Monday, March 07, 2016

Tour of Southern Highlands

This past weekend the Lupus Racing Team raced the Tour of the Southern Highlands in Gainesville and Clermont Georgia. We fielded a team of Mike Stone, Marcos Lazzarotto, and myself. This race weekend was a timed stage race consisting of street sprints Friday night, a rolling 10 mile time trial on Saturday morning, a rolling 35 mile circuit race on Saturday evening, and a hilly 90 mile road race on Sunday.

The street sprints we done on a straight course with 2 180 degree turns. We were placed in 13 heats of 4 riders where the winner of each heat would advance to the next round. I had Michael Hernandez of CCB in my round. He is a strong sprinter, and he killed me, so I was done with the first heat. None of us won our round, so it was a quick night for us. The street sprints were won by Andrew Dahlheim of Arapahoe Resources over Ben Renkema and Fletcher Lydick both Finish Strong. The street sprints had no effect of the general classification but decided the final three starting spots in the time trial the next morning.

Since I won the overall in the race last year, I was the final rider to begin the time trial before the street sprint victors. This time trial was Merckx Style (no aero equipment allowed) on a rolling course with a few turns. I just started out at near my limit, pushed harder on uphills and tried to save some energy on the downhills. I spent the entire time trial with my forearms on the tops of the bars to stay in the most aerodynamic position possible. My biceps are still on fire as I type this post! I put in a decent ride to finish 32 seconds down on the winner Kai Wiggins of CCB in 13th place. My teammates finished about a minute down on me. I would say the stage went well having me close to striking distance going into the final two stages.

Stage 2 of the Mission Source Tour of Highlands was 9 laps on a 4 mile circuit that had a 2 minute hill in the middle of the lap. I won this stage last year in a solo effort, but it was really hard to go off the front. The plan for me was to try to save energy during this stage because we thought the stage would be easy. However, the race played out just the opposite. There was an attack of 10 riders that went off the front pretty much from the gun. After a couple laps of hard racing that move was brought back and a counter of 3 riders went off the front. This turned out to be a break of the day, but it was tough in the field. No teams set pace ever, so the pace was either full gas or coasting. There were attacks every time up the hill, but they were neutralized on the downhill. The race leader was in a bad crash that put him out of the race with two laps to go. I was right next to the crash and narrowly missed it. In the final lap Arapahoe Resources set the pace strong and attacked going up the hill. This produced a little split off the front, and the pace was full gas going toward the finish line. We caught the final remnants of the breakaway going into the final 200 meters and I came in 5th place on same time. I would call the stage a success because I saved energy and lost no time going into the final stage.

The final stage was a 90 mile road race on a 15 mile rolling circuit. There was a 1 km 5% climb, but there were no significant hills on the course. A breakaway of 8 riders with a couple Arapahoe and a couple CCB riders rolled about 2km into the race with no Lupus riders represented. This was a scenario we did not want to happen. The yellow jersey Chris Jones of Kelly Benefits also had no riders in the breakaway. No teams set pace over the first couple laps, and the gap to the break grew to about 4.5 minutes. I knew from past experience that even though this gap seemed large the break would eventually implode late in the race and we could catch them if a team set a decent pace. I sent my teammates Marcos and Stone to the front to set pace. They received some help from Amore e Vita and from Kelly Benefits. The gap held steady for a while. In the final two laps fireworks happened from Phil O'donnell of Axeon on the KOM climb and my legs were toast. Going into one lap to go I put in a ton of attacks, but I could not make a gap happen. Once again at the start of the final lap Marcos was setting a good pace with the break only a minute up the road. On the KOM I tried to get a gap over the top as we could see the break, but I couldn't make anything happen. I tried one final attack with 5 kms to go, but I just could not make the gap happen. I decided then to try for the field sprint. Arapahoe and CCB set a fast pace on the front. Then a couple Arapahoe riders got off the front and their team sat up going into the final 3 kms. This gave their riders the gap to go one, two off the front while Andrew Dahlheim of Arapahoe took the field sprint for third. Arapahoe also ended up winning the overall with Adam Koble. They had sound tactics and rode strong as a team this weekend, so congratulations to them on taking the win. I am very thankful for the job my teammates Marcos and Stone did for me this weekend. They did an incredible and rode selflessly. In the end I was not able to deliver for them. I finished the final stage in the field in 13th place and ended up 6th in the general classification. Last year this road race imploded with huge time gaps, but this year with stronger teams the race was a lot faster and a lot of riders finished together. It's strange how courses can change so much depending on the riders present. I am also thankful that my teammate Igor Rudalev hosted Marcos and me at his house this weekend. The hospitality his family provided made the weekend a very fun and relaxing experience for Marcos and me.

Next weekend we will race Rouge Roubaix. It is a challenging 100 mile road race with 20 miles on gravel roads. I won this race last year, and I hope Lupus Racing Team can get the win there again next weekend!