El Ocho, the FPG and I rolled up to sunny Lancaster. PA for the Pennsylvania Dutch Country Stage Race this weekend. We were feeling good about our chances because we'd done a couple of Cat 5 races up there and had done well, and had been having good rides recently.
First up was the Gap Road Race, a 5 mile circuit on rolling farm roads with 9 laps. The race organizers do a wonderful job laying out these courses and this time was no different. The roads were in good shape and a darn sight more scenic than what people at Master's Nats were racing on. The only problem with the layout was that it was a bit too easy, so Cat 4s being Cat 4s, the field chased down anything that moved and then slowed to a crawl once everything was back together. Why, you might ask, didn't anyone counter the catches? Maybe if three guys had gotten together beforehand and agreed to work together and got away at the exact right moment, it could have happened, but even still two things conspire against that: there are ALWAYS enough people to mount a chase and the yellow line rule. There was simply no reliable space to get through to attack. Anyhow, I rode a fine race for 8.5 laps, then didn't fight my way to the front for the last corner. The last corner was 300 meters from the finish and still under the yellow line rule. The yellow line rule lifted at 200 meters to go. Take 80 people, subtract the 20 who didn't make it to the end with thr group, and you quickly realize that if you are not in the top 15 going into that last corner, you are not going to be anywhere near the front over the line. I got boxed in so hard that I found a UPS label on my jersey, couldn't even try a sprint (and with GC points doled out to 20th place, people were sprinting HARD for ridiculous places) and wound up 22nd. El Ocho read the play perfectly, set up well and got 4th. Good work. A pro cyclist from Bolivia won (I'm not kidding).
I have to give a major "chapeau" to the guy who had been in 50th all race, then moved up to 30th for the last half lap, then yelled and screamed for people to go fast and string it out, presumably so he could move toward his "deserved" finishing position. "C'mon, is this a bike race or what?" Guy, I couldn't see you, I don't know who you are, but yes, for the last couple of house, this has been a bike race. Where were you? See the picture up top? That's what the front looks like. Get there sometime. It takes a village, idiot.
Saturday afternoon earned the FPG her first MVP award for the weekend when she found Annie Bailey's as if by ESP. Or maybe my ESGSP - extrasensory guinness sign perception. Have you ever had nachos where they replace tortilla chips with waffle cut fries? I have. And I will have them again.
Sunday morning was the TT. Our pre-race drive of the course showed 7.5 miles of rolling terrain, one big nasty hill and one incredible downhill. El Ocho went out first of all riders, and took it out in 18:00 flat, which proved to be a great time. Some homie got a 17:05, followed by the Bolivian Pan Am Games team member (I'm not kidding) in second. I had a horrible first half of the ride, until I got on the hill, saw the FPG at the top of the hill screaming for me, then I settled in and starting clawing my 30 second man back. He, and many others, still beat me. My time was 19:00 exactly.
Sunday afternoon, our mission was clear: keep El Ocho high up in the GC. To this end, I staged better than I normally do in crits, found the front within a pretty short time, and stayed in the top 10 riders for 23 or so laps. Breaks went, and if there was no one dangerous in them, I marked them and let someone else get anxious and chase them down, thankful for the rest. If they had a contender in there, straight back they came. Without the FPG standing on the little climb, screaming encouragement to me (it helped that she knew what I was doing and why I was doing it), I never would have made it through the race. No freaking way. It was like 2 20 minute VO2 max intervals with about 4 minutes rest between them. I did chase one break down that I didn't need to. There's a guy from an unnamed blue and green flavored club who I've known for a while. Mom always said... Anyway, he led the chase after me at Bunny Hop in the last lap because, in his words, he didn't want me to win. He finished that race WAY deep, he didn't help any teammates out, my team got three of the top six (including me) and it was just rude. So while he was bitching at his break companions to do more work, I got the field to within about 5 seconds and then got ready for any counters. Hey guy, revenge is a dish that tastes best cold. Mmmmm. Beyotch. Toward the end, the Bolivian Worlds Team member (I'm not kidding) jumped out on a break and quickly got a gap and held it. I rested in about 15th or 18th for two laps while people decided if they wanted him back or not. I didn't care because the race was clearly held together at that point, and if I didn't take at least a short breather I wasn't going to be there much longer anyway. With about 4 to go, I laced my boots back up and got back to the front. El Ocho hadn't been at risk and had been able to conserve energy all day, and we were motoring around about 10 off the front. The courses last 4 (of 7) corners are one after the other, and we almost dies on turn 4 in the last lap. Natty Drexel slipped when his back wheel hit a pebble while cornering hard with me on his wheel and El Ocho on mine. He kept it together, I kept it together, but a whole pile of people screamed past on the inside. Shize. Fortunately, El Ocho was one of them. I had a divine moment of "F this S, after all the work I did this race I'm going to go pass some of these suckers" and busted leather to get back toward the front. I got as far as El Ocho, who was in the midst of being completely freaked out by another of our teammates having a mechanical and nearly killing everyone, but I couldn't pass him and steal any points from him. All for the team and all of that. That meant letting a couple guys slip by, but El Ocho got the finish he needed to stay 4th for the tournament, while I finished a not too terrible 14th on the stage. After all the time on the front chasing crap down, it felt like winning a tour stage.
You really ought to go to one of these races. The scenery is quite breathtaking.
Now the FPG is talking about trying out bike racing. What could POSSIBLY go wrong with that???? Will this be the end of me ever getting to use the good wheels? Stay tuned and find out!