Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Raccoon Eyes and an Airline Pilot

Tuesday afternoon I get a phone call from the one and only Bill Marshall. The Mercy Elite Cycling Team was a rider short and I was on the short list of guys who might be able to fill in. All I had to do was get to KC and jump in the car on Wednesday evening. 24 hours later I was in the Honda and heading back to Arkansas to do another 4 day stage race: The Tour of Arkansas. This time on a different team. This would make 8 days of racing out of 11. Time to get “fit.”

The Team, and Crew.

Me chilling out before stage 1. Note the TEAM VAN!

Bill Marshall everyone, Bill Marshall.

Stephan Rothe, Alex Welch, Bill Marshall, Kolt Bates (Devo rider who earned his stripes this week- if you ask me), David Sojo (The Spaniard) with a guest appearance by Adam Mills.

The Mercy Devo Squad was represented by: Scott Barnes, Justin Jackson, Brooks Branhan.

Brice Jones (Team Director), Rob Engels (soigner- sp?), Catherine Walker (not sure what designation she gets, but this girl kicks ASS!).

For anyone who has never had a Team Director on a radio in a race, it's a definite luxury. Someone to call out the turns, tell you time splits, etc. Brice is one of the best I've ever had the luxury to work with. And on the radio he's never anxious or irritated. In fact he sounds like an airline pilot! The first time I heard him, I thought, "should I fasten my seatbelt? What's our cruising altitude?"

Stage One. Saw- teeth and Tricycles.

10, 592 feet of climbing over 110 miles in the Boston Mountains. We rode through the Ozark National Forrest. The only flat parts of the race were the first 14 miles of Neutral and the last 6 miles of run in to the finish. Everything else was….. up or down. But mostly up.

Mile 0.50. Bill Marshall has a mechanical which requires him to change bikes. The neutral support gives him a bike that’s a size or two too small, with a seat that’s too low. Basically, he felt like he was riding a Big Wheel.

However, it was better than the alternative, which was to go sit in the car for 4 days. Just a reminder that your bike is the best bike you can ride, because it’s yours.

Back to the race. There were three big climbs that could split the peloton, then it rolled, and rolled and rolled. Side note: Rollers in the Boston Mountains are anything under 2k long. If they’re steep, they get a different name. I made it up the first two climbs okay. Usually, I’d be on the back of the front group. Good timing and good tactics to start in the front and end in the back of the front group. On the third climb, I wasn’t as far in the front as I would have liked, and by the top, I was about 10-15 seconds off the pace with 6 other guys. We chased for a while but couldn’t quite close the gap. More guys came up from behind and then there I was, in the second group.

The second group grew to about 60 guys or so and everyone was yelling for each other to pull. I worked for a while to try and minimize the “damage” before stopping. Who was up the road? Two Mercy guys, Stephan and Alex along with the strongest 29 guys in the race. We weren’t going to catch them unless everyone cooperated. So, I sat in and finished 10 minutes back of the front group.

Warning: Soap Box Moment.

Almost Guy

I’m getting a little sick of being the “Almost” guy. I guess it’s my calling in life. I almost got a top 10 finish at Lago Vista RR in Texas, almost got 2nd by winning the sprint in the second group in Hell’s Kitchen, almost made the break in Flint Ridge, almost made a break stick in Joe Martin and almost made the break in the Joe Martin criterium. Oh, and let’s not even talk about all the crap in the “real world” which ultimately is probably more important than bike racing. Almost. I’m getting a little sick of it. I’m stepping off my soapbox now.


I told the men about the Mexican’t food I endured last week and everyone agreed that I should rectify the situation. La Huerta.

The outdoor facade.

The Front Door:

The Menu:

The MexiCAN food!

Day Two: Huff and puff and get the hell up Nebo.

Discussing the strategy for the day:

Again, note the TEAM VAN!

The day started out with another neutral roll out. I’m becoming a fan of these as they give you a chance to spin out the legs a bit. Brice wanted some of us to look for the early breaks since we had a bit of a leash. Okay, we had a really long leash. Look for the early break I did. Something about being in a move with the fastest guys in the country makes me say, “Momma, I’m goin’ fast!”

But alas, we missed a nine man move. CRAP! The result, Kolt, myself and Matt were called to the front to chase with the Toshiba team to chase back the move. I hate chasing and I promised myself that once this move came back, I wasn’t going to let this team get in that situation anymore. The next 7 moves I was in. Oh, and it hurt. But I figured it was better to waste one guy than to spend 3 to chase. It worked and we hit Nebo Groupo Compacto- which I guess means everyone together.

Myself, Kolt and Matt were there to get Stephan and Alex to the base of the Mt. Nebo in the front. And that's just what we did; Kept them sheltered and out of the wind so they could go up Nebo "fresh." For anyone who hasn't ridden Nebo, it's 20% for 2.5 miles or something ridiculous. I'm not even really sure how they get asphalt to stick to the hill. But it's steep. I had the pleasure of riding with the one and only Brad Huff all the way up the hill. That's the one way to make a very unpleasant tolerable. I'm not really sure why some guys decided to race the hill flat out. No one was putting 10 minutes on the front 30 guys and the race only pays 20 deep. There's really no difference between 31st place and 64th place (which is where I was!).

Ben Dover! Seriously?

Ahh, Arkansas....

Day Three: Mount Magazine.

Yet another mountain top finish. With the stage being mostly flat with just a few "stingers," as Brice calls them, in the beginning. It's amazing. Brice is calmly talking us through the "stingers" as I'm slogging my way up them at 25mph! WTF? I'm not warmed up, breathing through my eyeballs and here's that calm pilot voice, "just about 300m more and then you're going downhill for about 4 more miles." Or it says, "on left you'll see a PT Cruiser, with flames."

With Alex in an early break, far off the front, the rest of the team put themselves to the task of keeping Stephan out of the wind and relatively stress free for the entire stage. This meant that we spent all day, in the wind and in formation while Team Type 1 put everyone in the gutter for 85 miles. At the bottom of the mountain, we hand the baton to Stephan to do his thing. At the end of the day, David finished 0:40 behind the leader and Stephan was a bit off the pace. I was thankful that the day was over.

Stage 4: Van Buren Criterium.

HARD! FAST! I got a bit complacent and was "satisfied" with my spot in 50th place or so. I should have concentrated on moving up, but I didn't. In the end, I got shelled about 45 minutes into the thing, which is probably where I deserved to be. It was a pretty novice mistake to make and I have no idea why I did it other than, brain fart.

Now, I'm home for a few days until Memorial Day. Then, ROAD TRIP!