It’s been a fantastic race so far. It’s incredibly well organized, the riders are strong and friendly, and everyone follows the centerline rule. Go figure.

We’re thrilled to be here, and we’re thrilled to have Tom’s wife Andrea with us. She’s been a primo soigneur, handing up bottles, preparing post-race recovery food and making sure we’re eating enough ice cream.


One of the rituals of stage racing is the general classification watch list. It’s sort of like “Memento,” where the hero tattoos “Kill John G” on his chest. It’s a constant reminder of your day's objective. In our case, we had some 75 Johns G, some we’d want to watch closer than others.

So it was that I started the morning transcribing five copies of the GC top 20 to tape to each of our top tubes. I noted each one’s position, their team and how many teammates they had. Knowledge is power.

Today’s stage was a 74-mile circuit race. The course is what locals call a “flat course.” It’s what Midwesterners would call “the hardest, hilliest course I’ve ever raced, and that includes Denzer and Blue Mounds.”

Almost 4,000 feet of elevation would sap our legs, most coming in a two-mile, 500-foot King of the Mountain climb that we would ascend four times.

Coming into the KOM for the first time, two riders from one of the larger teams -- and by “large,” I mean five strong, like us; most of our field was riding solo -- were down the road. I didn’t want to let their lead get out of control, so I went to the front and upped the tempo a bit.

One of their teammates was on my wheel, and being a clever blocker, he let a gap open up. Suddenly I look back and I have a 200-meter lead. Well, shoot. Not what I intended, but might as well roll with it. Maybe I could somehow bridge to the two guys and get some KOM points. I put my head down and upped the throttle.

Alas, it was not to be. The field caught me about halfway up the climb -- and went by me like they were the 147 Express. Hoo, boy, these are some serious climbs and these are some serious climbers. I was humbled. I fancy being one of the best climbers in the Midwest -- which is like being the prettiest pig at the trough. It doesn’t hold much water in the real world. I cast any KOM aspirations out of my head.

So I got back in the group and got ready for the descent. And for me, this is the problem with 4,000 feet of climbing. With it comes 4,000 feet of descending -- not my specialty. You’ve heard of “sag climbing”? I “sag descend." Feather some brake here, stand to become less aero there. I start out near the front and by the time we hit the bottom I’m dead last but still on terms.

Over the next 50 miles, both Peter and I would each get in a promising break, part of our plan to keep the heat off our GC hopefuls Liam and Dave. But the pack wasn’t giving anyone a long leash, so neither of us stayed out of sight for long. We had fun trying though.

The sprint had an interesting lead-up. After a right-turn, there was about three miles of false-flat climbing, then maybe 400 meters of false-flat descending into the finish. Could have been fun, but on this day it was a bit of a mess. We were all bunched up and congested. My hope was to either lead out Dave or just go to the front and string it out, but we were splayed across the road, but I couldn’t find any free lanes.

Right at the 5K mark, the inevitable mishap occurred: A slow-speed crash right in front of me and Dave. Fortunately we were able to get through it unscathed, though we had to unclip before chasing back to the group.

And then it got bunched up all over again, and before I knew it, we were coming up to the finish line. I never did find that lane, so Dave had to fend for himself and finished around 20th. A time bonus would have been nice, but he, Liam and I had to settle for a same-time result, while Peter and Tom had a spot of bother on the last climb but gamely rolled in just a few minutes later. (Officials were generous in awarding “same time” because of the crash, and Tom was able to benefit from that generosity. Peter was not as lucky.)

Studying the next day's elevation profile

Tomorrow will be the queen stage. After 60 miles and several climbs to soften us up, we hit Applachaian Gap: a 9-mile climb with almost 2,000 feet of climbing, pitching up to 20 percent in spots. (In the photo above, Liam and Peter are scouting out the topography.) This is where the stage will explode and the entire stage race will be decided.

And also? Moose. The technical guide says to be alert for moose.

We feel we’re ready. Out entire season -- all the camps, all the early-morning training, all the hard racing -- has led to this. We’re eager to show the locals what we flatlanders can do. My job will be to do whatever I can to keep Dave and Liam in good spots.

Peter and Tom? Their job will be to make the time cut, so that on Monday we can show these boys how criterium racing is done.