Having no idea how my body would react after the disastrous Tour of Hermann, I was pretty nervous about Joe Martin. We were looking to ride for Austin Vinton over the weekend, but unfortunately he broke his collar-bone the past weekend. He had surgery to put a plate in and is already back on the trainer. So, we went into the race with only 7 riders. I spent the 3 days between Herman and Joe Martin in Lawrence, Kansas with my coach and owner of Source Endurance, Adam Mills and left early Thursday morning for the afternoon 2.5 mile uphill TT (averaging 6.5%) that afternoon in Fayetteville, Arkansas. I had a long warm up and preride up the climb but still did not feel on top form. I ended up turning out a 9:12, slightly off my goal pf a sub 9 minute time. This put me in 10th overall. My teammate, Zach Allison, had a great ride and was sitting in 7th with a 9:05. The winning time was an 8:44.
First Road Stage
The second stage was a 110 mile road race through northwest Arkansas. I ended up in a six man break 20 miles in. Luckily, Nick Coil made the break as well and was putting in a lot of work to keep me out of the wind. Coming to the first feed zone (47 miles in) the break had whittled down to 4. Jacob Rytlewski (Astellas Oncology) was absolutely drilling it with Brian Jenson (Tradewind) and Nick. One of the Harley Davidson guys and a Bissel guy were just sitting on since they both had GC guys in the top five who were not represented in the break. Luckily Mat Ankney Bridged up after Brian and Nick left the break. This gave me hope that no teams would really chase since every big team was represented. For the next 2.5 hours I hated life. I never felt really strong and was doubting my ability after the previous weekend.
The time gap slowly grew throughout the race. There was a 9 mile climb (mount Gaylor) around 72 miles in with a false flat into a cross wind section leading into town to finish the race. It sucks because there is no real descent after such a long climb, it is a total buzzkill and in no way benefits a skinny guy. Before the race, Adam and I had discussed tactics and he believed that a break would need at least four minutes on the top of Gaylor to be able to stick over the last 30 miles of the race. That is the only thing I focused on up until the base of the climb. Rytlewski gapped himself off the front of Ankney and I so I just rode tempo up the climb, sitting ten yerds behind him for most of it, and not going over my threshold. I finally started feeling better about halfway up Gaylor, as we hit 2500 kilojoules of work. The small group would need to be together at the top in order to stick the move to the finish. Our group of five did not receive a lot of time checks at all, but we were informed by the Moto-ref at the top of the climb that we indeed, have four minutes on the peloton.This gave me some excitement and motivation but I know it would be a painful ride in to town and had no idea what was going on in the group behind us.
We didn't recieve another time check until about 6 miles outside of town when I turned around to see of a group of ~10 riders coming fast. I had no idea how they caught us so fast but geared up for a hard final run in to town. It turns out Masters national TT champ, Jonathon Jacob, was taking 37 mph pulls to bring his teams GC leader up to our group. Fortunately in doing so, he dragged Zach and Adam up to us as well. When their group caught ours the race was on. The last 6 miles were just attack after attack after attack. Adam eventually got a gap on the field and I thought he may stick it. A bissell guy bridged to him but would not work and they were caught about 2K from the finish. It was now my job to lead Zach out, there were two short, punchy hills followed by a right hand turn and a long, uphill drag to the finish. I drilled it up the first hill, Ankney got on front and drilled it on the down side and up the second hill. Jacob Lasley jumped over the crest but Ankney kept the pace up. As we hit the right hand corner Ankney jumped from the front and I followed and came around him. With about 200 meters left Lasley still had a gap of about 10 bike lengths. Zach came flying past me but couldn't catch Lasley in time. He finished 2nd on the stage, grabbing a 6 second time bonus about 1 bike length behind Lasley. The stage reshuffled GC a bit. Zach moved from 7th to 5th on GC. I moved from 10th to 7th, and Adam moved from way down to 13th.
Second Road Stage
After an amazing meal provided by the Mercy Fitness Center and a good nights' sleep a 92 mile stage awaited us. The team was sitting well in GC and we were confident to make something good happen. The lolly-pop course consisted of a ten mile out, followed by 3, 24 mile laps, and ten miles back into town. Each lap had a grueling 3 mile false flat leading into a climb called the "Gutenburg Wall" followed by a stair-step cimb that lasted about 6 miles. Surprisingly, the break went about 5 miles after the climb when a group of ~6 riders went off the front. These six included two Mercy riders, Jason Knight and Adam Mills. It was a pretty good situation as for us as we had the highest GC guy in the move, which put Adam as the leader of the race on the road. The break rolled through the second lap but an organized chase by Astella's and Harley Davidson ensued halfway through the 3rd lap, with about 20 miles left in the race. The time gap of ~1.5 minutes started dropping as two teams rotated on the front at nearly 30mph.
The break was caught about 5k from the finish as the pace only got faster. The run into the finish was a complete cluster. The course was to fast to really have an organized lead out that would get swarmed. the plan was for Dylan to lead Zach out while I swept his wheel. Unfortunately in the giant washing machine of a field, Dylan, Zach, and I lost contact with each other as Tulsa Tough organized on the front. With a momentary lull in the extraordinary pace I saw a gap and shot off the front, I had about 500 meters to go put just could not pedal fast enough to hold off the charging field. I got swarmed but Zach ended up 2nd in the sprint, gaining another 6 second time bonus that moved him up to 2nd overall, 5 seconds off the leader. He was less than a tire length from winning the stage. Adam stayed 13th and I stayed 7th with only a 50 minute criterium left.
The forecast threatened rain. I wasn't too worried about that as our team is pretty good in the wet stuff and our new sponsor, Michelin, is known to make the best rain tires on the market. I've never felt extremely confident in wet conditions until I had a set of pro 4's.
If it rained our tactics were going to ride tempo at the front of the race with Bissell, and aim for a sprint (which Zach would have a pretty good shot at winning). The weather held out though, and we changed the game plan to be in every move that contained Astella's, Harley, and Bissell. We did not want to have to chase anything. This was going to be tough as we lost two very strong riders, Nick, and Tom through a little bit of bad luck and severe dehydration. We only had 5 sets of tired legs left.
The course was a doozy. It was an eight corner crit in the sape of an "L" with a climb through the start finish. Unfortunately, about halfway through, a threatening move of 5 riders containing every before mentioned team and Brant speed went off the front. At that moment only Zach and I were in any position to make something happen. The group had about 12-15 seconds on the field up the false flat before the turn to the finishing climb. I accelerated from about 10 wheels back and drilled it after turn seven, all the way up the false flat, up the climb, and through the first two turns on the top part of the course, shutting down the break but frying my legs for the latter half of the race. I looked back to see a split in the field, but the break would no longer work together.
There was a momentary lull in the pace and Adam and Dylan thankfully came back up to the front of the group. They controlled any moves that went off until about 3 laps to go. At that moment there was a crash that split the field. Zach was in front of it but Adam, Dylan, Jason and I were all behind. Fortunately I was able cut inside, get around the mayhem, and bridge back up to the group of abour 15-20 riders. This was not a bad situation for Zach and I. but, unfortunately, lady luck was not on our side. Up the start finish and through the first two turns Zach felt his tire going flat. I saw him pull over and quickly made the decision to keep going. Adam was in the group right behind us and it would be stupid to have the two top GC riders on the team stop. Adam gave Zach his wheel. (He couldn't give him his bike because they run two different pedal systems (argh). Dylan and Jason stopped to try and get Zach back on but he lost 1.5 by the time the race was over. We need a pedal sponsor...
Talking to the refs after the race, we found out that if Zach would have went to the pit he would have been given the same finishing time as the group he was in when he flatted. We had no idea of knowing this as the pits close the last 5 laps of a crit...which is a little confusing. The officials then informed us that if any official had seen Zach get the flat, he would have been given a prorated time. Unfortunately for us, the moto ref at the back of the pack failed to notice two Mercy riders standing on the side of the road trading wheels in the last 6 minutes of the race.
The race ended in a sprint with nothing too exciting and no other GC contenders changing positions.
The result of this was Zach dropping down to 14th place, me moving up to 6th place, and Adam remaining in 12th. Although our race went to crap as late a possible, it was a lot of fun and a great experience.