conserve a lot of energy, and have a relatively easy 98 miles, because for the most part, this stage becomes a tactical battle between the stronger teams. If you're so inclined, you can just hide from the wind the whole time, and you're more likely than not to hit that final climb with the main group. However, if you're racing to win the whole enchilada, instead of just keeping your GC spot, you're more likely to have a brutally hard 98 miles. Like last year, Red Truck held the lead, but this time we were closer (Adrian only 4 seconds back), and had more cards to play (2nd, 3rd, and 4th in GC). We tried hard, but honestly, we were just outraced. Red Truck did a great job controlling things -- they pretty much always had guys where they wanted them (either up the road, or in the field keeping Britton safe), while we were forced to react more than I would have liked. Our plan was to have Nick and me put pressure on Britton, while keeping Adrian rested enough to drop him on the final climb by 4 seconds. Ultimately, we did chip away at Britton's armor enough that he was forced to take some serious digs that Adrian didn't have to, but when it all came down to it, his team rode too well, we couldn't make him work quite hard enough, and he was just a little too strong for Adrian to get his time back. Oh so close -- I can't remember a closer Tour of Walla Walla: after nearly eight hours of racing spread out over three days and four stages the top fifteen guys in GC were all within a minute of the race leader! I'm pleased. We were able to maintain our GC spots, and win the team GC, despite working pretty damn hard to crack Red Truck. Oh, and Red Truck, my hat is off -- you guys outraced us pretty cleanly this weekend. I'm glad we were able to give you a run for your money, and had the chips fallen differently, we could have cracked ya, but this time, your win is well earned.

Full results can be seen here.
Pictures of all the stages are here.

Ok, there ya go -- a Glider Bison race report from the Tour of Walla Walla.

Speaking of Walla Walla -- we're still here. Yes, that's right, the luscious wheatfields, gorgeous weather, and delightful residents were too much to resist. We're sticking around for a day or two...cuz it's nice here. Real nice.

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