I decided to do this race at the last minute. I would have gone to Tri-Peaks if I had the resources, but I’m really glad I stayed in Texas for this venue; it was a terrific event, and my first win in a P12 stage race.
Stage 1 – Palo Pinto Road Race
The previous Thursday, I tested my legs at the Austin PURE weekly crit by town lake. Though I didn’t get a real result, I knew I was fit enough to sustain an aggressive pace without blowing myself. So that’s what I did at the first stage of TBi’s Mineral Wells Stage race. From the start, I found myself in a 4-up break, sharing the work with Ethan Frost. Last year, I almost finished the race in a 4-up break that lasted for about 80 miles, so I figured it would be worth another attempt. We gained time on the pack until we hit a section of the course with a pretty strong headwind. I started the race in a hurry and had forgotten to put on my gloves, so I sat up for a moment to put them on. The others in the break saw me falling back and thought I’d given up, so they coasted back to the field. Confused about the whole situation, I just kept going, trying to stay away from the pack. Though the headwind was strong, and I was loosing time on the pack at this point, I decided to make an attempt for the Climber of the Year points awarded at the top of Cherry Pie Hill. Cherry Pie hill is a 1 mile climb at about 5 percent, probably the most noteworthy climb of the race.
After a left turn, I found myself in a cross-tailwind… usually the best type of wind for a solo break. I took note of a sign on the road as I passed it and timed the pack to see how long it took them to reach it — 20 seconds. I made a deal with myself: if I lost time the next time I measured, I would sit up and get caught, otherwise I would hold on to my break. At the next informal checkpoint i timed 40 seconds. Sweet! I kept my pace pace. As the moto-ref rolled by, I asked him how far until Cherry Pie hill. “About 3 or 4 miles” he said. It looked like I was going to make it. About a mile before the start of the climb, I felt my rear wheel sliding on the ground… the tire was flat! I waved down the lead car, got a wheel change and noticed he put on a 10 speed wheel on my 9 speed equipment. “I said 9 speed dude!” I yelled at the wheelman. We got it all sorted out and I was riding again just as the pack started to come into view. I rode as fast as I could up Cherry Pie hill and saw Robbie Robinette and Brett (Crozzy) Crosby flying up after me. I had to sprint to cross the line first, but I did, and that’s all I cared about at the moment. The hill split up the pack and I found myself in another short-lived break. We got caught just before the first feed zone where I grabbed a much-needed feed from the ever-present Courtney… thanks!.
After a small lull in the pace, people started attacking, with no real breaks coming to fruition. Just as things settled down, I attacked hard and found myself pretty far up the road. Three others bridged and we soon had a sustainable lead on the pack. Though the pack was out of sight as we turned onto the same head-windy section as before, we were soon caught by the main group. The whole while after changing my wheel, I noticed something popping every few pedal strokes and I assumed there was something wrong with the replacement wheel I was riding. The pack was moving slow through the headwind as there was no-one up the road to chase, so I took advantage of the situation and stopped to change my wheel again. The change took longer than I would have liked and I found myself chasing for about five minutes to catch back on to the still dormant pack. Everybody played it fairly calmly after we turned onto the 27 mile loop through Lakeview Drive. This was an undulating hilly section with some great scenic views of the nearby lake. As we got back onto the flatter roads, the pace picked up a bit, and I found myself in another short-lived break. As the pack approached, John Korioth (Team Lucky Lounge) shouted “excuse me, coming through.” as he plowed right through us to launch a solo break effort. He was just doing his own thing hammering up the road, and didn’t seem to mind a bit that no-one was going to com eup there and work with him. I found this a little more intimidating than most of the pack, and soon found myself in a 2-man pursuit of John as he ascended one of the last climbs of the day. We caught him after the climb and worked together for a while, eventually getting caught on the penultimate stretch of road… the one with a cross tailwind. Sometimes the wind just isn’t enough to keep away a hard chasing pack.
With 15 miles before the finish, people were getting nervous. Max Miley attacked and seemed to be holding his own. I heard someone in the pack say “If you don’t get him now, this is the last you’ll see of him”. I took the advice and made a bridge effort with Bill Short and someone else. We worked together and caught him. I looked back and the pack seemed to be fading. We dropped a guy after a few miles and the three of us switched into “do or die” mode. Just before Cherry Pie Hill, I noticed a white line on the road and joked “was that the finish line?”. Bill responded “no, that’s the start line for the real race”. Very true. A win would be nice, but in a stage race, putting as much time on the pack is usually more important. So I kept it smooth. I announced “I’m not going to attack until halfway up cherry pie hill” in an effort to keep things as smooth and calm as possible. I was feeling a little tired coming to the base of the hill, but knew that our break had a strong chance of staying away, as the finish was only five miles away. At this point, all I wanted to do was put time on the pack. I got to the front and set my own pace for the climb. At the top of the hill, I looked back and only Bill was left. I shifted into a higher gear and accelerated a bit to try and drop him, but it didn’t work. I wasn’t going to wear myself out trying to drop him, but I was still thinking a solo win would be nice, as I knew he could take me, or just about anyone in a sprint. Once the road flattened out, I picked up the pace a little more. I looked back and asked Bill: “are you going to pull or let me have the win?” all I heard was “no comment”. It didn’t matter that much, so I just kept pulling, trying to keep the lead as large as possible. With about 50 meters to go, he came around my left and took the win for the day. Max came in 10 seconds behind, followed by a chase group 35 seconds behind. Crosby won the field sprint about a minute behind us.
Stage 2: 7.3 Mile Time Trial
Time bonuses for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd places in the road race were awarded 15, 12, and 9 seconds respectively, putting a 3 second gap between Short and me. I knew Bill was a time-trialing machine, so I couldn’t expect to distinguish myself in this stage. On the 7.3 mile course, he pulled a time of 15:29 while I placed immediately behind him with a 15:30. We were still going head to head, and it became apparent that there would be a lot of racing during Sunday’s third and final criterium stage.
Stage 3: Mineral Wells Criterium
Teammate Eric Warnsman and I discussed our strategy on the start line, and decided that it’d be best if I played a very conservative game, and stayed as close to Bill Short as possible. We also discussed other possible threats to G.C, such as Crosby and Miley. The race awarded three time bonus primes three places deep during the course of the crit, and I knew that if it came to a pack finish, Bill would be capable of putting at least a minute on me on time bonuses alone.
From the gun, Short launched an attack that stuck several laps. Eric was a big help in chasing Bill down, and we soon had the situation under control. From then on, I was going to try and do everything I could to keep G.C. in check. I would somehow have to separate myself by a good margin from the current G.C. by the end of the race; to me, This was the only way I could win. Bill claimed the first time bonus prime and I started to worry as I now had 46 seconds to make up.
For the first half of the race, whenever I wasn’t behind Short, he was behind me, countering everything I did. One time when I was behind him, I noticed he settled into a pretty regular rhythm of looking over his left shoulder every five seconds or so. The curb was immediately to his right, but there was just enough room for a sneaky attacker to get by. The next time he looked back, I counted down from five, then, just as he started to turn his head, I attacked with everything I had. It was quite exhilarating. Although I didn’t stay away for long, the effort was not in vain because Short ended up doing most of the work to catch me over the next quarter lap. The bell rang to signal another time bonus prime. I asked Robbie Robinette if he wanted a lead-out for the prime. I likely had no chance for the prime, I would rather Robbie or someone farther down on the GC take it than Short. So I led him Robbie out for the next half lap as hard as I could, trying to prevent anyone from getting a jump on the field. Riders eventually came around, and I saw Robbie take 5th, Short take 4th, and Crosby take 1st. I started to worry about Crosby, as he was now making up time. With his bonus, he was now in 2nd or 3rd place in the G.C. (it’s a little hard to add times when you’re taking corners at 25 miles per hour.) From here on, I noticed Short staring to fade; he wasn’t on my wheel as much, and I began to wonder if he knew I was going to start fading as well, maybe he wasn’t worried about me anymore since I hadn’t gotten away after attacking all race. So I slowed up too and began playing a milder game.
A few laps later, I was on the right side of the road and heard some indistinct yelling to my left. I thought I was still in the pack, but somehow I was actually on the opposite side of the road with Jason Davis from the Plano cycling team. Barry Lee and a Lucky Lounge rider were about a minute up on the pack at this point, With my lateral separation from the pack, and the pack fighting amongst itself, now seemed like a perfect time to bridge. So I attacked hard and brought the Jason with me. After half a lap of pulling, I gave the signal to pull and got “it’s all you now, I’m not going to do any work” in response. I asked “Why? Do you have any teammates up the road?” Then he said “aww [BLEEP] it!” and began to work with me. Though confused, I didn’t question his psychological tactics.
It took us about five laps to catch Barry’s break. It would have taken us longer, or forever, if they hadn’t let up after we came within 30 seconds of them. Barry had a radio was signaled that Crosby was chasing us down and making good time. Then came 5 laps to go… and the final time bonus sprint. I took third, giving me a much needed 10 second bonus. Crosby stopped making time on us and was holding steady at 30 seconds back.
On the final turn of the final lap, we were all getting a little antsy, and Barry and the Plano Cycling guy rubbed wheels and wiped out in the corner This slowed the Lucky Lounge rider considerably, but I had been fortunate enough to be at the front and avoid the mess. Though it felt bad to see this happen, I knew what I had to do, and rode as hard as I could to keep away from the chasing Lucky Lounge rider.
As I crossed the line, I gave my first ever P12 victory salute. I won the stage, and with my separation from Crosby and Short, I won the race. I looked back, and saw Barry and Plano Cycling both finishing before the pack, and I felt better to know they were okay. Witnessing the crash that determined the race made for a bittersweet stage win at most, but it was still sweet.
At the end of the day, Crosby made it into second place overall, followed by Jason Davis, then Barry Lee. Bill Short finished in what was left of the pack and placed 5th in the G.C. I haven’t seen the timed results yet, but I think I had a 1.5 minute advantage over 2nd place in the end.
Many thanks to Northwest Cycling Club for their Sponsorship; Courtney, the best feeder I’ve ever had; Jim Rose for letting me race on his front wheel, driving me everywhere, taking a speeding ticket for me, and proxy-registering me with one minute to spare; Stephen McMillan for taking some brilliant pictures, transportation, moral support; Susan and Don McMillan for letting me stay in their house and eat their food; and Mike Nelson for letting me borrow all his awesome aero time trial equipment.
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