Sunny, low 80s, Traverse City, and two days of racing what more could be better? The weekend kicked off with the Old Town Criterium in downtown Traverse City. We had a very competitive field that was dominated by mostly Bissell and Priority Jerseys. Bissell was out in numbers with Mac Brennan, who had recently been placed on the Bissell Pro Team, so my guess was they would be looking to make a statement. After my last experience I made my mind up that my race was to stay near the front the entire time, at all costs, so right out of the gate I got myself to the front. Being near the front made it an entirely different experience than what I went through in Milford, there were actually times when I found myself heading off of the front with small break/chase groups and there was not nearly as much fighting for position. That said, after getting a feel for what the pace was going to be like and expending energy with no gain, I realized pretty early that my only play was to survive until the end and then try to sprint it out, with a goal of finishing in the money. Despite an average speed of nearly 28mph, a two man break eventually formed off of the front just shy of the midway point of the 50 minute crit. With about 20 minutes to go I started to notice things getting really hard and seemed to be getting more noise/vibration from my rear wheel over the brick section and began to think maybe I had a flat, but it was only noticeable over the one section and I was not 100% sure it was flat. After two more times over the brick section and the handling of the bike starting to become difficult I convinced myself to stop, sure enough my rear tire had gone soft. I have never experienced a mechanical during a crit, only a crash, but for those who think it is a relaxing experience and a chance to rest up, your nuts!! It was stressful working with the guy to get my pit wheel, on and my brakes were not lining up correctly so in a rush I just opened them all of the way up, then getting launched back into a race that is moving at 28mph stinks. Despite all of this I somehow managed to get back in about the same spot I had left off, although the new rear wheel felt strange and I certainly could have used more rear brake. With 5 laps to go we had closed down the gap to the two man break to 20 seconds and I started to get the feeling that I may get to sprint it out for a win instead of third. Then the pace car ensured that we would get to sprint it out for 1st by taking out one of the guys in the lead group as he tried to go around one side of the pace car when it unexpectedly slowed. Coming into the last lap I knew that I had to fight to get myself as close to the front as possible, Rob Foshag came by me and I knew he was a good wheel to follow and about half way through the last lap I was right on it. Typical with all of my sprints this year things got nuts and I almost went down, losing a couple of spots leading into the last corner, but managed to sprint it out down the straight coming across the line in 8th!! Well into the money and I was able to check off the goal I set before the season started of finishing in the top 10 of a Pro/1/2 race!!
With the great result from the day prior I went into the road race feeling relaxed and like I actually belonged racing with the guys I was racing with. Make no mistake, with 86 miles of racing and over 6,000 feet of climbing I knew that it would be the hardest day I had ever had on the bike. The first 30 minutes of the race were insanely fast, fueled by constant attacks and two challenging climbs. The pace up the second climb of the day was all out, in an effort to stay towards the front my legs and lungs were on fire as we approached what seemed like the crest, and I was not sure how much longer I could hang on. Then to my horror we turned the corner and the hill just kept going, at that moment I was almost certain I was going to get dropped. I don’t really remember the pain and suffering, but I am sure it was intense. Somehow I crested the hill on the back of what was left of the main field. Of course sensing damage had been done, the aggressive pace continued and I suffered in agonizing pain for the next two or three minutes just hanging on the back. Finally a small two man break established, so the frantic pace on the flat ground seemingly let up a bit, or was at least smoother and easier to settle into. However, the third hill was a double tiered hill and nearly a repeat of the second hill, had it not been for a downhill section afterwards and the fact that there was basically a split in the field my race may have been over there. The last hill was a climb up to the start finish at the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain Ski Resort and based on appearance it seemed that it would be the most challenging; however, the feed was located on the hill, which neutralized things a bit making the most challenging part getting your bottle and then getting back on. One lap down, three more to go, except now I knew the course and where to conserve energy. The second lap was pretty easy going up the long first climb, a nice steady tempo in which everyone took the opportunity to take on some calories, but that didn’t last long as a couple others took the opportunity to try to make a move up to the break. Knowing the course, made the second lap somewhat easier, although your pace when racing on a hill is mostly dictated by the fastest guy, so it was still very much a battle to stay alive. As the race turned onto the third lap the field started to disappear from both ends, with three more guys going up the road, and a lot of people falling off of the back. The once 40 person main field now consisted of maybe 15 guys and 5 guys were up the road. At the start of the last lap, we got word that what had once been over a 3-minute advantage to the breakaway was now down to just over a minute and a half. Upon hearing that, what was left of the teams that did not have guys in the breakaway rolled to the front, but a chase was short lived as it seemed like everyone was exhausted and no one really wanted to do any work. Despite the main field’s reluctance to pull back the break we managed to pick up three of the five in the last 10 miles of the race, leaving only two off of the front. With the absence of the feed to neutralize things, I fully expected the final climb to be a battle, with a select group then fighting it out in the sprint about a half mile from the crest of the hill. To me this was fine, because it meant less thinking, all I had to do was have the legs and follow wheels, if I didn’t then I was pretty confident that I had enough to beat at least a few of the guys in our final group of now 18, to finish in the money. Surprisingly enough everyone seemed content with it going to a bunch sprint because the pace up the final climb was tolerable. I even debated making a move myself, but opted for the less painful route of waiting until the sprint. As it turns out I may have been better off attacking on the hill because despite having a decent position leading into the sprint, I began experiencing significant leg cramps in the lead out and it became an effort to just hang on to as many spots as I could in the sprint. In the end I crossed the line 13th in the field sprint, for a 15th place finish. Another great result for the weekend and in the money for the third race in a row!! While it may seem somewhat silly to get excited about getting a check for $30, at this point it is at least a realistic goal that I can set for myself. Hopefully with some hard work in the off-season my goals and expectations will change to the point where I can start making goals to finish on the podium.