I wasn’t sure what to make of my poor showing at the road race the day before. It was unexpected and my power numbers were as disappointing as my result. I was weighing my options for redemption: either put it all on the line in the crit or the TT. I thought I had a chance at a good result in either. In the end I decided to focus on the downtown criterium. The crowds are always good and my friend LG was rockin’ the mic and I knew he’d get everyone riled up.
Stage race criteriums are very strategic. In this race, the time gaps from the road race are pretty big. The four leaders put about 7 minutes into the next three guys, followed by eight riders a couple minutes further back. The road race finish is uphill, so individual riders in each finishing group are separated by a few seconds that could be gained in the criterium or time trial later that afternoon. The most competition would be at the front of the race, since the top four guys stand the most to gain in terms of glory and prize money for the overall.
Of the four leaders, there were two teammates from Juwi Slipstream (LeRoy Popowski and Ben Blaugrund) sitting in 2nd and 4th. Rory Kelly was leading and also had the most teammates in the race. I knew LeRoy would again want to put Ben in the break to put pressure on Rory, and Rory’s numerous teammates would be keen to shut down any dangerous moves.
The course is a classic downtown criterium. Mostly flat, and right along the old main street in Laramie. There are a lot of nice, old buildings and quaint shops, but most are closed on Sunday for the race. The course is relatively short with fair to marginal pavement. It is a four corner course except for a chicane on the back straight. It is just technical enough for a break to gain traction, especially with the complex tactics of the stage race. Often, racers lower on the overall are allowed to get away in a break.
This doesn’t mean it is easy. Other than the four racers in contention to win the overall, there were 26 guys back on the GC (General Classification / overall standings) that were itching for a shot at redemption, just like myself. From the start of the race it was obvious that they weren’t going to let just anyone get away.
Ben tried his hand in a few moves, but GS Boulder / The Trek Store team was all over him and he never made a move that gained any traction. The first half of the race saw constant attacking, but nobody stayed away for more than a lap. I was very active myself, going with a number of moves that didn’t pan out.
My wife and baby were on hand watching the race and taking pictures. To illustrate, here are some photos from the home straight with myself in breakway groups. Note how every group has a different composition, and almost all have a rider from GS Boulder (White-ish jerseys with black/blue shorts with maroon highlights)
I was working hard, putting down 361w Normalized Power for the first 20 minutes of the race. I was getting frustrated about being chased down for what I viewed as no reason. Yannick Eckmann alone chased me down on two occasions. He didn’t have any teammates in the race and wanted to be in a break of his own. I guess instead of attacking to bridge he would rather chase and re-shuffle the deck. GS Boulder was also very active in chasing me, even when the moves weren’t a threat to Rory.
Finally, Drew Christopher from Primal Racing – 1st Bank was able to get away alone. I was surprised the field let him go, as he was sitting 6th overall and at the front of a group of eight riders close on the GC. I put in a huge effort solo to chase, only to be brought back by GS Boulder yet again. As I was caught, the pace lulled and I asked the GS Boulder rider (Formerly at the front, but now second wheel just behind me on the front of the peloton) Why he had chased me!? I reminded him I wasn’t a threat to Rory and having riders down on the GC up the road would be beneficial since we would gather the time bonuses and further protect Rory’s lead.
Surprisingly, he said “OK. Go. I won’t chase you this time.” He still had the 29 riders behind him, but sometimes all it takes is for the lead rider to hesitate. The timing was also perfect, since we were on the last pair of corners at the bottom of the course. I leapt away into the corners and powered down the home straight with a light tailwind. A lap later I caught Drew and we had our move. We were the only breakaway to truly gain any traction all day. Perseverance paid off and after many attempts, I had my break.
Our lead was tenuous. 9 seconds. Then 15 seconds. A decent amount, but we could be quickly reeled in on the flat course if the field decided to change their minds. The $131 Crowd Prime was announced. I knew this was a key moment. If I signaled I was interested in racing for the money, we could easily lose our gap fighting over it. I knew Drew was tired and I hoped to simply ride too hard for him to come around me. This would give me a shot at the prime and also keep the field at bay. Drew came around me for the prime (that’s drafting for you), and the field pretty much gave up at that point. (As my wife told me after the race. It is hard to get a feel for how hard the pack is chasing, so when you’re in the break it always has to be full gas.)
I could tell Drew was tiring. It can be helpful to have a speedometer because you can keep tabs on speed on key sections of the course. I could see our speed dropping, especially when he was pulling into a headwind. We’d been at 25 mph, but now were down to 22-23. It was earlier than I wanted to go, but I felt I could go faster alone.
I’ll point out that I’ve been in this situation before. From analyzing data from a few two person breakaways, when the other rider starts to slow, it is usually worth waiting a little longer than you might think. Drew and I averaged 26.6 mph together, and I averaged 26.8 after I rode away with 10 minutes remaining. I’ve gone too early before and seen my average speed slow, despite feeling like I could go faster alone.
Luckily Drew was gassed and didn’t put up too much of a fight when I attacked in the same spot I had left the peloton. At three laps to go the wind really picked up and I was struggling to maintain my speed. Luckily the wind subsided and I was able to keep moving quickly. The peloton can easily make up 15 seconds in the final lap, so it is important to keep as much of a buffer as possible. If you’re an astute reader, you may recall that Drew and I were caught in the last corner after a 40 minute two man breakaway earlier this season.
There is nothing like the last few laps of a race when you’re in the lead. The crowd (and even marshals) have ever-increasing excitement and cheering as the laps count down. It wasn’t until the final trip down the home stretch that I was sure I’d made it. I put my arms up and savored the victory as the crowd cheered the last block to the finish.
I learned a valuable lesson about winning a race: Keep celebrating to the line! Most of the crowd was gathered in the last block to the finish, and I spent my time celebrating well before the line. It turns out photographers like to snap their photo right at the finish line, so at the moment I don’t have a proper photo of me winning.
It was a perfect redemption after the dismal road race. My power numbers were exactly what I would expect at 346w NP for 50 minutes. It would prove to be a hit or miss weekend, however. I’ll give the details of the TT in tomorrow’s post.