Monday, May 19, 2008

Mining fer Coal

This Sunday was my second try at the Coal Miner's Classic in Louisville, my home town. I had ridden the Classic last year as my first race of the season and first ever crit/circuit race. Last year I got dropped from the main pack half-way through and hung on as the main field came around on the final lap.

So this year would be different I told myself. I've already had a handful of races this year and the weather was perfect. I live in Louisville, so I had the bonus of just riding my bike over to the race course. I got to the starting area just in time to watch Kevin and the rest of the 35+ masters hit the course, an hour before us 35+/4s were scheduled to roll out.

The new 1+ mile course was semi-technical with a long 1/4 mile straight section on the start/finish line, followed by multiple turns, right-right-left-right-right-left-right-right. The 2 left turns were curved and allowed maximum speed, however the right hand turn immediately after the 2nd left narrowed to a single lane and looked like it would slow down the pack. If I had to guess, this would be a good place to make a break if you had the legs because the pack would get too slowed and strung out for a good chase.

Kevin and the near 100 rider 35+ field rolled out at 10:30am and quickly were up to race pace. As road team captain, Kevin practices what he preaches and was riding up front all the time. I also saw Steve Capstick hanging tough with the 35+ elite riders. I expected Steve to join with us 35+/4s, but I'm guessing he signed up the same day, and our race was full, so they gave him the option to cough up a lung with the masters instead. The 35+ masters had a few breakaway attempts, but nothing seemed to stick. As their race came down to a bunch sprint, I saw Kevin in the middle of the bunch toughing it out. It was a fast race.

Next up at noon was us 35+/4s. I first ran into Mike 'DoubleTrouble' Dancel. Mike drove up from the Springs, and like at Tokyo Joe's, he raced with the 4's in the morning, and decided a second helping was in order, so he rode again with us 35+/4s. I also saw Bryan Harwood, BillT, Brad, KevinG, Brian Moroney, DaveT and Horatio. We chatted a bit before the race to decide if anyone was 'feeling it' in their legs. Ho says he raced Saturday the day before and got 6th in Wheels of Thunder. Way to go, Ho! Since Ho seems to be on such good form lately, I suggested we ride for Ho and try to lead him out, but he told us he didn't think his legs had it in them. Instead we decided to play it by ear.

Blue Sky had a real good turnout for this field. We had 9 riders of a field estimated around 90-100 deep. We had a bit of a delay in the 11:50 start, so BryanH killed time by chatting with race announcer Dave Towles. I think I heard Bryan asking Dave 'What are the chances a Blue Sky rider would win this heat?'. Dave asked back, 'What do you mean like odds, overs and unders'. Before you know it, Dave got back on the microphone and yells out, 'The Blue Sky team just told me they're guaranteeing a win in this race!'. Classic.

Not much later, the pre-race nervousness and wait is over and we're underway. The first couple turns got going up to speed and we were heading into the somewhat technical right-left-right turn with only a single lane on the right turn. Tensions mounted as the riders got nervous due to the tight squeeze. Riders we're yelling the typical 'watch yer line', but before long, the massive field made it through OK.

With another right hand turn we were back on the main long straight section heading north and slightly uphill. A couple riders dangled off the front briefly for the first few laps, but nothing serious was happening. Then after the 3rd of 4th lap, a small pileup happened coming around the right-hand bend of the straight section. The crash went down 20ft in front of me and I had plenty of time to swerve left around the mayhem. After I realized I made it, my next thought was I hope none of my teammates went down in that mess. Later did I realize KevinG was an unfortunate victim as I saw him heading the other way riding on the sidewalk, but he looked OK as far as I could tell.

As the pack regrouped, I noticed that Ho had made it to the front and those guys were making good time. Not much later, Ho and 4 others riders went off the front and made a clean break. Following KevinA's team strategy advice, I quickly moved to the front and did my best to soft pedal and block for Ho and the break. I saw Bryan take a turn at the front doing the same. The break lasted for 2 or 3 laps before being absorbed back into the mob.

With the group back together, I realized I had no idea how much time was left in the race. As we came around that main straight section, I could hear/see Kevin yelling '3 laps to go. Position, Position. Get to the front.' Yoiks. I was sitting somewhere in the middle so I made an effort to be up front after the next couple of turns and it wasn't too hard. A few other Blue Sky guys did the same and I could see Ho, Mike, and Bryan withing spitting distance.

With 2 laps to go Mike took a dig around the technical right turn before the turn onto the long straight. I guessed he was trying to make a break, so I tried to get to the front to block, but the peloton decided no break was going to go that early, and he was sucked back into the fold.

We came around for the final lap and everyone started moving up and jostling for final position. I did my best to jump from wheels to get inside the top ten before the last technical section. The lead guy from BPN started looking back nervously for a break and he was right to be scared. On that 2nd curved left hand turn, a Tokyo Joe's rider shot wide around the right and was the first into the technical right turn. Ho was one of the first to react and he tried to chase down this break. The Tokyo Joe's rider's lead was holding and everyone kicked it into high gear.

As the front of the peloton turned into the final straight, I saw that same BPN rider, Ho and a few others up front with me around 7th or 8th. I rode up alongside Ho and I think he saw me. "Hey! Ho! Let's Go!, Hey! Ho! Let's Go!" With the Tokyo Joe guy all but gone, the pace picked up for the final sprint. I had not overly exerted myself much during the race, and I felt like the others were tired, so I decided to give it all I had with 200m to go. I didn't look back and just gave it 111%.

The Tokyo Joe's rider held off the bunch sprint and took first. I was riding neck to neck with the other riders up until the final 10-20m when Ho and some other riders passed me going into the line. I find out after the race that Ho got on my wheel and sprinted up to 5th place! I rolled through in 13th. Bryan got 17th.

A bunch of us got together with KevinA to do some post-race analysis. I don't think we can really complain with the overall results, but in hindsight we had enough strong riders that we probably could have done even better with a little planning and maybe a 3 man lead-out. For myself, I was happy to be in the thick of the final sprint and learned that I am no Boonen. Ho did tell me later that I gave him a great lead-out. I'm glad it all worked out. Good times!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great racing Eric. Its awesome to see so many Blue Sky Velo cat 4's at the races and not just showing up but "in the thick of it"!