Bannock is one of the three big Colorado Criteriums. It is a classic downtown crit with a figure eight course featuring two long straights and a small hill. It is fast enough to be semi-technical but overall is the least technical of the big three. Sprint finishes are common, but the course is just hard enough to force a selection in some cases.
There were a few things working against me in this race. First, I have been back on the training wagon and had put in six hours earlier in the week. I know this is not much, but it is an increase from the past few months as I’m looking to boost my fitness for cyclocross. Secondly, my pre-race routine had gone out the window for the day. I was talked into working the Boulder 70.3 Ironman, and had been told I would be working 5am-1pm. It turned out that it was looking to run much closer to 5pm, but I was able to duck out at 3 o’clock, just in time to arrive at the race with minimum time (about 40 minutes prior to start).
I also didn’t get my standard pre-race meal and had to make due with three pieces of cold sausage pizza I got my hands on while working the race earlier. I also had to work pretty hard to stay hydrated with the 90+ degree temps. Downtown the temperature was at 99 degrees when I arrived at the course.
I had a bit of a panic when I realized a huge mistake: I had removed my bottle cages in an attempt to look PRO for the Lookout Hillclimb, but had not replaced them. I could have gotten away with jersey pockets, but I had only brought my skinsuit. Luckily the Bicycle Doctor shop is a block off the course and were kind enough to lend me a pair of cheapo cages for the race. It was a very kind thing for them to do for me. I can’t thank them enough!
I only warmed up by riding around the sidewalks on the course and to get my bottle cages, followed by five minutes of spinning on a closed section of street, and a half lap of the course. I think it can be counter productive to warm up for too long, especially on a stationary trainer when the temperature is very high, unless great care is taken for cooling (ice vest, a cool breeze, plenty of cool drinks/water).
I will admit I wasn’t warmed up enough to match my teammate, Jon Tarkington’s attack off the line. There was a moment when I had the position and opportunity to bridge, but I decided against it as I was too tired, only a 1/4 lap into the race. Our gameplan was to ‘keep throwing things at the wall until something stuck’, ideally with teammates in the move so one could be protected. A Horizon/Panache rider bridged to Jon and they were off the front for about 20 minutes.
Our team set about protecting the move and shutting down bridge or chase attempts. With eight riders from my Natural Grocers Cycling Team, we had a lot of firepower for this race. The race was pretty easy to control and the pace was manageable. Unfortunately, Jon flatted and the lone rider was quickly brought back; we were back at square one.
Jon countered his own attack and was again off the front for a short while until bridge attempts eventually brought everything back together. About 40 minutes into the 75 minute race I put in a good move at the start of a preme lap. Drew Christopher (Team Rio Grand) and one other rider (Keith Harper, I think, but I don’t really remember) came with me. Apparently Drew was really excited about the preme and stopped working, and then sprinted ahead towards the line. After my chasing and his sprinting, we had lost our rhythm and become fatigued. We were caught soon after.
I set about the next part of the race conserving. I had a diaphragm cramp and was starting to feel the effects of the heat. I usually don’t do terribly well when it is hot out, although this has improved somewhat since I’ve been riding in the mid-day heat more often. Around this time a large group of about ten riders got away. I was a little further back and could see we had at least one rider in the group but the odds didn’t seem good for us.
I continued to sit, hoping the group would be too big to organize. Larger breakaways have to be very motivated to work together. Often it is too complicated to organize and riders quickly become jealous of those who appear to be doing less work. In an effort to slow and force the ‘slackers’ to work, the large breakaway often defeats itself. This large group was no exception and they were also brought back.
I was feeling pretty tired and had been following wheels for a while. On more than a few occasions the field was single file and I was staring at the wheel in front of me down the straightaways just hoping to hang on and keep it tight. On a bad day I may find this happening every lap (or more) and letting other riders come around, but this day I was managing, but still tired.
I was about tenth wheel as we came through the start/finish, again single file. There was no break up the road and the telltale lull in the pace was starting. I knew it was an opportunity to attack, but I was tired and decided against it. But then I changed my mind and went anyway, diving into the first corner. I push hard through the single block to the second corner and widened my line as much as possible to pedal through at 30+ mph. When I hit the back straight I looked back and saw a good gap with a few chasers coming across.
Eventually three made contact: Colby Pearce (sound familiar? I’ve been in two successful moves this season with him) from Horizon/Panache, Keith Harper (sound familiar? I’ve been in two successful breakaways with him also) from Juwi Solar, and Yannick Eckmann (Junior phenom cyclocrosser). Yannick bridged across and was cooked, but everyone else was ready to work.
Of course, our team affiliations were important. We represented three of the major teams in the race. There were a few other strong riders, and a couple other teams with decent numbers left in the peloton, but by and large the major players were happy. We worked very hard, as there were only five laps to go. The gap quickly ballooned until I could no longer see the peloton behind us down the 1/4 mile straight.
As we started the final lap, we knew we had some room to maneuver. Keith is very strong and aggressive, and has outclassed me all season. So has Colby, so I knew I would have to be lucky or smart. Keith made it clear he was done at the front. Yannick was polite enough to take a turn or two, and so was I. Three corners to go, I saw my opportunity. Yannick was leading and I was second wheel. I came around him gently and the other riders let him back in behind me. The order was Me, Yannick, (these I’m sure of), and then Keith and finally Colby.
Between the penultimate and final corner is the only uphill on the course. Every rider has to work to climb the hill equally so the benefit of drafting is minimized. It is 300m from the final corner to the finish.
I jumped from the front and dove into the penultimate corner, and the kept going as hard as I could up the hill. I knew Yannick was tired an unable to respond, and hoped he would block the other two around the corner, giving me space to extend my lead up the hill. It worked perfectly and I came around the first corner with a bit of a gap, Yannick dropped, and Colby and Keith under pressure. Unfortunately the gap wasn’t big enough and they both came by me with about 150m to the finish.
I am pretty sure I raced Bannock back in 2001 as a Cat 3 during my college career, finishing 5th in a pack sprint. My family and I have attended the last three years running, as it is one of our favorite races. Last year I was happy to have finished 25th, and couldn’t have imagined I would be able to finish on the podium only a year later.