Sunday, July 19, 2009

UCI racing hits the US at the Tour of Red River Gorge

The USA has never had a UCI junior race, so I suppose when it finally came about it might as well be in the center of US racing country. Of course, to the locals of the Kentucky towns we passed through, racing that didn't involve four legs or four engines was a foreign affair. So my Hot Tubes teammates and I arrived in Lexington, KY ready to give the locals, and the field, a demonstration of international racing. The UCI 2.1 Tour of Red River Gorge featured four days and five stages of racing in the South-East's trademark steep hills and hot weather.

In accordance with UCI rules, all teams stayed at the race provided "hotel", otherwise known as the freshman dorms at the University of Kentucky. Besides the cockroaches in the bathroom and the bunk beds threatening to crash down at any minute, accommodations and food were pretty good.

The other interesting aspect of an international race in the US was the race caravan, which 90% of the riders and team directors were not accustomed to. Stage 1 was a 1.6km prologue. Not exactly my favorite distance, but how much time can you really lose in one mile? Of course, I quickly gave up any thoughts I may have had of becoming a kilo rider, when I lost 8 seconds off the best time of two minutes. None of my teammates managed to crack the top three, so we went into the afternoon's road race without having to defend the yellow jersey.

Stage 2 went off that afternoon in the hottest part of the day. The hilly course took its toll on the riders but most of the pack stayed together for the first half of the race. Ian Boswell snuck into an early move with about 8 riders, and I bridged across with two other riders about 35km in. My teammate Nate Brown came across shortly thereafter, and we started driving it. The gap got up to about a minute and we just kept hammering. The race was pretty uneventful from there in besides a missed turn that split our group up a bit. With 5km to go there were only six riders left, half of them Hot Tubes riders. I attacked and got a gap. When I was just starting to run out of steam, Nate bridged up to me. We drove it in as hard as we could and finished 1-2, giving me my first UCI stage win. Behind, Ian Boswell gave the rest of the group the slip to steal some more seconds from the group. Nate took the Yellow Jersey and I took both the Red points jersey and the White best 17-year old rider's jersey. In exchange, the three of us had to donate a goodly amount of urine to the USADA dope police after the race.

Stage 3 was a hard time trial of about 25km and lots of hills. I got to start in the bright red points leader skinsuit, so I'm pretty sure nobody missed me as I rode around the course. Only a couple of kilometers in I could tell that I was not on a great day and was struggling on every climb. I forced the peddles around and rolled into the finish with the 9th best time. Teammate Lawson Craddock took the time trial win in spectacular fashion and Nate Brown defended his yellow jersey with a fast 2nd place time. With me keeping the white and red jerseys, Hot Tubes had all but the climber's polka dot jersey and the top gc spots.

Going into Thursday's Stage 4 epic Battle of the Byway road race, we knew there were only a few riders we really needed to watch, but we could expect aggressive riding from just about everyone. The 115km stage featured 8,000 feet of climbing and a long/unlighted tunnel. The race started off with the Garmin team ramping it up at the front. While we were bewildered by their tactics, it certainly helped our cause, since it kept breaks from going up the road and made it a little bit safer. We all just rode in the pack until we hit the first KOM, and then we ramped up the pace. The interesting thing about the KOM was that it was about a kilometer passed the top, on a windy descent. We hit the top of the climb, and then disappeared into a long tunnel. The one light bulb in the middle had the affect of maybe a single candle, so I just pointed my bike in a straight line and hoped for the best. We emerged from the tunnel and then started our descent.

Then all hell broke loose. Nate's chain got stuck. Less than 100 meters later, Lawson's tire blew up. Gavin and Stuart went back to help them return while Ian and I tried to slow down the front. All the other teams saw what had happened and started driving it. Our team caught back up, but then Gavin went down in one of the massive wrecks that took place on the descent, sliding about 30 feet. Stuart couldn't recover from his massive effort and was dropped on the next climb.

By the end of the stage however, the race weeded out riders a couple at a time, and we were left with maybe 8 riders, 4 of whom were Hot Tubes. In the ensuing attacks Nate finished just behind Jacob Rathe and I came in about 45 seconds later in 6th place. Once again, the heat had taken a huge toll on me and I spent the next half hour with my head in an ice-soaked towel.

We started the final stage on friday having all the jersey's except for polka-dot, and the top four in GC. This being a criterium, the general idea was to just stay out of trouble. This was my first twilight criterium, so I was pretty pumped. I forgoed a warm-up, so the first 15 minutes of the 90 minute race were pretty painful. Eventually, I found myself in a breakaway with Cody Foster, Graham Dewart, Ryan Eastman, Ty Magner, and my teammate Gavin Mannion. The gap never got much bigger than 20 seconds, but with dark coming on and a ever growing crowd, we kept pushing the pace. Much of the spectators were drunk by then, and I think they decided that horses and cars be darned, they were ready to party for any race. The group came down to 4 riders, and with less than two laps left I couldn't cover an attack and got gapped. Gavin took the sprint and I rode in 6 seconds later for fourth. Nate took the field sprint behind and my efforts had moved me into 3rd overall and the white jersey. We had our podium ceremony and then rode back to the dorms. I had had a pretty good week, finishing in the breakaway on every stage as well as getting a stage win, so I can certainly draw some confidence from that.

We packed our bags and the next morning we took off in different directions. The rest of the team went to finish preparations for the World Championships. Since I had not been selected for World's, I travelled with the Wisconsin based team, The Baraboo Sharks, to the Tour de l'Abitibi in Canada.

Team presentations are tonight and racing starts tomorrow, so I am excited and hope my good form carries over to some more results here in the Artic circle!

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