Sometimes, things just click. You spend the winter building base, you spend the summer focusing on specific fitness, you race and practice and hone your tactics and savvy, you race some more, you lose a few, you win a couple, but at every step along the way you learn what you’re good at and where you need to improve and you focus on building on those strengths and addressing the weaknesses to whatever degree you can. And then a race comes along that gives you a chance to showcase that, and you just need to make it all click.
The LAPT Lakes Area Stage Race (“omnium”, but more on that shortly) was that race for me. Everybody that knows me well is aware that I’m no fan of flat, four-corner crits. But here, like a gift from Heaven, was an omnium with NO crits. And a few teammates might know of my secret and inexplicable penchant for time trials, well this weekend featured TWO including an uphill TT that rewards w/kg and a willingness to suffer. And last but by no means least, it was actually being run as a stage race, with the winner decided not by points awarded per event but by time, like most pro races are run. Stage races, coincidentally, also offer a different level of upgrade points, but
Stage 1 – The Pain Cave Prologue TT - Good Preparation Pays Off
I had checked out the course online and I knew that this 1 mile uphill TT would be short and therefor a VERY hard effort. I figured that the best P1/2 time would be about 3:30 and that I just needed to be within 20 seconds or so of that. Knowing this would be a V02 max/spring I arrived over an hour early and found a spot under an awning (yeah, it was drizzling) and hit the trainer, a big change for a guy who rarely warms up adequately. I also pre-rode with Kyle and got a good feel for the course, all big ring if you were going hard enough, probably out of the saddle on the final rise. I got a little lucky and was staged 2nd to last, which I always prefer so I can hunt my 30 sec or minute guy. I got a little excited and went a bit hard for the first 30 seconds but then hit the hill proper and settled in to my 52x26 and hammered my way up the first rise. “A little too hard” I thought to myself, you need to finish strong. There was a short flat and then it pitched up again and as planned I got out of the saddle and smashed it and crossed the line at 3:46, Good enough for 1st and a 14 second lead on 2nd. CLICK. Incidentally also good enough for 3rd in the Masters 123 category, more on that at the very end.
Stage 2 – The Couri Circuit Race - Le Coup de Chacal
Saturday’s weather was perfect and again I arrived a little early to check out the course. It was a beautiful 4.2 mile loop with some rollers and an interesting start/finish on some narrow roads in an old mission. Most stage races will also feature some time bonuses mid-race and at the finish so I knew this narrow uphill section could play an important role in the race. I went in with the advantage of 14 seconds but with as much as 30 seconds of time bonus available, I knew that wasn’t nearly enough. Rather than chance going after the time bonuses with a top 5 finish, I was going to grab some time at the intermediate sprint. I marked the 2nd and 3rd place guys in the GC and a guy from Gryphon racing that I knew was strong having raced with him at the LaCrosse Omnium. All I had to do was make sure that none of those guys got in a break or grabbed too many time bonuses and I could move on to the TT where I was sure I could get some more time on the field. The first few laps were surgey but not too fast and for the most part the riding was safe but I did get squeezed over the yellow line a couple times. On the 4th lap with about 2k to go it happened again but this time the moto rolled up and relegated me to the back of the field. “Nooooo, we’re coming up on the intermediate sprint” I thought. I didn't waste a moment arguing and fell back quickly knowing that I had to get back to work right away. Channeling my inner Dave Hudson, I methodically worked my way back up to the front six riders and when the field topped a small rise with about 1k to go, I attacked. I got a lot of separation, clearly everybody thought it was too early and was off guard but I practice this distance a LOT during Wed night worlds. (Look up “coup de chacal” On Wikipedia)
I hit the narrow mission roads with a good gap but the field was closing, I saw the Gryphon rider jump out with some heat and he edged my by a bike length but I grabbed a time bonus and the guy in 2nd in the GC got nothing. I had to recover quickly in case he tried to counter but nothing came and the next lap and half was relatively tame until we approached that finishing straight again. This time a flurry of attacks came but I was able to surf wheels until one came that had real pace. I jumped on that wheel and rode it into the mission but then I made a mistake, I sat on it about 2 seconds to long and riders started to swarm on the right. I’ve had this happen before and I wasn’t going to let it happen again, there was a gap after the 3rd wheel and I jumped out and hammered it up the finishing straight and finished 4th, more time bonus and again, my gap on the 2nd place GC grew. CLICK.
Stage 3 – The Wheel and Spoke TT - Fast But Not Fast Enough
A relatively short 5.8 mile TT, which was actually the same as the circuit that we’d be doing later in the day. It’s obviously a huge advantage to be staged last (because of my GC lead) and know that 2nd place is your 30 second guy. I was up on him about 24 seconds, and if I could catch him I could basically lock the overall, but if I lost time to him I’d be vulnerable because the next stage had time bonuses as well. I set a goal of 340 watts, that’s all I could do, and lined up at the start. What can you say about a TT, I went a little hard on the opening hill but an old teammate Jake Buescher always told me, make up time where you’re strong and try not to lose it anywhere else. In the end I average about 330, tough to maintain the watts on the downhill rollers, and finished 3rd. But the winner was 2nd in the GC…I lost 6 seconds to him.
Stage 4 – The Badger Orthotics Circuit Race - The Enemy of my Enemy is my Friend
In case you hadn’t noticed it, I haven’t mentioned my teammates much, which isn’t my style. But that’s because between the multiple races in Chicago and other commitments, I didn’t have any. PRO TIP: If you don’t have any teammates, find yourself some. I had spent a fair amount of time after each of the stages chatting with the LAPT guys, and a couple IS Corp Guys, and the Gryphon guy, and it was about to pay off. Recall that I had an 18 second lead and no teammates and there were enough time bonus points out there to cost me the race. Within the first 5 minutes of the race, a rider from LAPT rolled up to me and told me they just wanted to get their guy, who was sitting 4th, on the podium, and that they thought the 2nd and 3rd place guys were within but that I wasn’t. By halfway through the 2nd lap, with an intermediate sprint approaching, I was riding 3 wide with LAPT with another line of LAPT behind me, blocking any attacks (the visual is helpful). When we hit the right hander and started up the hill to the sprint point, I was on the inside line and was first wheel (not ideal) and heard Sammy’s riders shouting support from the sidelines I jammed on the pedals. But I had gone early and I saw the red skinsuit of Revolution cycles, the #2 GC guy coming on my left and an LAPT guy coming even harder on my right. I jumped on that wheel and rode it for about 50m and then unleased my deadly (sarcarm) sprint. It was enough, I took first in the sprint and basically locked up the GC. BOOM.
On the last lap I shared pulls with LAPT and ISCorp (they wanted a bunch sprint for their guy Russ, who was also my new BFF) to keep it fast enough to discourage attacks but when the guys started amping up for the final sprint I jumped on the train and rode it to 20 meter before a slight chicane that started the proper sprint and let them have at it. I didn’t need to win or even place, I just needed to finish safely.
This is long winded but it sums up an entire weekend of racing so here’s the key takeaways. As you train and race, learn your strengths, understand your best opportunity to win or to help a teammate win. Practice those moves, I won at Intelligensia’s Waukegan with a breakaway that was eerily similar to a move and wattage I’d tried successfully a Lebagh, and I got my time bonuses at the Lakes Area circuit with the coup de chacal that I’ve honed on Turin and the CCC. Know your fellow racers, know who’s strong, know who’s a potential ally who has something to gain from working with you. And have a plan and race smart, especially for a multi-day race. Know when you have a chance to gain an advantage and race to your strengths. I didn't win by being a great sprinter or TT guy, I won by grabbing time where I needed to. For me this all came together this weekend, everything clicked. This was my last M3/4 race and I’m glad to go out with a gentle boom…