Day 1 of the Joe Martin Stage race consists of an uphill time trial at Devil's Den state park in NW Arkansas. It's only 2.5 miles long, but it's a beast of a climb at 6.8% grade -- just shy of what Mt Scott is. I had a solid TT last year as a cat3 and I know that my fitness is at a higher level now, so I had big expectations for myself.
It's interesting to see how different people approach this TT. Some guys were on full TT rigs with disc wheels, deep fronts, aero helmets, etc. Some hammer from the saddle. Some hammer out of the saddle. Some try and make their bikes as light as possible by taking off unnecessary things like bottle cages. The officials were actually weighing bikes to make sure the pro riders were within the 6.8 kg minimum weight regulated by the UCI. That's the first time I had ever seen that! They said they were going to weigh the Cat 1/2 bikes too, but right after the last pro they packed up the scale and let the rest of the riders "run what was brung." I didn't have anything to worry about anyway. My bike is over 3 pounds more than the minimum.
I opted out of the aero gear. I thought about doing an aero helmet, but it was almost 90 degrees on Thursday and I knew I wouldn't be going fast enough to get a good breeze on me, so the lack of ventilation might cause me to overheat. It wasn't worth the 1-2 seconds of time saving. I was using a Reynolds DV46UL from a teammate (thanks Judson) for my front wheel to save a little weight. That was balanced out by using my powertap rear wheel which is quite heavy. I wanted the powertap on their so that I wouldn't go out too hard.
My game-plan was to hold my target wattage through the first mile and then re-assess things from there to see if I could go harder for the second half. My target wattage was a few watts higher than my peak 10 min wattage which was set Feb 28 in a hard road race. When my TT got started I made the dumbest mistake possible by talking myself into believing I could go harder. For the first mile I was about 30-40 watts over my target. Of course, this took its toll on me and my wattage dropped under my target for a few minutes. I started mentally preparing myself for the 1k to go sign where I was going to pick the pace up a bit. Unfortunately I had my PT CPU set to time instead of distance (I'm an idiot) and this year they opted out of a 1k to go sign. I didn't realize it until I saw the 200m to go sign. At that point I jumped out of the saddle and hammered through the finish line, but my time was nowhere close to what I wanted. In fact, it was even slower than last year. Interestingly enough, I nailed my goal wattage. I was hoping that weather conditions where just a little off and everyone would be slow, but Will Gault proved that the weather was just fine as he dominated the course and went faster than he did last year with less watts.
Looking at the results, I finished right around the same time as the guys who finished close to me in the TT last year. My wattage was what I was shooting for, so I really can't say it was a bad TT for me. It really just means that the level of competition is high -- higher than I expected for sure.
My time put me in the top half of the 99 man field, but it wasn't the top 15 I was hoping for. I knew there was a lot of racing left, but at the same time I was still pretty let down by the result.
Day 2 of the stage was was a 110 mile road race with a bunch of climbing and descending. This was the first road race I had ever done where we were allowed to ride on the whole road. Usually there is a "yellow line rule" and you have to stay on the right side, but this race had a "rolling enclosure" of troopers that were clearing a path for us. In a 99 man field, that's a big deal because otherwise it is very difficult to move up if you ever find yourself at the back of the pack.
Honestly, I was still feeling pretty let down by myself from the TT result. Our team didn't have a single guy in the top 40, so the plan was to try and get a breakaway established today and win back some time. I had never raced on this course before, but from what people were saying, it would stay together until we hit the 9 mile long climb up Mt Gaylor. At that point it would split in half.
Our team had already faced some bad luck this weekend. It all started with Brad forgetting to pack the casserole his wife cooked. That was followed by Brad missing his start time in the TT. The luck was then put in Jeremy's hands when his rear derailleur hanger broke the morning of this race. Luckily SRAM had a neutral bike that he could ride. It was a decent specialized tarmac. It's not a Storck, but it's not bad. The luck got worse once we started the race and Jeremy realized the headset was very loose. I don't know how he was able to brake or descend on a bike when the fork was wobbling around so bad.
The bad luck hit me around mile 30. We were going up the first of many tough climbs and I heard a bad pop from my right shifter and I lost all the tension as I swung the lever through. I run SRAM shifters, so the one lever changes to an easier or harder gear depending on how far you swing the lever through. Now it wouldn't shift to an easier gear. I found Joey and he felt it while we were riding and said he thought I snapped a cable. I grabbed the cable on my downtube and it was still taught. I gave it a tug and it shifted gears. He clicked it a few times to see what it felt like and that put me all the way down into my hardest cog in the rear. Then I tried it again and the shift lever broke off in my hand. Great.
I moved back to the official follow vehicle and asked if they had any more neutral bikes behind us, but he said the SRAM car was with the pro pack so they didn't have anything.
I'm not a quitter. I decided that even if I could only shift at the crankset I was still going to ride the next 80 miles and finish off the day. There is a "time cut" rule for our race, so any rider that doesn't finish a stage or takes longer than 115% of the winning time isn't allowed to ride the rest of the stages. I knew that I had to hang onto this group as long as possible in order to be allowed to finish off the weekend.
Joey, the bike genius of our team, told me to try loosening the barrel adjusters on my frame to add enough cable tension to bring it up a few cogs in the rear. I got it up to my 14. If it was a flat race, keeping it in the 14 would have been fine. Unfortunately there were fast sections where I was almost completely spun out of the 14 and climbs where the 14 wasn't nearly enough. On the steeper climbs I would hold the cable on my down tube with one hand to shift up a few gears and basically climb one-handed. It must have looked ridiculous. I made sure to move up near the front of the pack going into the climb because I figured I'd lose some time and end up in the back. It worked well up until mile 75 or so when we hit Mt Gaylor.
This is where I let my brain screw my body over. I kept wishing that the group would split on the climb and the lead group would go hammer by themselves and I would just sit in the chase group and get a pack finish so I could try again the next day.
I didn't have the "give it all you have to win the race" attitude I normally have. Sure enough, the group split about 3 or 4 guys in front of where I was. Instead of dropping the hammer and catching the front group I just sat there and watched everyone ride away. It's the worst feeling in racing to just watch a group ride away from you.
I was in a small group with Evan and few other guys at this point and the biggest group was behind us. We worked for a while and caught some other guys that got popped, but eventually we were swallowed up by the big group. With about 5-10 miles to go the pace really slowed down in a windy section. I think this was where our group lost the most time. Evan attacked with about 1k to go.
A lot of races give the same finishing time to big groups coming through the line, even if there are small gaps in the field. Last year, this race gave different times to people when there were pretty small gaps. Evan was just a few seconds ahead of me in the GC, so I didn't want him to get more time on me. I followed along with a few other guys, and then sprinted up the final climb in the only gear I had. The preliminary results had me gapping a good chunk of the field, but I guess people protested because by the next day all those time gaps were removed and I lost some more GC spots.
The results were really bad. They didn't even have the race winners right. Two of my teammates finished about 7-10 minutes behind me and Joey but the times showed that they came in with the lead group. Then the officials "fixed" it but put them 40 minutes slower than what they actually did. This caused them to initially be time cut on the time cut list (over 115% back from the race winner) but it was finally fixed the next day.
Even though I got dropped on the climb, I still had a good day. I proved to myself that I was tough. It really helped me get over the whole TT thing.
After the race I went to the SRAM support car to see if they had any extra shifters I could use. They told me they did and that it would be covered under warranty so the repair wouldn't cost me a thing. They told me to go back in an hour and a half and they would replace it for me. I did, and they told me this time to go back to my hotel, eat, shower, and then come back to their hotel and call them. I did this, but at that point it was 9:00 pm. I called them and he said "Now? It's way too late. Come to the USAC time trial in the morning and we'll do it then."
I couldn't argue because I was getting a free shifter, so I agreed. It was tough to sleep that night though. The next morning I drove 45 minutes to the TT site. Sure enough, they guy forgot the shifter. The other SRAM car had it. I had to drive back to Fayetteville and get it from the other guy. He was working on some bikes for the pro women. They started before I did, so they took priority. Finally, he put a brand new shifter on my bike at no cost. How cool is that!
Everyone said day 3’s course is tougher than day 2, but I have to disagree. Other than one climb that we had to do 3 times, the course really isn’t that tough. There is a pretty sketchy right hand turn at the bottom of a steep hill. If you’re sitting in the back, which I was, you almost have to come to a complete stop to avoid running over the guys in front of you, and then you have to chase pretty hard to catch on again.
There were a few breakaway attempts, but nothing that got me too worried. One guy managed to stay off the front solo for about 70 miles I would guess. It was insane. We averaged 25mph and we weren’t catching him. I was hoping he would get the win because he deserved it with that effort.
I was ready to make a move on the big climb on the final lap. A group of about 6 or 7 of us put a gap on the main field. A guy flipped over his bars on the climb and blocked a good bit of the road, so I thought our break would have a good chance to establish itself. I was wrong. Everything came back together right after the feedzone.
As soon as the group got back together the big teams got back into chase mode. With just a few miles to go they caught the solo rider and everyone started moving around and getting anxious for the field sprint. I took a peak up the right side and could have moved up to the front on the overpass, but I honestly didn’t want any part of that sprint. The final section is kind of downhill and very fast, even with a headwind. Time bonuses are only given out to the top 3, and if you’ve seen my sprint you should realize that I wouldn’t be getting any of those. A top 10 finish just wasn’t worth the risk of eating asphalt at 40mph, especially when there would be plenty of asphalt to eat Sunday at the crit.
If you’ve read any other blogs about Joe Martin this year, you already know that the crit course, which was already fast and technical, was made even more technical by adding some more turns. A few of the new turns are off camber, which basically means as you turn your bike gets sucked to the outside toward the curb. It’s pretty deceiving and you really need to watch your speed.
The other new turn is at the bottom of a hill and recently had a trench dug out and filled in right in the center of the turn. There was about a 2 foot wide smooth line through the turn and haybails were stacked going into the turn so that you couldn’t see the smooth line until you already commit.
I was just heading out onto the course for a warmup lap when one of the pro riders passed me holding his arm in that “I broke my collarbone” manor. That’s never what you want to see right before a race. When I finished my warmup lap I realized all of the other guys in my race were already on the line…20 minutes early. Instead of standing in the back I kept loose and used the restroom. When it was finally time to go I lined up on the outside and had a pretty decent start considering the circumstances.
I heard a wreck close behind me on the first lap. It was in the off-camber sketchy corner. Joey and Jeremy were behind the wreck so they got gapped. For the next few laps I moved up a couple positions when I could, but for some reason I eventually stopped moving up before I was in the position I needed to be in. I knew where to move up, and I knew I had to, but I didn’t. It didn’t feel like I was working all that hard, but then like a lightswitch my legs went out on the climb. About 30 seconds later I was fine, but I couldn’t catch up. I picked up a few stragglers and finished off the race. The lead group put a minute on us by the end of the race, but we never got caught by the big chase group.
I ended up 26th GC. That’s far away from my goal, but the level of competition was a lot higher than I expected. For the first big race for our team, I really can’t be disappointed. 3 of our guys finished in the top half of the field for the GC, even with all the bad luck we had. If nothing else, it was a great weekend of training and preparation for the Windy 100, Tulsa Tough, etc.