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Wheels of Thunder Race Report
I can’t recall why I didn’t do Wheels of Thunder last year. I honestly don’t remember. But, with a large showing from my team (Giant Cycling World) and in close proximity to my house, I figured this would be a great race to do. All week leading up to the race the weather was beautiful and I was able to get in some good training. My legs had been feeling fresh at the Meridian group ride both Tuesday and Thursday night. Normally, I only go to Meridian on Tuesday nights and then train solo for the remainder of the week. Since the forecast called for showers all weekend I decided my best chances at getting in two solid rides would be at Meridian in case I couldn’t race. I took Friday completely off since it was raining intermittently. I also had a lot of planning and/or things to do for our Wedding. Yep that’s right I’m getting married on June 30th to the love of my life Maija. Our plans have been coming along nicely but as you may know (if you are married) the last month or two are quite stressful.
I slept it in late Saturday morning and woke up around 9:00. Usually I’m up when the sun is rising but Saturday morning called for some extra rest. My race was not until 1:00 and with a short drive to the course I took my time getting ready. Coming from a Military background, I usually have everything I need for race day laid out the night before, or if I’m feeling advantageous it’s already packed in the car. It drives Maija a little crazy when it comes to my organizational skills but I find it to be a positive trait! Driving over to the race I looked out at the cloudy skies and in some respects was waiting for it to start raining. It was cold too as the car temperature gauge read 46 degrees. I routinely get my number, head to the bathroom, and start getting my race clothes on. More of my military past starts creeping up as I hear a small voice saying “Hurry up and wait!”.
Mickey my Border Collie mix telling me to go back to bed.
Around 11:50 I started to warm up on the trainer. Right when I clipped in the sun started popping out and this shed new light on a gloomy late morning. In my last few race reports I was complaining about not getting in enough of a warm up. This was not the case today. I finally got in the hour long warm up I’ve been yearning for. Around 50 minutes I ate a PowerBar gel (with caffeine) and made the few last preparations before the whistle blew. I had not read over the flyer in detail so when the announcer told our field there would be seven $100 primes I was quite surprised. There are only a handful of races I have been to with these type of purses. A few other races with good money come to mind; Tour of Somerville and Chris Thater Criterium (NRC Race in NY), Many riders in the 1/2′s (I assume) are working part time jobs, making enough money to support themselves so they can get a professional contract. I’m in no way trying to insult all the full-time workers and family men in the field who race the Pro 1/2′s. I actually commend their hard work and willingness to race often against many young riders. Anyway, I knew a lot of people would be going for the cash and it would make an overall fast race. The attacks were plentiful in the first 30 minutes of the race. This was also the first time I looked down at my computer. I tend not to check the time or laps left left when passing the start/finish until the latter part of the race. I’d rather be focusing on my position. Around 30 minutes in I had a good feeling this would be a field sprint. I was definitely looking forward to a field sprint and have actually been surprised how many Criteriums on the front range finish in breakaways. Maybe it has to do with rider mentality, fitness, or geographical location. 75-85% of the time on the Northeast Criteriums end in a field sprint. When I first started racing bicycles I feared a bunch sprint. I was coming from a running background and at 130 pounds my sprint was mediocre at best. During the next 3 years I have gained about 8-9 pounds and have spent countless hours working on my sprinting abilities and tactics so I could increase my chances during field sprints.
I tend to compare and contrast New York metro bicycle racing to Colorado front range racing a lot. I think it’s important for riders on the front range to understand the differences in rider mentality, intensity, and stereotypical race cues such as field sprints, breaks, and group splits. Colorado has a smaller group of 1/2 riders who aren’t as vocal during races. The one interesting characteristic about front range riders is their workhorse mentality. I feel a lot of riders are willing to work and sacrifice for the greater good of their teammates. During many races here in Colorado, everyone seems to ‘go-to-work’ when the whistle blows. Race tactics are also different here on the front range. Teammates work hard at getting 1-2 riders in a break while opening up gaps and blocking at the front. I particularly don’t care for such tactics. I rarely see team lead-outs even when teams have 3-4-5-6 riders in the race. So far, I don’t think I’ve seen one single lead-out train. This is not the case in NYC. NYC tends to have teams which will work hard at keeping the field together so their sprinter can have the glory rather than risk a breakaway being caught. No tactics is better than another and all depends on the race course. In the end it’s just different.
I went off on a rant here…
After the first 30 minutes of the 60 minute race, a couple of riders would get off the front but were brought back quickly from a fast moving peleton. The course was more of a circuit than a criterium with only 1-2 slow spots when making left-hand turns. After the first lefthand turn there was a short uphill which didn’t take more than a minute or two. I maintained a good position in the top 20 almost every time going up this hill. Although during one lap I wasn’t paying attention and ran over an orange cone. A few times I would look back and see a short split in the field of riders. I kept crossing my fingers there would be a split but it always came back together.
With 5 laps to go I was getting myself into position for the field sprint. I was 100% focused on where I sat, who’s wheel I was drafting, and so forth. Just waiting for the last 300 meters to unleash. I’m a bit spoiled at Meridian when it comes to the last lap and sprint finish. I usually have a bunch of teammates from other categories who will give me a nice lead-out. Not having any teammates for a lead-out makes you work slightly harder when sprinting as you have to work your way through the field to keep a good position. Meridian is also the place where I have posted some of my highest sprinting power numbers. My sprint is always over 1,100 at Meridian and just this past week I hit 1280. Not bad for a 135 pound guy! My legs felt good with two laps to go and I was getting excited. I was sitting around 13th position watching us catch a few riders who had gapped the field.
On the last lap the pace was red hot and we were flying down the backstretch of the course. I was sitting about 10th or 11th position. Right where I wanted to be. There were a few guys up the road in a small group but at the speed we were going, it was almost certain we would catch them. I came out of the last turn in the same position and we made our way down the final stretch. This included a small hill before it flattened out for the finish. At the crest of the hill I was getting ready to thrown down all my cards for the sprint when a rider next to me fell hard on the pavement. I’m not exactly sure what happened but it looked like he hit the crack in the middle of the road. As he fell I flailed hard to my right and lost the riders wheel in front of me. Now I’m in a headwind with no wheel to draft off of and I had stopped pedaling so I could swerve hard and not be taken down. I lost all my momentum. In a split second I gained my composure and drove hard to the line. As I was towards the end of my sprint I could already see the winner throwing his hands up in the air. Events happen so fast in a bicycle race. I felt a bit cheated and I was frustrated given the situation and how my legs felt. My max sprint was only 940 watts which tells me I was nowhere near full sprint mode. I picked off two or three riders near the line and came in 15th place. Ironically I was 15th last week at Deer Trail. I will be looking forward to next week’s Criterium where I can once again try out my sprinting legs. Thanks to the Steve Pye for suuport from Giant Cycling world and to Jody Grigg for the amazing pictures. If you have some time please check out Jody’s website and contact him if you have any photography needs.