Despite a rough start as a Cat 3 I went into the ToG TT with some confidence. I felt fit and a little climbing jam session earlier in the week with xXx’s mini-Schleck Ben O’Malley had me feeling dialed in. But this year I had to do the dreaded long course with its steeply descending left-hander and of course the painful climb up it on the return leg. I made the decision to eschew the TT rig to roll with my (aero) road frame and clip-on bars with the idea that I could descend faster, carry more speed into the flats, and climb better.
The ToG long-course is tough, it’s too hilly to use your powermeter effectively so I had to go on PRE/heart rate and in the end I know that I went too hard trying to catch the guys ahead of me on hills back in and that hurt my time. I finished 17th and well behind some guys that I’m confident I could beat but I had to put that behind me to focus on what we were going to do as a team later that afternoon.
Nikos had, as I predicted, crushed the TT with a 2nd place behind Scarlet Fire’s Daniel Mackey. I knew Daniel, really great guy and we’d chatted at some races (one thing about being a 3 is that you start to have a better idea of who you’re racing with) and I had an idea that the three laps and the climbs might be rough for him so now we just had one job to do, well maybe two. The obvious one was to work for Nikos, I knew that I could climb with almost anybody out there and could do a lot to control the race, but a prerequisite to that was to convince Nikos that he could win. Kyle and I set to work on the latter and we discussed a plan for the road race that was pretty different than what we’d bandied about in emails earlier in the week. The plan put simply was 1) Chase breaks with GC contenders 2) Keep the pace solid to discourage too many others but not so hard on the hills that we’d shatter our GC guy.
Things started off well enough, the moto was VERY tough on offenders right off the gun so after the neutral start I got jammed into mid-pack and was struggling to move up a bit. I tried the gutter but that was occupied and gravelly, I tried moving up the middle but it was early, the field was tight, and nobody was giving up much space. Finally about 6 miles in Kyle faded back and said “Bobo, we need you up there” and I realized I wasn't doing a lick of good so I slowly worked my way to the left, asking riders for room and indicating my intentions with a point (this works in Cat 3, not as much in Cat 4/5). I made it to the outside and quickly worked my way to the front.
From there we put our plan in motion, a break happened almost right after that,Tracy pointed out that we had nobody in it and I noticed my old friend Mike Conroy, a climber, and a little runt from Hincapie, were in the group. Time to make the doughnuts; I dropped the hammer and took a long pull and bridged just to the start of the Winery Hill and up it a quarter of the way and then we all climbed as a group. Kyle pulled up to me on the climb and grinned and started pushing the pace and I could see Nikos and Del and Anthony and Tracy were all right there with us. From that point on Kyle and I alternated a lot of time near the front alternately controlling the pace to keep it comfortable for out track/TT/GC guy and chasing down small attacks. Nikos communicated well, pace was good, little less on the climbs, but he was gellin'. When we finished the first lap things seemed in control and I pulled the group up through the feed zone with (purposely) enough pace to let people know that I felt frickin' awesome.
The xXx control continued through the first part of the 2nd lap, we alternated pulls with one or two other teams at a pretty deliberate pace. Mistake #1: In retrospect we probably should have gone a bit harder because we were just inviting an attack and then, at the second time at Ford Road just past the winery, it came. Three riders including Hincapie and Mitsu-Laser hit it hard about 1/3 of the way up the climb but Nikos and I were sitting at the front and contemplated responding. “No” we decided, there aren’t GC guys in there. Mistake #2: The RR points are big enough that they can MAKE your GC. By the time we were at the Guilfoil Rd. climb I still saw all of us in the group up that climbs but I could sense some of our dudes were fatiguing and it had become clear that we were going to have to be the guys to chase. I was just gearing up to try to organize that effort when it started.
A drop at first, then another, then a light sprinkle, then a mini-deluge. “This is fine”, I thought, “I’m fine with rain, but we need to get this chase going quickly”. “Hmm, I’ve never really done much descending with these Enves, I wonder what…what the, OH NOOOooo!”
On the first serious descent after the Guilford Road climb I realized my worst nightmare. I was bottoming out my brake levers and not…really…slowing…down…at…all. I had the right pads (Swissstop Black), I had my brakes adjusted (sort of, more on that later), but I was getting zero stopping power. I lost all confidence, my mind went into survival mode, I gave up on trying to finish well…I just wanted to finish upright. After that I started braking before descents even started and losing 50-100 meters on the field and then hammering it to catch up. I came extremely close to bailing after the 2nd lap but I thought maybe I can help out a little more and then drop off after a few miles but BEFORE the railroad tracks. I stayed with the field but was stuck on the back end, unwilling to enter the fray with my complete and utter lack of stopping power and when I came to the pre-track descent I was fully locked on, losing another 100 meters and crawling past Kevin and Ed shrieking “I have no brakes!”
I was mentally broken, scared, and starting to shiver, but by then it made no sense to turn back. I spend the next 15 miles on the back of the field being useless and cowering when I saw a descent and frankly at one point I thought I wasn’t going to be able to bridge but I did and when we finally came to the long, gentle rolling stretch into town and I knew I had made it I almost cried with relief. Just a few miles left, and the rain had let up. You’re with the field, this is a fine finish, just coast on home. Things started to heat up a bit with a half mile to go as rider tried to jockey for that first sharp right-hander into Galena but I was having no part of it. It’s 14 riders, it’s gonna get sloppy up there, you can’t use your brakes much, just coast on home…
As that right-hander approached things were pretty strung out and I was following the wheel ahead of me, with a little space to keep things safe. I saw that Nikos was in the fray, Kyle was up there too, I had done my job and lived through it. I sighed again, disappointing but…"oh no, why are you"? "Oh...no". A Bonkers rider had locked up his brake and hit the deck HARD. He was right in front of me, squarely in my line and I was already leaned in and entering the turn, there was nowhere to go but…ouch.
In the end Nikos got 6th, enough to keep him near the top of the GC which he’d eventually lock down so I’m pleased with that. Kyle was 11th, that's not bad either. And I walked away with nothing worse than a terrible hip pointer/road-rash and a strained hip-flexor and some damage to my shifters. I think John (Bonkers dude) was ok and that’s a good thing too. I learned a lot that day though, it’s just a shame that these lessons need to come at the expense of blood and carbon...
1) Practice riding in the rain on your carbon race wheels, better yet practice descending in the rain on them AND
2) Make sure your equipment is tuned for the conditions. I have a lot of flex in my front wheel so I run the pads a little loose. This definitely didn’t help AND
3) Make sure you chose the RIGHT equipment. I do own a decent set of alloy clinchers, I would have paid $100 to be able to swap to them mid-race. Whatever aero benefits I got from my uber-tubulars was more than eliminated by my lack of confidence in the wet AND
4) It’s awesome to work for a teammate, I knew I wasn’t in the GC but I felt like I had purpose up until my courage evaporated and I became a useless quivering blob AND
5) Bring your tegaderm with you, I leaked blood and serous fluid (thank you Erica Gaddy - https://www.facebook.com/erica.gaddy?fref=ts) all over my car...