Racing tales from the great Pacific Northwest

Friday, April 26, 2013

2013 Tour of Walla Walla Stage Race

Question:  What city is know as "The Windy City"? 
Answer: Chicago.......XXXXX.
Correct answer...............Walla Walla Walla, WA.   The land of wine, students, inmates and yes, WIND!  The wind sucks.......or should I say blows....Ha, ha, ha!  The wind is pretty much guaranteed for this big time Washington stage race but it can also be accompanied by other extreme weather.   During any given stage it could be hot and windy, cold and windy, wet and windy or hot, cold, wet and windy.  We always deal with what nature throws at us and just pray that it's just dry and windy on Saturday for the crit. 

Once again we had our MANsion just outside of town reserved for the weekend and some of us drove over Thursday afternoon.  The weather was pretty nice and we were able to get out and ride the TT course before dinner.  The weather was perfect, broken clouds, 65 degrees and breezy.  If we could bottle this up for the rest of the weekend it would be awesome.   After the ride we devoured copious amounts of lasagna cooked by self anointed team cook and GC contender Tom Wick.  All was good.....NOT!

Sometime Thursday night the wind picked up(more so than normal) and it began to pour.  Like we always do, we combed the interweb for weather reports, trying to find one that pleased us most.  It didn't look good.  We got up Friday morning and we were like Dr. Seuss characters looking out the winder wondering what to do.  Riding the TT course was not going to happen.  Most of our time was spent getting ready for the Stage 1 road race accompanied with a lot of sitting around.  When it was finally time to make trek over to Waitsburg it was still pouring.  Great, it was 51 degrees and pissing rain.  Throw in the wind and this could royally suck!

We rolled into town, waved at the camel and a few minutes later someone turned off the faucet and pulled out the blow dryer. By the time we rolled to the start the roads were dry.  It looked like it might start raining again any minute but this was a cause for jubilation!

Day One: Stage 1- Waitsburg Road Race:
20 mile loop with a 3K FU climb to the finish.  The back side of the course has another small climb that can also break up a field in the right conditions.  My field (Masters 40+) was doing two laps for 42 miles. Not all categories race this one, only the 3's, Masters and Pro/1/2 fields.

We actually ride up the FU climb (my term for it) three times.  The first time up is neutral.  I took time to enjoy the view of the beautiful scenery since I knew all I'd be seeing later on was my soul leaving my body.  We were released just as we crested and right away the Evo guys started to attack.  During pre-race strategy talks we decided that Dave, Kevin and Tom would go attack and go with breaks and Nikos, Alex and I would be ready for the assault on the climbs.  Dave was active right off the bat and attacked several times before he eventually found himself off the front alone.   The pack let him hang for awhile before reeling him back in on the backside of the course.  Once he was brought back things calmed down for a while.  I had been just sitting in anticipation of the first time up the big climb.  I was sick prior to last year's race and struggled to just hang on during the whole race.  I finished only 13 seconds back but I'd never felt so shitty after a race.  My wife and I just got back from 2 12 weeks in Belgium where I spent a total of zero hours on the bike and stuffed myself with beer, Belgian waffles and frites.  I was worried I might have a less then stellar experience this year as well.  

We reached the riser on the hitting speeds over 30mph.  I found that I was able to move to the front and helped  keep the pace high.  Hey, maybe I have nothing to worry about???  After the climb things calmed down a again and we settled into a nice pace.  I had dropped back to talk to teammates when all of a sudden BAM!! There was a nasty crash up front and a couple of guys hit the pavement hard.  I still have no idea what happened but everyone scattered to avoid the carnage.  Joe Holmes (Tete de la Course) was just in front of me and I thought he was going down.  If he did I was toast.  I had no where to go but the ditch.  He managed to avoid going down (Thank you Joe).  I still had to swerve right and ended up in the heavy gravel.  Somehow I kept my composure and didn't lose my front wheel.  I gradually moved back to the road and all was good.  The pace actually picked up for a few minutes and I had to ride super hard to catch their wheels of the guys that were in front of the crash.  I thought it was a dick move at first but they eventually slowed up and most everyone caught back on.  After that we checked to see if we all made it through.  Were was Dave?  Shit, did he go down?  We motored through town and got ready for the climb. 

Things were actually pretty calm at the start.  The wind was in our faces and I don't think anyone really wanted to make the first move.  I had made sure I was near the front when we started up so I wouldn't miss out if someone attacked.  I think we were about 2/3 of the way up when Todd(HSP) jumped.  Three Evo guys, Tom and Nathan(Tete de la Couse) hooked on.  I was at the front and was just about to jump to get on but with Tom there I made the split second decision to not go.  I didn't want to drag others up there but in retrospect maybe I should have.  I wasn't sure how the three Oregon guys  but I know Todd can rip a TT course apart.  Hmmmmm!!   As we flew down the hill they started to slip away and I just moved back to let teams not represented give chase.  Hey,  I just went up that f'ing hill at the front!  I was feeling good.

After some failed counter attacks we finally got word that the lead had grown to two minutes and at the base of the backside climb the pace picked up again.  This put a hurting on much of the field and when we made the sweeping turn at the bottom of hill I looked back and half the pack was gone.  All our guys were up front and feeling good.  It now looked like the GC winner was probably going to come from the six up the road.  It was not time to get ready for the final assault to the finish.

We worked hard and all of us got to the front before we reached town.  Even if you have good legs you could find yourself behind guys that are going backwards and have no way to get through.  We don't have the full road until 200m and you can lose valuable time if you can't make it through the mess.  The pace was actually steady but not too bad.  As we made our way up guys started to drop off.  With about 2K to go we were bunched up tight.  It seemed no one wanted to be the first one to attack in the head wind.  This kept up for another .5 K and things really started to get tense.  There was a lot of elbow and shoulder banging.  We passed the 1K mark and nothing changed.  I was sitting near the front just trying to stay safe.  At about the 400m mark I'd had enough and bolted off the front.  No one came with me.  SUFFER TIME!!  I dug deep and got a gap.  I flew by the 200m marker and could see the finish line.  Just a little farther.  With about 110m to go reached a false flat and the wind really hit me hard.  My legs were burning and I was starting to blow up.   I looked back and saw that all hell had broke loose in the pack.  Shit!!  I got out of the saddle and tried to find something extra.  Only 50m to go.  Just then Nikos flew by like a rocket, cool!  Brad(Olympia Ortho) and Joe(Tete de la Course) got me just before the line.  Nikos ended up 7th, me 10th and Alex 13th.  I figured there would be a bunch of time gaps but some how 37 of us ended up with the same time, 3:24 behind Todd.   Except for getting a later start time in the TT I'm not sure that 400m of suffering was worth it.  Todd(HSP)  finished 22 seconds (32 with his 10 second bonus) in front of Tim(Evo), John(EVO) and Tom.  Tom was sitting 4th overall!!  I was super happy the teams performance.  It turned out that Dave had missed the crash.  He had just blown himself up during the early race attacks.  He would bounce back nicely.  The weather ended up being perfect with no rain.

Day 2:  Stage 2 Time Trial:
The course is an 8.7 mile horseshoe with one bastard of a climb in the middle.  It was shortened by about 500 meters or so this year so we didn't have to finish the last little kicker and make a hard right hand turn.    This one can really create big time gaps.
I'd been time trialing really well so far this season.  I'd won the only two we've had so far  this season.  I was really worried this was where my 2 1/2 weeks off the bike would show.  I knew I wasn't going to make up 3:24 (more like hope I don't lose two more minutes) on Todd but I was sitting in 10th and wanted to at least hold on to that spot.  I had no real pressure but Tom needed to pull a good one if he wanted to keep his 4th place overall.  The wind seemed to slowly ramp up as we warmed up in the parking lot.  I just kept telling myself that everyone had to deal with it so no big deal, right??
I made my way down the highway I was not feeling the legs I had before vacation.  I wanted to go super hard all the way until I crested the climb.  It's mostly downhill after that so there was plenty of time to recover.  That is not what happened.  I had to back off slightly.  I tried not to let it get to me but it was in my head.  I finally reached the climb went as hard as I could. I don't think I've ever approached the climb the same way.  I decided to gear down and got out of my aero position. It seemed to take forever.  I passed a guy on the climb and push hard over the top.  Now it's time to fly!!  It was really weird.  The wind was coming at an angle and I really had to fight the bike.  At the same time I was doing over 30MPH.  Hang on.  IK to go and I felt OK but just didn't have that extra something.  I pushed as hard as I could through the finish and ended up with a time of 21:20.  Not as good as I'd only dropped one spot to 5th.  I felt super bad for Alex.  He can really pull a good time on this course.  Unfortunately after having a super good start he flatted on the downhill and had to settle for a pro rated time.  We were still psyched for Tom and planned to work as hard as we could to at least keep him in 5th.

Day 2:  Stage 3 Criterium:
1.1 mile multi left/right turn course.  We were only racing for 40 short minutes and with 12 primes thrown in it was going to be a gun fight.  The weather was perfect and spirits were high.
I don't think I've ever finished higher than 17th in this race.  I've always been near the front but never in good position coming out of the last corner to make any noise.  I was hoping for something better this time.  Alex and Dave were sitting well back in the GC and were motivated to make the pack hurt.  The bell rang for a prime just as we pulled away from the line.  Wow, a prime on the first lap!  Tom set the pace and took goods.  It seemed that every time the bell rang Garage was out front battling for win.  This course is full of crazy corners and uneven pavement but I was having a blast.  I forced myself to stay near the front during the whole race.  Several attacks did get guys off the front but nothing stuck.  I was feeling so good I wasn't even paying attention to the clock.  We were finishing up a lap and I told myself that when I saw five to go I was going to get to the front and stay there.  We really wanted to win this one.  We blew by the finish and I heard/saw "Two laps to Go!"  WTF!  Pay attention idiot. Everyone battled for position.  One to go!   When we reached the straightaway on the backside that was in the headwind I stuck my nose out and pushed hard to get to the front before the next corner.  After that there were two more hard right handers followed by the lazy right that leads to the fast finish.  Someone from Evo jumped and I reacted fast and was sitting 4th wheel.  When we fly out of the final corner I was in great position.  I didn't wait to react to someone elses move.  I took the inside route and was flying.  Here we go!!  Somehow I was able to cross the line in third!! I was super happy for Gary Brown(Tete de la Course) for taking the win.  Along with that we took a but load of primes and were really amped for the final stage.

Day 3:  Stage 4:  Kellogg Hollow Road Race:
64 miles/3400 feet  climbing and yes, Wind. 
The weather was not a going to be a big concern, except for the wind.  .  It would be nice to have two or three of us in the top 10 but our main focus was to make sure Tom held on to 5th overall in the GC.

After the long neutral roll out we passed the finish going the opposite direction then turned right and headed up the first climb.  We were all waiting for the Evo guys who held 2nd, 3rd and 6th to start attacking the shit out of Todd.  Todd only had Mark left in the field and they might be able to inflict some pain. They threw in few small attacks but nothing Todd couldn't handle.  Before long Shawn(Audi) and Todd(Apex) jumped and got a gap.  One of the Evo guys followed suit but was never able to catch on.  We just let them go.  We knew HSP and Evo would hit the gas once they felt the gap got too big.  We reached the old Feed Zone hill for the first time and the pace was high but manageable.  I was feeling super good and drove to the front.  I was not prepared for the downhill section.  Near the bottom there was a sweeping left turn.  As soon as we went into it the side wind hit us like bat. Holy Shiz!  I actually thought I was going to take flight and end up in a nearby field never to be seen from again.  I wanted to just slow down and deal with it but getting gapped here could be disastrous.  After cleaning my shorts I composed myself and got back to the task at hand.

A short time later we got word that the gap had grown to over 2 minutes.  I knew the things were going to start to get interesting.  Evo and HSP moved to the front and the pace picked up dramatically.  Before long we took a minute off their lead.   Going into the last lap things got going again on the first climb.  Joe(Tete de la Course) took off several times.  A few others went and now we could see the leaders up the road.   Todd fell off first but Shawn didn't give up the fight.  Shawn eventually had to surrender and now it was game on. 
We reached the old feed zone climb and this it was game on.  As we fought our way through "Hang on for dear life" corner I looked back and saw that the pack had exploded.  We put our heads down and hit the gas.  It's a long downhill section and four of us spent time up front rotating through while the GC contenders hung on for the ride.  We reached the final big climb of the day and I moved to the front and set the pace.   I was hoping for a little help but no one moved up.  I was feeling pretty good so I just stayed there and pressed on.  I knew that there was a 2nd group behind that would digging hard to try to hook back on.  By the time we were half way up I think one group was able to make contact.  I stayed up front for a while longer before dropping back just near the summit.   We hit the downhill and had just over 10K to go. 

There were several attacks but with 2K to go there were only 25 of us left.  The finish is on a long, open road that is slightly downhill.  Since you can see the finish tent from here it started getting a little tense.  There was a lot position battling going on.  All our guys were at the front.   With 1K to my teammate Dave move up next to me and told me to move towards the white line.  I did and it turned out to be the perfect (almost) position for the finish sprint.  With about 250m to go someone from Evo jumped to the front to set pace.  With 200m to go I made my move and crossed the line in 2nd place.   Nikos finished 4th, Dave 8th and Kevin and Tom finsihed comfortably in the pack.  Tom held onto 5th overall and I moved from 10th to 8th.  Nikos finished just outside of the top 10.  It was a great weekend for the team.

photos by Kirstin Reed

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