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Spring Classic Driveway Opener 2012

March 13, 2012

On a whim, I traveled to Austin to fit in another race day.  When all the cards line up perfectly, you just have to go race.  Michael Pincus had texted me looking to ride together, and I agreed, as the trip would be much more bearable with good conversation.

Conversation in the car was good and a bit odd, ranging from cycling tactics to girls to food to handcuffs. You’ll have to ask Pincus about the last one!   We drove through some serious rain, and thanked our lucky stars to see blue skies upon entering the Austin “Happy Bubble.”

As the course dried, I warmed up, thinking about the opportunities I get.  I think I take my health and success in this sport for granted way too often, and I took some time to count my blessings while cruising back and forth along the country road around the Driveway Austin.

The Driveway in Austin has to be one of the best crit courses in the US.  No joke.  My first year racing was the first year that Andrew and Holland Racing took over the show (I think) and it has been amazing to watch it grow over the last couple of years.  It is the thing I miss most about Austin, and the one thing that I hope could one day develop in Houston.  What makes it great is not the amazing course (although that helps), but the community that comes out to the weekly crits.  People come and talk, hang out, hug a couple necks, and destroy their legs together in fast racing.  I think it might be one of the most authentic communities I have ever been apart of.

The Grand Prix course (1.8 miles) is always fast, and usually will punish breakaways, except when it is wet. Originally I was going to try to be very aggressive, but that was under the assumption that the course would be wet.  By race time, there were only a couple of damp spots so my race plans changed.  My goal now was to get top 10, follow promising moves and keep myself in good position.  No primes, no romantic breakaways, just smart, thoughtful racing.  The P123 race started blindingly fast, averaging over 31 mph for the first 1.8 miles.  I sat in about 20th position, enjoying watching people waste themselves at the front.  Many, many, many breakaways tried to go away.  For now I was content on being a racing wallflower, but I was ready to snap to action if need be.

I was having fun watching Heath Blackgrove, who is the current Patron Saint of Pain for Texas racing.  The guy is always where he needs to be, and is very sly about moving through the pack.  He is actually very hard to keep an eye on, much less mark for a race.  And when he is not attacking and riding people out of his draft (cmon, admit it, it’s happened to you), he is resting calmly.  Just sitting in coolly, not sprinting wildly around corners or moving up needlessly in the wind.  He is either on or off, which makes for very efficient racing.

Heath Blackgrove of Elbowz (center)

About halfway through, a group formed off the front that looked dangerous. Every team was represented.  At the front of the peloton, a battle had developed between a Jack and Adams rider trying to bridge and David Wenger of SuperSquadra. The J&A rider’s attack from the front was covered by Wenger, causing the group to surge like a speed wave.  On the ‘backside’ of one wave, I used my momentum to power forward, quickly getting away from the pack.  Using this tactic, I almost instantly had about 5 seconds on the field and was quickly making up time on the breakaway. I got as low as I could and pedaled my way toward the 10 man break.  Unfortunately, another team was also marking breakaways, none other than Elbowz. After about 20 seconds of effort, I looked behind me to see Gonzo coming up on my wheel, towing a strung out pack.  My bridge attempt had failed, and probably killed the breakaway as well, as the main peloton was now much closer.  I sat up as soon as I saw this, and Gonzo said, “I have teammates in the break.”  Oh yeah, I know Gonzo, you ride for Elbowz after all!  I had no ill will of him for chasing me down. In fact, I felt slightly proud that my attempt was deemed dangerous enough to actually do something about!  The breakaway was caught less than one lap later.

For the rest of the race, I surfed wheels around 20-30th position in the dwindling 80 person field.  You have to constantly fight for higher positioning on this course because the road is so wide.  With 5 laps to go, I started my bid for a front-ish position. This actually might have even been too late to start moving up to the front.  In long crits like this one, the last 10 minutes or so cannot be used to move up, but more just to fight for the position you already have.  It is hard and sometimes dangerous to move up after the lap cards come out.  With about 3 laps to go, I was sitting happily at about 25th.  I guessed with the dynamic of the race, about 10 guys would sacrifice themselves by the end lap, and I could be about 10th wheel going into the uphill corkscrew. Then it would be an all-out dash for the line.

With Heath Blackgrove of Elbowz trying a last ditch flyer, the field remained pretty strung out, which was great for a fast (read safe) finish.  Supersquadra was on the front doing a great job controlling things for…. Who?  David Wenger!  With 1 lap to go he had suddenly appeared behind his leadout train.  I knew that if I wanted to win, I needed his wheel, but had about 5 guys to get around to get there.  I tried to advance, but could not without risking being totally in the wind. This goes to show how affective the Squadra leadout was. In the end I finished 9thwith okay placing going into a crash marred sprint.  A great result that satisfied my goal of top ten, and out of 100 racers!  Congrats to David Wenger for a well deserved win delivered by a team working together.

Watch your pedals in the tight corkscrew corner!!

In the end, I think my assumption that 25th was a good position with 1 or 2 laps to go was why I didn’t get a higher placing.  I’m guessing that placing myself around 10th (which would have been really hard!) would have given me a top 5, all other things being equal.  In this race, there were just too many fresh legs that still had power to sprint at the end and too technical a finish to really drag race to the line.  Moral of the story: for this course, placing is so much more important than sprinting prowess.   Pincus (ended up 10th?) and I ended the trip right with 3 tacos from Torchy’s before hoofing it back to H-town.

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