Monday, September 8, 2008

SEASON IS OVER, back to school for one last year :-(

Well, it's official: no more big races for me in 2009. I have one last race, the ING Criterium in DC, in two weeks and the team and I will be gunning for the $10,000 top prize out of a substantial $50k+ purse.

I ended on a very strong note with a good ride in the USPRO RR, making it to the final ascent of Paris Mountain in the lead group that was whittled down to less than 50 guys. Tony Cruz had a gnarly crash on the run-up to the climb, and I was gapped off a little, but the legs were basically toast after 100 super-fast miles in heat and humidity.

Then we hoped into the van after packing up and drove straight down to Atlanta to try and find some semblance of rest before a 7AM (!!!) start for the Atlanta 100k Classic circuit race. Daniel had told us that, from experience, you just don't get any rest after the USPRO RR and have to suck wheel for the first half the the 100k, which starts in darkness it is so early. However, the race is perfectly suited to tail-gunning and is basically 2.5 hours of motorpacing. Stoop made it into an excellent move of four at and was off the front for the final two laps (each lap was roughly eight kilometers). The move ended up lasting and winning, just barely ahead of the charging field in the downhill, 50mph sprint (NOT exaggerating!), but Stoop made a tactical error and was dropped from the break just a few hundred meters before the line. He was very frustrated, but he also made it into the winning move and just made an error during crunch time--it was very cool that he made the move to put himself in position for the win. I on the other hand was boxed in a little after getting a late jump on the sprint and came in with my brakes on for a random 26th place.

After a day back in Winston-Salem to pack up all of my belongings, Daniel and I headed up to Richmond for a great easy ride (Stoop has the best "tourist rides" I have ever been on!) and then pushed further northward to Philly to stay at some host housing for the Univest Grand Prix weekend, just a couple days ago. By the way, Mark and Gwen Cukierski as well as Jim and Pat Gill are some of the best hosts we have ever had the pleasure of staying with! They cooked two excellent dinners for us, and it made us feel like stars as well as comfortable and at home.

Daniel and I had been watching the weather all week, and for the first time ever, they had predicted it perfectly over five days out! This was quite unfortunate: essentially a downgraded hurricane dumped rain onto us as we traversed narrow, undulating Pennsylvania roads doing upwards of 30mph for much of the first hour.

We were present at the front to stay safe, but also not driving any breaks, just following. Usually an early break goes and then is reeled back in before final finishing circuits in the town of Souderton, PA. However, due in large part to the atrocious weather, the race basically blew apart with every man for himself, riding as hard as he could, and forming splintered groups that would become even more fractured after each nasty crash. I found myself cross-eyed moving up over the first King of the Mountain sprint, and I bridged a considerable gap up to the lead group of just 20 riders with Daniel and Tom Soladay in the group right behind. That ended up being the winning move. Yay!! But then . . .

. . . my chainring bolts came loose and disappeared, causing my chain to fall off on the 25% monster of a second KOM. Bye-bye, winning break. Stoop was a great teammate to stop and see what was wrong, but I was so cross-eyed and frustrated that I just screamed at him to keep going. Then I got in the car with Erik and pouted for a while before wanting to apologize to Stoop as well as kick myself in the behind for getting down on myself--after all, I made it into the winning move!

After Daniel flatted and the rest of the guys were dropped, we were determined to find redemption the next day. The Doylestown Criterium is a 50 mile, 1.5 mile/lap affair that is entirely on the side of a large hill--therefore, all the way up, all the way down, each lap. It is a lot like Downer's Grove in that respect, but it is a much harder race and often splinters in the end. The German, Swedish, Dutch, Italian, and Mexican teams also make it a very fast, challenging race. Luckily we had beautiful weather and an excellent crowd, and the guys and I were all feeling really fast and opened up after our previous day's nightmare.

The last ten laps were given an indelible Time Pro Cycling stamp . . . we owned it! Because we didn't have a top sprinter like Yuri Metlushenko to work for, it was up to us to make a late-race break stick. We came oh-so-close, but no cigar, and Stoop and I came in for 17th and 13th in a terribly hard uphill sprint. Check out the excellent television coverage of the race with Craig Hummer, the new announcer for the Tour on Versus, providing some decent commentary. If you want to see the exciting part, wait for the whole video to download (just pause it and go do something else for ten minutes) and then move the position-slider-dot-thing to directly above the right corner of the "G" in "BLING*BOX" (in other words, get to about 12 laps to go in the race). Daniel and Tom put in an excellent move with just a few laps remaining after Stoop was off the front and attacking for much of the second half of the race. Then Stoop and I blocked a bit, the gap grew to almost ten seconds, and then I was second or third wheel for the final few laps before getting swarmed a bit in the hectic final two laps and coming in for 13th.

I spent the rest of Sunday moving in my stuff to school (I have a SWEET single in 1903 looking over a courtyard, and I am just 100 feet from our bike room in the gym, food at our campus center, and The Street with Cap and the E-Quad in sight!). Then I had dinner with my great-aunt and uncle, my surrogate grandparents, before going out to the Cap and Gown Club to celebrate the end to a long, hard, eye-opening, and somewhat successful season!

Thanks for reading, I will keep you updated with my plans for the coming year . . . many life decisions are on the way . . .

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