Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Mead-Roubaix Race Report

Mead-Roubaix was added to our race calendar several weeks ago as a race that we could win, and we intended to do just that.  Regardless of any other teams that showed up or pro's/former pro's building up the hype for the race, we knew that Team Rio Grande would be the strongest team there and would use that to our advantage.

In a roubaix-style race, recon of the course is vital.  We rode the course multiple times over the last week, including the day before the race after the final road grading had been done.  Especially with the strong winds forecast for the race, our strategy simplified to keeping the whole team at the front to echelon in the crosswinds and hitting the dirt hard, and hitting it first.  The key, however, is execution of the plan.

Immediately after the race began, Rio Grande assembled at the front; we were the first eight riders to hit the dirt. In the headwind, the pace stayed calm as everyone behind us could draft.  As we made the turn into the crosswinds on the dirt, we ramped up the pace and kept the Rio guys working together as the remainder of the field fought for a spot in the gutter.  The winds were tremendous, blowing the lighter riders sideways across the dirt surface.  Just a few miles into the race, our field was nearly halved as the winds did their work but Rio was still amassed at the front and riding strong.

As we hit the second dirt section, Tom Zirbel surged to blow the field up and succeeded.  Scott, Ian, and I were among the leaders as we turned onto pavement again, with the rest of our team soon to rejoin. The pace settled once more as we prepared for the final, gnarliest dirt section.  Once again, we made sure to hit the dirt first, and Scott made one of the most decisive moves of the race.  With his cyclocross bike and tires (and certainly a substantial amount of power), he rode Zirbel--and everyone else, for that matter--off his wheel as we hit the sand pit climbs.

When we reached pavement again, only 3 riders were left in the "peloton," and I was one of them.  With Scott off the front and the rest of my team quickly regaining contact, I was in a perfect position to sit on and rest up.  Before long, I was once again surrounded by teammates who fought the wind on my behalf.

At the start of lap 2, Greg Krause from Juwi Solar attacked to bridge to Scott, who was less than a minute ahead.  Initially, I followed but then drifted off his wheel as I decided that a coworker would be great to help Scott.  After making contact, they quickly pulled away from the field.  I later flatted in the crosswind dirt section.  Immediately, John stopped to give me a wheel and a push while Adam and Drew were waiting to pace me back up to the group. Just two minutes later, we were with the group as if nothing had happened. John got a wheel from the perfectly-placed team car and chased, nearly regaining contact before suffering a flat of his own (why are there staples on dirt roads, anyway?).

As the race went on, Ian and I continued to make the selections in the dirt and our teammates would time and again drag themselves back up to us to take one last pull in the wind for us.  Just one last pull, over and over again.  Scott remained off the front with Krause, putting time into the field.  My task was to make every selection with the strongest guys in the race and discourage them from chasing Scott down.  Ian and I pulled through in the rotation so that they wouldn't gutter us, but our pulls were slow and half-hearted.

Beginning the third lap, Scott's break was 3 minutes up the road.  This lap was the hardest, as Zirbel pushed it through the dirt to shake me and Ian and catch the leaders.  Ian, whose lighter weight was doing him no favors in the rough dirt, lost contact from our group in the second dirt section.  I continued to discourage the chase efforts, but Zirbel finally gave it everything in the final miles of the third lap.  He had me guttered hard in the dirt and on the pavement, but I could not be shaken loose even despite his repeated attacks.

With 20 miles left to race, we joined up with Scott and the other rider who had been battling the wind and dirt all day.  Jesse Goodrich of Juwi Solar also made it up to us as we soft-pedaled through the easy dirt, saving energy for later in the lap.  I thanked Scott for slugging it out all day, because I was still fresh and knew that the others weren't--this had become our race to lose.  We shed Krause in the second dirt section, but continued easily rotating until it really mattered.

Finally, only a couple sandy climbs and a downhill run-in separated us from the finish.  I surged down the hill towards the dirt and never let off the throttle.  After powering through the second sandpit climb, I had a ten-second gap.  I knew I had the race won, but needed to cement it.  I stayed on the power over the false flat and then blasted down the hill to the pavement and began my time trial to the finish.  At last, I rounded the final corner and posted up as I rolled across the line with my chasers 30 seconds in arrears.  Thanks to the efforts of my teammates, I have never finished a race feeling so fresh and was ecstatic that I could bring the win home.  The ride of the day goes to Scott, though, who after a day off the front was still able to round off the podium with a 3rd place finish!

The dusty roads of Mead did an excellent job of removing our team's sour taste from San Dimas and non-invitation to Redlands, and our efforts bode well for the racing soon to come.

I don't have any photos to post just yet, so I'll probably have a photo blog up soon.  For now, though, here is a video that sums up the race well.  I appear multiple times, so you'll just have to find me...

Here's a 3rd-person race report if you want to verify mine (and it has photos at the bottom): http://www.mountainflyermagazine.com/view.php/mead-roubaix.html

This report and some photos will also be posted at our team site: riograndecycling.com