Monday, August 4, 2008

Team Columbus Wins ZOAR 1-2-3 Race

What a gorgeous day for a bicycle race. Stark Velo does a great job on this race and they have a great race course. A 10 mile loop with two climbs (one easy and one hard), uphill rolling section and two descents. The decisive last one a 2 mile descent at 31mph+ ave speed into the finish line. Heck even one of the 90 degree corners is a lot of fun being flat out and downhill on the exit onto Schneider's crossing (the 1st descent).

I as well as others had that pre-race buzz as we lined up with some really strong local guys. There was a medium to large contingents from RGF, UPMC, Indiana Medical, Spin, Team Lake Effect and of course Brian Batke, myself and Tris Hopkins of Team Columbus.

of all the races this year this was by far the easiest first lap of the year. With a tough course and lots of strong teams no one wanted to exert or show too much and get shelled on the 2nd climb except Dan Quinlan who went for an early solo flier then after being caught towed us around at an uncomfortable pace. The race finally lit up on the climb. And with memories of being dropped on the 2nd climb on Middle Run Rd. on my mind I tried to maintain good position for the climb. This year I finished the climb in the top 3 every lap and was able to follow accelerations by UPMC, Quinlan and Moskal without any troubles. Oh sure it hurt, but I held wheels is what I mean.

Lap 2 was a lot more exciting with dangerous attacks going up the road. None of which I was in, but Brian and Tris were so I stayed at the front of the group and chased anything that seemed a serious threat to bridge. In fact I spent 90% of the race glued int he top quarter of the field I was so intent on making sure I was a part of the race. One move in particular looked good with Thom Domonic, Batke, Tris, Shawn Adams involved. Finally up Middle Run climb the race blew apart and we were flying down the descent, everyone dutifully taking hard pulls. I had made it up to the split in the field so again we had our entire team in the move.

I believe we got the field down from 29 to about 10 or 12, but after the descent I looked back and 10 more guys had made it back on and so I and others just backed off. Had we split the field permanently at that point the race would have been a lot different.

We backed it off and Brian saw this as a perfect opportunity to take the race into his own hands and with serious form from a successful SpeedWeek in Wisconsin where he placed and won in several races got an enormous gap straight away.

Its in situations like this that you are excited and bummed too. Excited because you want to see your team mates up the road, but bummed that you arent in it and simply cannot be in it. It was the same when I saw Thom and Chris Cioccio fly past me on the left to bridge. If Tris or I had gone on that move it would surely have been brought back. But I know Cioccio and I know Thom and so I thought if they make it to Brian the race is over and Brian would be fine with them. It was a solid move and I let it go rather than doom it by going with them.

But Brian was going so hard that Thom and Chris took forever to bridge. Now heres where the race was really bizarre. With three teams up the road, but 3 or 4 teams well represented still in the field you would think a full on chase would have ensued to bring Batke back. He won the race last year, but this wasnt the case at all. It was an odd race. Really odd. And even when a dangerous bridge attempt went with Rudy and Shawn Adams (both on Lake Effect) got clear, there was no reaction at all. Tris and I didnt really have to do anything at this point because it didnt do to help drag those two men into the break and they would not stand to haul us as baggage I can tell you that.

So eventually Thom and Chris caught Brian, but Chris got popped due to the pace Thom and Brian were setting and he faded back to Rudy and Shawn. At that point Moskal, UPMC and some others lent a hand to bring back those three, but Thom and Brian were sitting on a 50 second advantage.

Most of the next two laps are a bit of a blur with me basically sitting near the front watching the front and Tris doing the same. On the 4th time up the hill I found myself feeling like I had some pretty decent legs so i sprinted over the top to an already flying rider form UPMC and tried to attack the descent with him to draw out a 2nd breakaway, but we were soon caught. We finished descending to the sound of the bell at the start finish line and I was hoping in some way Tris and I could break the field up so we could duke it out for the 8 remaining finishing positions. The field was still too large at around 15 or so guys.

Final gap was given for Brian and Thom at one minute so I knew they had it in the bag with one lap to go. Awesome feeling!! This also meant to me (and Tris) that we were free to start attacking the field. Rudy set a high pace up the first climb and that I am sure put the hurt in a lot of guys legs. I let myself fade back into the middle of the field, but I was not in distress at all. Tris then launched an all out attack, but his move brought an immediate reaction and the field strung out in chase. As we descended Schneider's crossing I reamained about mid pack waiting for an opportunity to attack. We slowed a bit once Tris was back, but we had one more big dip down and I didnt want to attack on a descent or while we were at high speed.

Then the field slowed and started to pack up at the front as we finished the descent and the road flattened just a bit and I took the opportunity and took off. I started to build a decent gap as the road curved towards the corner of Middle Run and made the right onto Middle Run and tried to go hard, but save something for the climb. These late attacks are tough because even if the race wasnt brutal, your still tired, but the speed I was maintaining seemed decent enough. I came up on a road sign and started counting one one thousand, two one thousand. When i got to 15 I looked back and the field wasnt up to the sign yet and I was about to start the lower, easier slope of the climb with the right bend. I gave myself a glimmer of hope that I could do this. 20 seconds on the field to start the climb then 2 miles of downhill to the finish. Just as I had planned for months in my head.

I tried to climb as hard as I thought I could without blowing up on the final pitch. It was really brutal willing my legs to maintain a high cadence and the climb seemed so much longer than the previous 4 times. My lead was shrinking fast as I was told later someone drilled the bottom of the climb to start to close the gap. I sprinted the final steep pitch whihc really, really hurt I can tell you.

I did make it over the top solo and I was in the big ring before I was even over the top and sprinted very briefly into the descent. When I looked back Jeff Braumberger of Inferno had leapt clear of the pack on the climb and we traded off sprint like pulls down the hill. Jeff would pull so hard he would gap me by 10 feet and I clawed my way back, got in front and pulled as hard as I could. He for sure was pulling at 34mph and I was probably a few mph less. We passed this big sign on the right which i had timed to the finish on a previous lap as I calculated how far back I could possibly jump the field and the sign was less than 2:40 from the line. We were getting closer.

But we did get caught and I had to really fight to stay on the back. But my attack lasted 3.5 miles or so and I came within a mile of the line. Not a bad try and I was happy I did it. I did recover quickly and found that the speed of the group (now about 15 or so?) wasnt that bad and I tried to maneuver myself into a position to take a top 10 in the bunch sprint. But I found my brain to be a bit tentative at first because I knew I was pretty hosed and I didnt want to crash in front of the whole field.

I didnt take an opportunity at about 300m to attack up the left because I wasnt sure if the left lane was open yet so I held back, but Tris attacked hard up the right and opened up a nice gap. As we started to go chaotic and bodies were going everywhere I tried to just gut it out, but man there were a lot of riders in front. I held my position and passed a few which told me I should have aggressively moved myself into the top 5 for the sprint, but of course hindsight is always 20/20!!.

In the end Brian took the win, Thom second. Tris got absorbed within sight of the line and he was understandably upset about it after the race. I too did not crack the top 10 in the field sprint and that always makes me mad!! Actually it makes me really, really mad at myself. But Tris and I tried to get a 2nd break going and shatter the field at the end, but we couldnt. I tried to solo in for 3rd (or 4th with Braumberger who would have killed me in the sprint) but we did win the race overall so that made up for most of it. Congrats tot Stark Velo again on another great event and to Brian on a very strong breakaway with Thom and the win.

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