Actual conversation I had with someone from work when they found out I was taking Thursday and Friday off from work:
"Are you doing anything fun during your long weekend off?"
"Yeah, I'm heading over for the Tour of Walla Walla!"
"Oh, we've done that! If you have the chance you have to make sure to hit (Enter Winery Names here) while on your tour!"
"Oh, you checking out Whitman? No, wait.....did the law finally catch up with you...ha ,ha, ha?"
"No.......and No comment!"
"What, then what are you going to do over there?"
"Actually it's for a bike race.".........moment of silence......
"Oh, like STP?"
"Yeah, just like that."
Yeah there are a lot of great vineyards, a university and yes, a maximum security prison but to me and the community of local bike racers it is the location of one of the best stage races in Washington. Four stages over three days on great courses against a lot of guys we don't usually get to race against makes the long drive worth it.
About half of us that were going decided to head over Thursday afternoon. It gave us a chance to settle in to our house and enjoy an evening cruise around the TT course. When we left Bellevue it was raining. When we crossed over Snoqualmie pass it was raining. When we reached the Tri-Cities, it was raining and yes, when we reached Walla Walla it was f'ing raining. We looked at the forecast and it showed that the next three days were supposed to be nice. None of us felt like getting soaked so....... What else is there to do around here?
When we got up Friday morning the weather was nice but the wind was blowing like crazy. We got out on the TT course for a spin and even though it was super windy it only seemed really bad in a few sections. It was supposed to be just as windy on Saturday so we knew what we'd be in for.
Stage 1 is only for the Pro/1/2 field, Masters men and Cat 3's. All other fields start off on Saturday morning with the TT. I think it has rained during this stage at some point in each of the last few years but there was no chance of that today. We talked strategy and even though we are all decent time trialers we knew that last year Todd Harriott destroyed everyone in the TT and put a minute on the 2nd fasted time. He would be hard to drop in this race (he won Stage 1 last year in a five man break) but we had to give it a shot. All of us had been riding well so our plan was to attack, attack, attack and then well, attack some more in hopes of getting rid of some of the TT specialist. We found out from Alex that unfortunately Todd was not going to show due to personal reasons but, the Evolution team from Oregon was bringing up another strong team this year and we still had our work cut out for us.
Stage 1: Waitsburg Road Race.
We had six strong guys lining up for the Masters race and were eager to get things going. We were doing two laps on a mainly flat course that has a nice, steady 3K climb to the finish. It's a tough stage in the fact that guys want to establish the pecking order before the TT. We rolled to the line for our start and we were told that we pushing each start out 15 minutes. Back to the RV for another quick piss. We rolled back and were then told everything was being pushed back an hour and, the Pro/1/2 race was going to be shorted to the same length as ours. WTF was going on? After anxiously sitting around for another 45 minutes we were told Stage 1 was going to be cancelled. Without going into details, here is the email we all received from the promoter:
I want everyone to know how bad I feel about today's stage cancellation.
State requires certified flaggers on State Highways, Friday's course requires 7
. Not following these rules puts any future event in jeopardy. Arrangements had
been made well in advance,"the best laid plans" sometimes simply don't happen.
Time was our enemy, a start later than 5 would have put you, the riders at risk,
something I refuse to do. Again, I am sorry about today's cancellation but we
still have 3 stages of great racing ahead of us.
I'm not really sure how this happened but after receiving the new it was cool to see about 250 guys hit the course for a hot lap before heading back to town!
With the stage being cancelled it was a whole new ball game. Now it was just a typical two day/3 stage race and the TT specialist could put themselves in a happy place.
Stage 2....I mean 1 - Time Trial.
The course is 9 mile semi circle with a nice punchy climb about 3k in. Our start times seemed to be pushed up by about an hour to what they had been in past years. My start was at 9:41. The weather was pretty much perfect and for the first time I can remember there was basically zero wind. I got a good warm up in and rolled to the start. I didn't really have a plan except to go as fast as I could for as long as I could. It took off and as soon as I took the turn out of the gate I had a nasty little coughing attack. My allergies had been acting up since we arrived in town and I'd been hacking up shit most of the previous day but felt fine at the start. It really put my breathing out of whack and I was worried I wasn't going to be able to finish the race. This went on until around the time we take the right hand turn that leads to the climb. I coughed a big ass ball of phlegm out and then it stopped. I tried to get into a rhythm and remembered what I was here to do. The rest of the race seemed to go OK but I never really got into a really good rhythm. I shifted gears a lot more than I usually do on the back side of the course and was kind of bummed when I crossed the line. I ended up with a time that was about twenty seconds faster than last year and it was only good enough for 11th place, 1:13 back. Alex was in 10th and Nikos 14th and Tom 18th. Oh well, on to the crit. Kevin and Neil were a little further back.
Oh, and on a side note, this was the first time in a bike race that I've been busted for cheating. I guess during the final 10 second verbal countdown I must have took of a fraction early and was docked two seconds. That two seconds dropped me down a spot to 12th.
Stage 3 - Downtown Criterium:
I love this crit. It is fast, exciting and usually a lot of people line the streets to watch. Alex was sitting 10th, I was 12th and Nikos 13th, all of us just over one minute down. Since we weren't sitting high on the GC we just wanted to have a good showing. We'd attack, go for primes, try to possibly get someone off the front and if not, get someone lined up for the sprint at the end. I was chosen to be that guy. The race went well and we took a bunch of primes but with four laps to go we were all together. A couple of attempts were still made to get guys off the front but I could tell we were in for a mass sprint to the finish. With two to go Tom drove hard to the front and really got the pack strung out. I was sitting about 6th wheel and kept my eyes on Brian(Fischer) and Rob(Audi). Tom dropped off and Nikos took over and as we came up to the last two turns things were looking good. We rounded the 2nd to last corner and we were flying. I was right were I wanted to be and but just before the final turn a guy who had been going hard like he was either going to lead someone out or go for the win just sat up. To avoid braking I moved slightly to my left (not where I wanted to be) and readjusted. The only problem was a crosswalk that had a section where the curb jetted out into the course. I had to immediately squeeze back in right next to the guy that sat up. I was slowed up for just a split second but I lost Bryan's wheel. Although I had a good sprint I could only manage 6th place. I was happy with that. But there's more. Apparently there was a major issue with the finish camera and they worked hard to sort out who the top five were and then just gave everyone that wasn't gapped 6th place with the same time. It's a stage race and time is the key but it just felt like the whole weekend might just fall apart. So, me and about 40 guys were listed with 6th as our finish.
Stage 4: Kellogg Hollow Road Race:
This one can be super brutal. Three years ago I finished 4th. Two years ago I was dumped on the last climb and last year I finished 2nd. If you are not at the top of your game there are a lot of factors that can kill you in this race. The climbs, the weather, the wind, oh, and the competition! Anyway, all our guys were feeling good we knew Evolution would really work hard to control the race and not let anyone get too far up the road. We figured we could at least make it a hard race and attack as much as we could. Soon enough Kevin got up the road with three others, two of them being from Evolution. None were high up in the GC so the pack let them go.
Things slowed down and by the time we reached the first climb it had gotten pretty boring. About 1/3 the way up I decided to attack hard. John(Evolution), who was leading the GC quickly got on my wheel along with a few others. I knew he wouldn't do any work but I was surprised non of the others did. I decided to just push on. We were closing on the break fast but I was only willing to do a certain amount of work. Just about the time I was thinking of sitting up Rick(Fischer) came flying by and took the lead. Here we go! By the time we finished descending we were all back to one big happy group. I finally had a chance to catch my breath and took a quick look back. Our field was not as big as it was 10 minutes ago! After that there were a lot of small attacks but nothing unmanageable. When we reached the first climb on the last lap it was Nikos' turn to initiate some pain. He took off hard and really strung out the pack. Once again by the time we hit the flat section the pack was a little smaller.
By the time we crested the final climb we were down to about 25 guys. It was time to think about the finish. With about 4K to go Tom came up beside me and told me to follow him to the front. We had four guys up front and with about 2K to go Alex attacked. He got a small gap before the group responded. This was awesome as the pack really got strung out. When they brought him back he waited a second and then went hard again. This really gave me a chance to pick where I wanted to be for the finish. I looked around and saw Rick and Warren (Fischer) getting ready to hit the gas help get Bryan to the line. I hooked onto Bryan's wheel and at the 200m mark (which was way longer than 200M) he took off. I was locked on his wheel and with about 40 to go I swung hard left and made my move. It was almost perfect.......almost. I passed him right as we crossed the line. I jumped a fraction too late but was totally happy with 2nd place and the effort my team put in to put me in position to win.
I think our overall results would have been better if we would have raced stage 1 but it was still a super fun weekend of racing.