I decided to make the trek out to Youngstown, OH for an omnium race called the Tour of the Valley July 13-15 chasing upgrade points. I was trying to secure the majority of the points through a high GC placing, but was also really gunning for the hilly road race. The opening time trial also suited my abilities—short and flat. I was racing along side Mr. Andy Anderson, a native to the area who grew up only about an hour south of Youngstown. My dad made the trip with me too.
We left on the Thursday before the Friday night TT to get all the driving done in one day and have a day to relax before the prologue. I ended up getting some cassettes swapped around and a wheel true from a shop in Youngstown (Cycle Sales Co.) who did all the work on the house! Was a great first impression of Ohio never having been before the race.
We got to the TT course and I was able to scout it out with Andy before hand. Besides the course being flat and mainly covered by overhanging trees, the only technical part was a 120° turn. It was an out-and-back “J” looking course, so we’d hit that sharp turn twice.
I got a great warm up in—was drenched in sweat and slobber before the start. That’s how you’re supposed to get warmed up for a short TT, right?? I got my countdown and dropped out of the start house full steam. I navigated the hairpin the first time with ease. I passed my 30-second man at the turn around which definitely gave me a mental boost. Coming up to the hairpin with about a mile and a half to go, I even passed Andy—my two-minute man. I though either I was killing it, Andy was having a bad day, or a combination of the two. I skirted around Andy, took the turn way too gingerly, and cooked it for the last mile with a nice little tailwind.
I hit the line and just collapsed on my bike. It was one of those feelings where shifting into your granny gear takes all the effort you have. Subsequently turning over the easiest gear on my bike took about two or three minutes for me to accomplish. I probably coasted for a half mile.
I saw Andy and we both said something like “Sdsfa jklasdfj seein’ stars man asfjkaieqifj”. I ended up getting on my trainer and spinning out all the gunk while my dad, Andy, and I discussed. I had timed myself at 19:27 for the 8.88 miles and my dad said he didn’t see anyone close to finishing 30 seconds behind me. So, as of then, I figured I had bested a third of the field or so. I was thinking top 5 would be satisfactory, but a win would be absolutely amazing.
We waited for results for about an hour. When they came out I had been timed at 19:35 and sat 6th. Whaaaaaat? Protest time. It turned out they mistimed me, and the top two guys had completely incorrect times. I ended up getting slotted into 4th after everything was said and done. I was happy, but the 4th place was bittersweet as 3rd beat me by one second and 2nd beat me by two seconds. I had fourteen omnium points, some cash, and sat nine points off the lead after stage one.
The road race was right up my alley—two laps of a 27-mile loop and 3300 feet of short, pitchy climb after climb. The yellow jersey sat on the shoulders of someone from a team in New York. They had five guys in the race including the yellow jersey and were the most stacked team in the omnium. There was a team GC competition that they ended up winning. Andy and I couldn’t compete because we were one teammate short!
The yellow jersey squad lined their men up at the front of the start line. I sat in the second row and was just focused on the task at hand—a top five. I looked at the weekend like this: consistency, consistency, and more consistency. Most likely three top fives in a row would win the omnium with how the points system was set up. I know I can fare well in a bunch sprint. I might not have the Cavendish kick to oust the field by 10 bike lengths, but I can manage a top five in a road race field sprint for sure. So, that was the plan. I wasn’t going to try a ‘one-or-none’ move. Any placing outside the top 6 or 7 meant the yellow jersey was probably out of reach.
The race started off somewhat oddly. TBS (the New York team in yellow) launched a solo attack at mile two or something crazy. I tried to figure out why. With five guys in the race, that was a very expensive bullet to launch. I can see doing something like with a full squad of eight or so, but it seemed like a waste of a resource for them. He ended up getting gobbled up right at the start of the ten-mile kicker section anyways.
The climbs were great. You’d put in a 3-4 minute tough effort, get a one minute breather descending at 40mph+, then repeat. We got through the first lap all together with a few getting shelled off the back.
To try and paint a visual, the second lap went a little something like this. If you can imagine the peloton as a fisherman and the attempts at breakaways as fish, I was the baited hook. With so much team representation, no one was willing to chase down attacks because every forming breakaway would have a guy from teams at the front in it. I had to start taking things into my own hands and try to keep the peloton together. After all, I was looking for this to end in a sprint. Bridge efforts would usually only be a minute or so and I always seemed to find the pack closing down on the break a minute or so after I had bridged. This process repeated three or four times: two or three guys would launch, I would wait for an ascent to make a move, and then I would bridge.
We got through the kicker section all together again. With about four miles of flats left, I felt great. There was an antsy rider who kept going for solo shots over and over again. They were usually easy to counter as myself and two or three other guys would take turns chasing him down until he tired out. This repeated until about a mile to go. All of a sudden, the pace just came to a stand still. Everyone at the front didn’t want to be there that early so we lulled to about 17-18 mph.
As we were rolling along at a crawling pace, the 1k sign pops up and someone dropped the hammer. All of a sudden we were racing again 30mph+ barreling into an open course finish. When the pace lit up, I was probably a half second slower to react than I should have been. I wound up sitting at about 15th wheel or so boxed in on the far right of the road. I picked a super tight line and got around a slower rider in front of me by darting around the right of him just before the barriers started at the 200m sign.
The rest of the sprint, if you can call it that, was like a game of leapfrog. The pack never got strung out and it was more of a positioning battle rather than actual leg strength. It wasn’t until about 50m to go that I actually looked up to see enough room in front of me to get into the top five. I went from probably 8th or 9th to finishing 4th in that last 50 meters, finally seeing some daylight in front of me.
Whatever. Not ideal, but I was pretty sure that I was going to be in yellow with back-to-back 4th places. The yellow jersey was nowhere to be seen at the finish and guys I had marked in 2nd and 3rd were nowhere as well. After about an hour wait for results again, it was official: I was sitting in the GC lead by four points and was to wear the leader’s yellow jersey for the criterium in downtown Youngstown the following day.
It was a pretty surreal moment. I hadn’t been awarded a jersey for anything until then. I had came so close in a lot of omnium competition but never actually got a hold of the coveted leader’s jersey.
The criterium course was about as ideal as I could ask for. Four corners, a gradual downhill section, and a significant pitchy ascent before the finish line was appealing to me. The gradient on the climb had to be 10%+, but it was only 30 meters long at most.
Things started out hot and I had a similar game plan to the road race—chase down attacks, bring it together, top five in the sprint, GC win! If I were to make any attacks, they would be chased down immediately because the GC race was so tight.
So, that’s how it played out. I chased down countless attack after attack, always advanced my position on the climb, and stayed in the top ten spots—out of trouble but not putting in a lot of unnecessary work at the front. Everything was going according to plan until about seven laps to go and the sky let loose with a torrential downpour.
I was a little nervous having been in a few crashes already this season, but everyone seemed to be navigating the slippery downhill left very cautiously. There was a lot of pack communication, no one was tacking dodgy lines, and everything was shaping up well. Free laps ended at three to go. I made note of this at I saw “4” on the lap counter coming through start/finish.
We took the downhill left and BOOM; the rider two spots in front of me hit the deck. The rider in front of me tried to keep a steady line and veered right. I locked up my brakes, ended up sliding out, and came down on my right side with force. I went from cloud nine, racing in sunshine wearing the yellow jersey, to wet, bloody, and on the ground.
I got up and winced. My whole right side was stiff and sore as could be. I picked my bike up and had to just drape my head and assess whether I was in the right condition to finish the race. Then it dawned on me—I still had a free lap!! At that moment, the pain went away. I fixed my front brake which had gotten knocked around, opened up both calipers all the way assuming my wheels might be a tad out of true, and hopped on. OWWWW. Every pedal rev was a decent effort with my right leg.
I made sure shifting was all right and sure enough, it wasn’t. I couldn’t shift into anything left of the middle of the cassette without hearing a tink-tink-tink of the rear derailleur skimming my rear spokes. Looking down, it seemed that the rear hanger had gotten bent pretty well to the left. Oh well, looked like it was going to be a mash the rest of the race.
I was given first position in the pit for getting pushed back into the race—perks of the yellow I guess. Everything for the next three laps was pretty crummy. Every time I hit the climb I would be over geared and hurting pretty bad. On top of everything, I had this mental block with the downhill left where I had crashed. I took it so easily to avoid wrecking a second time that I might have ruined my chances at a good placing.
I ended up hitting the final climb at about 70 rpm, not gaining any ground and not losing any. I rolled across the line in 10th and just dropped my head. There was no way I was keeping yellow with only two omnium points gained in the crit. I was both mentally and physically toasted.
Sure enough, I lost the yellow jersey to a kid who got 2nd in the TT and won the crit. Another rider who was sitting in second before the crit stayed where he was and I was slotted into 3rd on the GC. What can ya do? I was definitely bummed, but made sure to wear that yellow jersey until I was certain I had lost it. I hobbled around to the medical tent, was given some Advil by a random woman, threw on my XXX jersey for podium pics, and got engaged in several conversations with whoever wanted to throw in their two cents. I’ve learned that if you show up to a race in a leaders jersey, you’re going to make some new friends.
Even though I lost the yellow, I had gained 10 more upgrade points through the road race and GC placing. I was 1 point short of my upgrade. I contemplated racing the next weekend, but could barely get on the bike with my right hip deeply bruised. I decided to put in the upgrade request and hope that my TT results from the past year would suffice for being one point shy. They did and I about screamed like a little girl when I saw the green checkmark on USA Cycling denoting an approved request.
If I had a nickel for every times I said “what if ________” after the weekend, I’d have a few quarters or something. I tried not imagining what could have been, but it was hard keeping my mind off how close I truly came to a GC win. What if I had navigated that corner a little better in the TT and made up those two seconds? What if I had reacted a little quicker in the road race and won the whole thing? What if it hadn’t started raining during the crit? What if I didn’t crash? I could ponder these scenarios forever, but it didn’t matter anymore. My end goal for the season was an upgrade and I had achieved that.
All in all, this was my best result so far for a full weekend of racing. I remained relatively consistent despite a heartbreaking final stage. I really owe a huge thanks to Andy and his family. Andy ended up dropping from the crit and every time I hit the climb during the race I heard his whole family screaming my name. It definitely kept me motivated. Most of all, a huge thanks goes out to my dad. He’s been with me since my first triathlon in ’09 and it was great for him to be there and see me cap off my time as a cat 3 racer.
Next race up: Gateway Cup. This should be fun.