Men’s PD Jonas Carney reports on two days of hard racing in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
Day one was a tough new UCI 1.2 ranked race, a 15-lap urban circuit running just over 11km per lap for a total of 171km of racing. While the course did not have any big climbs, it was quite technical and there were almost no flat sections. This resulted in a lot vertical gain on the day, and a very tough race of attrition.
It was difficult to come up with a strategy for this event. Having never raced the course before, we didn’t know exactly how hard the race would be or how the course would flow. While we were thrilled to start a healthy team for the first time in 2014, a lot of the guys were just recovering from illness and it was difficult to know how they would feel when the race got hard. Ultimately the guys would have to decide the strategy based on how the race developed and how they felt.
The attacking was relentless for the first 50 miles. With 190 starters, there was tons of action, but nothing could get much of a gap because of the blistering pace. After 50 miles, the field finally took a breather and a break rolled. Scott Zwizanski represented for Optum, but while Scott was riding well, it was not a combination that we particularly liked. Things started to split up in the peloton with 50km to go, and a group of about 30 joined the breakaway riders. We had five riders in that group, but it split again on the next lap and we were down to three in a group of 20 – Jesse Anthony, Will Routley, and Ryan Anderson. With two laps to go, Will Routley attacked on the climb and opened up a 20 second gap. He remained solo for over a lap, but with no help was unable to hold off the organized chase. The mostly consolidated peloton rolled into the base of the final steep climb with 2km left in the race. Two riders from SmartStop–Mountain Khakis and Hincapie Development Team attacked, and unfortunately Ryan and Jesse were unable to match them. They crested the climb just five seconds back with a kilometer to go. Jesse took a huge pull and gave everything to bring Anderson back to the front of the race, but could not reel in the two riders. Anderson finished 4th on the day and Jesse 9th.
While it was a disappointing final result, it was good to see riders like Jesse, Will, and Ryan coming around from illness and injury and racing aggressively. They are still on the upswing and should get even better in coming weeks.
Day 2 was a 90 minute NCC criterium on a somewhat tough course in cold and windy conditions. Our plan was to deliver USPRO Criterium Champion Eric Young in the sprint. Everything went well until four laps to go. Just as our team was assembling and looking to take the front, Eric had a mechanical with no free laps remaining. (Ed. note: A free lap allows a rider who suffers a crash or mechanical to get back into the race when it comes around on the next lap. This usually stops towards the end of the race.)
At this point, most of the team was not looking back, unaware of what happened to Eric, and could not adjust the plan. Scott Zwizanski took the front and single-handedly brought the break back on the final lap, but we didn’t have Eric at the back of the train to finish the job. Brad Huff, tired from working for the team, sprinted for a top ten finish. It is one of the big truths of bike racing – things a lot of times do not go according to plan. We will learn from our mistakes, regroup, and continue to be aggressive.