This year it seems that each time we schedule a team ride the weather takes turn for the worse, so none of us were really surprised that after a wonderful week of sun and 70s temperatures the weather turned nasty as we approached our first team race. We’d trained in bad weather, we’d suffered together in bad weather, and we were ready to race together in bad weather. Tornado warnings be damned.
DAY 1: Wet and Wild
Brian DeRose, Todd Palmer and I loaded up in the Burns family truckster to head down to Albany, Ga., to join our teammate and strongman Kent Wheeler for a weekend of racing. We obsessively checked the weather on the drive down, and Brian, ever the optimist, was holding out hope that we’d get a break in the rain for our 1:55 p.m. race. No such luck. It rained the whole day through.
While we were driving south through the storm, Kent was storming to victory in the morning’s TT, posting not only a dominant victory for the Masters 35+, but also posting the fastest TT of the day across all categories. Victory #1.
We found a sweet parking spot in downtown parking garage that allowed us to stay out of the rain as we got ready for the race. Brian warmed up on his trainer while Todd and I did our own mini crit through the empty upper level of the garage, though we did have to switch directions a few times to keep from getting dizzy. Kent rolled in soon after and off we went for the line.
It was a small field of 10 hardy souls lined up for the race. The officials gave us a few instructions and we were off. It was a fairly steady first lap as we all were figuring out how to navigate the turns and deal with the rooster tails of spray in our faces. In the next lap or two, there were a few surges from various riders, and when Kent countered one, there was moment of hesitation from everyone, which he took advantage of and quickly stretched to a nice gap. It wasn’t long before he disappeared in front of us on the tight course. We knew Kent’s strength and knew that he could last out there by himself for the rest of the race, so it was up to us just to mark the moves and neutralize any counters while Kent soloed to victory. It turned out to be not quite that easy.
Kent was holding a steady gap of 30 seconds when he felt his rear tire go soft. (Side note: Even though we’d packed the car full of spare wheels, we’d forgotten to put any spares in the pit. Dumb move #1.) It was a moment of panic for Kent as he stood and shouted for help. Good thing that Brian was paying attention and gave up his wheel in the pit to our race leader. Kent was soon back on his way. Brian’s race was over but he had saved the race for us with selfless teamwork.
A few laps later there was an attack from the field and we went into turn 4 a bit hot. I was third wheel and heard that awful screech of riders going down behind me as we came out of the turn. Coming around again, the wreckage was cleared and it looked like some guys were curled in pain on the side of the course. I saw a flash of light blue and thought, “Oh no, Todd’s hurt.” Turns out I was wrong, and as we came by the pit again, I was glad to see Todd jumping out after he had taken his free lap to check himself and his bike for damage. Nothing too bad, but Todd was the only one able to rejoin the race
Not long after, we could see Kent coming up from behind as he was about to lap the field. Once he caught us, he drafted for a bit of rest but soon took to the front again because, as he later said, “I was in a groove with my speed and it was much safer up front.” That’s where he stayed for the last 6 laps, cranking out a strong steady pace and stringing out the field. The guy is a beast.
Coming into the bell lap, I was in perfect position at fourth wheel, but like some sort of idiot Pavlovian dog I took off with the bell. It might have been a good strategy had I coordinated with Todd so he could counter, but I hadn’t. Dumb move #2. Maybe I’d swallowed too much rain and wasn’t thinking clearly or maybe it was foolish of me to think I could hold everyone off for a whole lap. Either way, it was just a dumb move and I felt stupid all weekend for it (still do, actually). Lesson about being patient learned.
As it was, I faded on the final stretch to finish 5th with Todd on my wheel for 6th, and Kent cruised in for the win. Victory #2.
Brian’s was turning blue (not an exaggeration) from standing on the side in the rain for the last half of the race, so we quickly loaded up and headed back to the race hotel to get clean and dry. All in all, not a bad race for Deeds Cycling. Kent got the win and solidified his lead in the omnium, Brian showed great race awareness and team spirit, and Todd got his crash for the season out of the way early with his kit and bike in tact.
That night, Kent and Michelle, from our sister LG Factory team, hosted a pasta party for Team PCP (Pecan City Peddlers), a team they coach, and us Deeds folks. The lasagna, pasta, beer, and salad were great as was the company of fellow cyclists and their families. It was a nice finish to a long, wet day.
Day 2: A long and windy road
Sunday found us waking up to some much-needed sunshine though the temperature had dropped to the mid 40s and there were stiff winds blowing from all directions. After a great breakfast in the race hotel lobby, we loaded up for the 15 minute drive to Leesburg and the day’s 61 mile road race.
Kent had told us the night before to expect windy conditions for the road race on the mostly flat and wide-open roads of Leesburg. And wind is what we got. Lots of wind.
We debated a bit on what to wear since the sun was warm but the wind was stiff and would give you a chill. We settled on knee warmers and arm warmers or our new toasty LG long sleeve jerseys. We have to give a shout out to teammate Mike Schmid, who although not being there for the race, has discovered that those adhesive heat patches hunters use in their boots are the perfect way to shield the wind and keep feet warm during a cold ride. Brian, who gets a gold star for sharing, had a few extra pairs of heat pads and none of us thought of our feet again. No small feat (pun intended) on a blustery ride.
It was another small field and our goal for the day was to make sure Kent kept his omnium lead and try to get one or two of our guys up the road in a break. Brian attacked a few miles in and got a gap for a while but wasn’t getting anyone else interested in joining him, so he slowly came back to us over the next mile or two. Kent, who was obviously the strongest rider of the field for the weekend, was a marked man and whenever he went, the others in the field reacted. After one of Kent’s attacks and about 5 miles into the race, I surfed a wheel back up to him then went out on my own for a while. I ended up dangling off the front for the next several miles. After a mile or so, I was pretty sure this wasn’t going to be the break that made the race, but I was hoping that someone behind was burning some matches pulling the field and that would give us a bit of advantage later in the race. That wind was tough and frequently shifting.
Around the 10-mile point, I felt a hand on my back and saw that Kent had put me out of my misery and ended my time off the front by closing that gap. Not long after, Kent attacked and took two riders with him. Brian followed, and for a brief while four were up the road while the field was strung out in pursuit. Brian took strong pull and as he drifted back and the field came together again, Kent said, “Keep going, Brian.” Brian made another hard jump and one other rider went with him. Everyone else just looked at each other. We knew that Brian with his World Championship Long Course Duathlon experience had the legs and the smarts to last out a 45-mile breakaway, so we just sat on and smiled.
To make a long story shorter, that was it. That’s the last we saw of them. Brian and his breakaway partner quickly got a 30 second gap, which they gradually stretched to 1:30 by the time we finished our first 30-mile loop. There was some confusion whether Brian’s breakaway partner was in the omnium so when the break got up two minutes, Todd, Kent and I each took a pull or two to keep them in check and preserve the advantage Kent had earned in the TT.
Halfway through the second lap, there were a few attacks from the field, which knew it was racing for 3rd now. Todd, Kent, and I matched everything, and after one attack that Kent followed there was a gap of three riders 30 meters off the front. Todd and I knew that Kent was the strongest of those three so we just let them gradually roll away. No one else had the strength or will to chase it down, and soon thereafter, they were gone, too.
We knew Brian would get first or second and felt pretty certain Kent could take the sprint for third, so all that was left was for Todd and me to do was to finish. I think those last 10 miles were the windiest of the race. As Brian, said after the race, “It was discouraging to look down and see I was doing 300 watts and only going 17 mph.” That about says it all for those final miles.
Brian got second, Kent indeed took the sprint for 3rd, and then Todd and I rolled in a few minutes later—7th for me and 9th for Todd.
It was no surprise that Kent got the overall, but we were pleasantly surprised when we saw that I had ended up third in the omnium and Todd in fourth.
Overall, we had a great time in Albany and posted great results: Two stage wins, one overall win, a second and a third stage placing, and a third overall. We can’t wait to get more of the guys out and do more racing this year.