Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Tour of Southern Highlands

This past weekend the Palmetto Medical Elite Cycling Team raced the Tour of Southern Highlands in Woodstock, Georgia. The race consisted of four stages; a criterium on Friday night, a time trial and a circuit race on Saturday, and a road race on Sunday. We fielded a seven rider squad of Chris Uberti, Justin Meade, Matt Moosa, Parker Kyzer, Ben Renkema, Chris Meacham, and myself.

The hour-long crit took place on a tight, four turn circuit through a future subdivision about a block away from downtown Woodstock. We were instructed at the start that we would do a neutral lap then stop at the start/finish. The "neutral" lap was flat out, and as I coasted down the start finish straight the break of the day rolled. Luckily we had Moose start on the front line, and he was able to make the split with Ty Magner and Oscar Clarke of Holowesko and Ian Garrison of Axeon. The four lapped up about halfway through the race. After that point we just stayed near the front to help protect Moose. The race came down to a field sprint with Ty taking the win over Oscar, with Ian in third, and Moose in fourth.

The time trial was a short, 3 mile effort that had rollers but was mostly uphill on the way out and  downhill on the way back. With the uphill first half that meant you had to empty the tank on the way out and run on fumes on the way back. I felt that I paced it well, hitting all the rollers on the way out very hard. I felt strong and like I put together a nice effort, but I finished in 15th place. Moose came in 7th, Uberti 8th, and Parker was 14th. We didn't have the best rides ever, but it wasn't terrible because the time gaps were not that big.

The circuit race took place on some of the same roads as the time trial. For about 2 miles on the course there was a constant stream of traffic, and the roads were narrow. This made it a little bit scary. The course lacked any decisive hill for a group, so draft would carry you over a lot of the hills. This meant it was hard to cause separation from the group. A break rolled early with 3 riders. Uberti was our rider in the break. Shortly after that group rolled Brendan Rhim of Holowesko went up the road in pursuit. Holowesko was still attacking a lot though. We followed but were mostly looking to get Moose into a move because we thought he had a one minute advantage from lapping up in the crit. However, results were not confirmed and the promoters were unsure if they would count the crit for time or not. It was fairly confusing, but we thought we wanted Moose up the road. We did a great job covering  and neutralizing moves we did not want to happen. With about 8 miles to go there was a small opening at the front of the group, and I shot the gap to join a group of about 8 riders. We had Parker and Moose make the split too. Garrison and Magner missed this split. This was the move we wanted, so Parker and I drove the pace all the way to the line. We managed to cut the advantage of the lead group to 28 seconds on the line, and we gained 52 seconds on the peloton. By our calculations Moose was sitting in second overall going into the final stage.

We heard before the final stage that the crit results were going to count toward the final general classification, so Moose was in fact second overall. The road race was a tough 90 mile race with about 8000 feet of total elevation gain. It was going to be a grinder and a hard fight. Holowesko sent Mac Brennan up the road from the gun. Over the first ten miles we were nipping on his heals, but Holowesko was doing well to neutralize attempts to bridge. Then on a descent I hit a big pothole at about 40 miles per hour and flatted my front wheel. I was certain my race was over, but Meade gave me his wheel. I was uncertain if I would make it back to the peloton as there is no caravan in local races, and it is usually impossible to make it back from a flat. However, after about 20 minutes of hard chasing I made contact with the peloton once again. I think the peloton was crawling as Brennan's lead was around 3 minutes when I rejoined. My legs were toast from the chase, and I was certain I was not going to be able to finish. The race had many attacks that were all neutralized. No one was able to establish a significant gap. Up one of the steep hills on the course I came off the back again. I just was not able to make the hard efforts necessary up the hills. The early chase from the flat took its toll on me, but I once again made it back into the group. With about 30 miles left to go Brendan Rhim of Holowesko went away on one of the hills and established a big gap as attempts to bridge to him were also neutralized by his teammates. Back in the field I was frustrated as my legs were super toast, so what else is better to do than randomly attack and roll by myself in order to try to get a podium position. At this point Holowesko had secured all spots on the overall podium, and I just wanted us to get on the podium once over the weekend. Parker and I traded attacks in the final 15 miles, but neither of us was able to get away. Finally with about 12 miles to go I got a big gap and Garrison bridged up to me. With Moose back in the peloton I sat on Garrison, but Oscar Clarke and two other riders came up to me with Moose and Parker in the peloton behind. I just sat on this group. We regrouped and there were a flurry of attacks again mostly from me and Jimmy Schurman of Guttenplan. Eventually Jimmy was able to get away for what appeared to be a third place ride, but over the final climb Garrison lit it up and was able to pass Jimmy to take third. I was fading from the attacks and it looked like Moose was hurting too. I gave him a couple pushes on the final climb and soft-pedaled in a few minutes off the back of the peloton. Parker and Moose were able to finish in the peloton. Moose put up a valiant fight and rode his heart out. I am really proud of how he rode. On time he was tied for third in the general classification, but he took fourth because Oscar beat him in the time trial.

This past weekend we came away with four fourth place finishes! We were really knocking on the door of the podium but just could not make it happen. This coming Sunday we race Rouge-Roubaix in St. Francisville, Louisiana. I raced Rouge last in 2015 where I took the win. Hopefully we end up on that top step again. Wish us luck!