It’s a week delayed but the first road racing weekend for Oklahoma 2014 is over and was consistent in weather and as fun as past years. This Saturday Criterium and Sunday Road Race always has at least one day that is true Spring Classics weather and this year didn’t disappoint.
Salt Creek Criterium
This crit course really rides more like a short 1.5 mile circuit race with the rounded loops at each end and only one 90 degree turn. But the consistent up and down of the course makes it a challenge, especially with the last 200 meters being a 7% grade uphill power mash sprint.
I had the benefit of a solid team mates in this Cat 3 race in Troy C. and Nemo C. Troy and I have been 3’s for a couple seasons (Nemo is a new upgrade) and have gotten used to riding together well. The weather for this race was pretty grim with 18 to 25 mph winds, the temperature hoovering right at 32 degrees F and the rain being very consistent. As we watched the Cat 1/2 race before us we saw that an early move shattered the group and the strong men were able to get away. We also saw a ton of flats as local sand thorns were getting washed onto the roads. That and some rough areas made it ideal for upping the pace initially - as getting into a draft would be more difficult and we could make it a hardman’s race early.
As the race kicked off I took towards the front, joined by Judson C from Evoke and Troy and we made the first three laps as hard as the final three ended up. When you are at the front of a group doing that kind of effort you hope it is knocking some people off the back, but we were surprised to see just 11 guys still there after the first three laps. With 25 guys starting, those 11 ended up being the only guys that finished the race with the rest DNF’ing because of the elements or flats.
After we were down to 11 guys Troy and I just stayed towards the front to cover attacks or look for opportunities of our own. Ben H. from a strong cat 3 Tulsa Wheelmen team jumped out into a solo break during the middle section of the race. He held strong with a 10-15 second gap for three or four laps. It was a strong effort but in an exposed course in those kind of elements a solo break was going to be really difficult for anyone. As we were at 5 laps to go we upped the pace to start reeling Ben back in and decided to setup for a sprint finish.
The #1 mark in Oklahoma Cat 3 racing right now is the Tulsa Wheelmen team, especially Norman B. who is wickedly strong. I kept my eye on him the whole race and when he tried to bridge a couple times was on his wheel to either bring him back or go for the ride up to the break. You can tell he has put all the right work in on the bike during the fall and winter, and even dropped solid weight. I think the Cat 1/2s are as nervous about his eventual upgrade this year as we are in trying to figure out how to mark him.
As we came into the final two laps Troy and I fell into our two man lead out routine. One is toward the front to help maintain pace and stop surging. The other focuses purely on the best position for a win at the finish. We are very similar in body type and ability so who does what is usually based on how we are feeling that day or just how the story of that race played out. This time Troy was the pace-maker and I was the position finder.
Two laps to go Troy was at the front keeping the pace solid with everyone else pretty satisfied with waiting for a sprint. As we entered the final half of the last lap I started communicating with Troy so he knew about any gaps or if we needed to ramp it more or not. As we entered a cross wind section with 1.5 k to go I hollered for him to ramp it up as we had a small gap to the front four, and then at the last main turn at 1 k to go he jumped and that whe’d created a front selection of three guys sprinting for the win (Me, Judson-Evoke and Bob-Soundpony). Judson made an early move at 300 meters as Troy pulled off and Judson was sitting second wheel. Bob had fallen off of Judson’s wheel so as I’d liked to have been covered up until the based of the 7% 200 meter finish I was really just chasing Judson the whole time.
After you hit that hill sprint it’s really just a matter of gritting your teeth, hoping you picked the right gear, and doing all you can to keep pushing the final 30 meters that flattens out on the top. Judson is lighter and super strong so I was just able to edge him out for the win, but he also was exposed longer in the sprint.
It was crappy weather, a very Belgian race day, but it was also my first Cat 3 win ever!
I think a lot of people underestimate the Cat 3 ranks. This was my first win after being a Cat 3 for 27 months. The fitness and competition here is hard and only few people can just ride and race their way through it into the Elite 1/2 ranks.
Honestly a win hasn’t even been a close consideration until after I’ve seen the improvement and solid progress from being paired up with Zack from the Source Endurance group. All the race strategy in the world can’t make up for the difference in fitness between just riding a lot (previous plan) to intentional plans, workouts and recovery (2014).
The season is still early with plenty of hilly road races (not ideal) and crits left (yeah baby). Excited to see it progress!