Thursday evening was the first St. Francis Sports Medicine Summer Series at the BMW Performance Center Test Track in Greer, South Carolina. My team, Piedmont Orthopaedic Associates is putting on the six race series the last Thursday of each month during the summer. I had forgotten how fun that track can be!
I was a little nervous because my coach was having me “double-up.” This means I would be racing in two criterium races back-to-back. The first would be Category 4/5 where I would be racing with guys half my age. The second race would be the Masters 35+ event when I would get a chance to race with a good number of my teammates — most of whom are close to my age.
Going into the 4/5 race, I tried to balance the fact that I wanted to do well with the knowledge that I would have to race another race which I thought would be a much harder race. I stayed in the field for about half the race and then decided to go for a prime. Moving up to the front, I wanted to stay there going into the east side of the course. I knew if I could make it through there in the lead, the prime would be mine.
After a smooth right hand into turn three, you straighten out for just a moment before entering a chicane before coming into a sharper right hand turn. Once you exit turn four you find yourself coming over a rise and through a very shallow curve. The result is that you don’t get to see the start/finish line until you start coming out of this feature of the course. That factors into the story later.
My attack worked to perfection and I came out of the turn leading and then just put the hammer down to take the prime. Jake Strasser and Tyler Crotts were right on my wheel. When we crossed the line, we just kept rolling in the attempt to create a break. Unfortunately, it didn’t last very long and we were brought back into the field.
Then it was time to think of the finish. My teammate, Billy White, got on the front and started to stretch things out. I put my eye on Kirk Flinte. He was sitting in most of the race and I could tell that he had his mind set on a good finish. It was time to try something new, so I decided to get on Kirk’s wheel and let him bring me to the front. It was time for me to come off someone else instead of the other way around.
It was working perfectly. We entered turn three and sure enough, Kirk started to make a move. I got on this wheel and hung there until we were entering the chicane. At that point my momentum started bringing up to the left of Kirk’s wheel right as we were entering the left turn portion of the chicane. He moved further left to set himself up for the sharp right turn. Unfortunately, this pushed me to the edge of road.
At that turn is a drop off where cars have worn a rut along the edge. I knew if I went off that, it would be trouble. So, I gave and “tip-toed” down the line. That caused me to lose my momentum and Kirk created a gap. To get wound up again, I came through turn four wide. The engine was winding up and I was closing on Kirk. I knew that I could catch him.
Then we came over the rise and started to come out of the shallow curve. Right in front of me was a lapped rider. Because I came up on him so abruptly, I couldn’t judge his speed or tell which way he was going. There was just enough space to his left that I could have squeezed through and to his right would have me going back into the field. I hesitated slightly to take it all in and decide what to do.
That pause cost me dearly. Four riders were right on my wheel and they went right. I picked up the pace again in an attempt to salvage what I could. The result was a 7th place finish. However, even Kirk didn’t take the win since Gordon Whittaker of Palmetto Velo had gotten off the front earlier and took the win.
As it turns out, the Category 4/5 race was harder for me than the Masters 35+ — and the finishing results weren’t that far off each other. I averaged 251 watts in the first race. We finished with an average speed of 25.5 mph. However, there were many more accelerations as the pace would come and go. My heart rate got up to 191 bpm with an average of 173 bpm. Compare that with the Masters 35+ race.
This race was completely different. First the numbers: I averaged 25 mph at 262 watts. My heart rate stayed below 187 bpm with an average of 171 bpm. Much of this can be contributed to two things. 1) the tactics were completely different. My job in the Masters race was to help control pace so that my teammates could form a break and get away. In other words, I was being paid to go slow! 2) the racing was much smoother. It was so much easier going through the turns. There was much less braking and accelerating. It was more of a constant flow.
I wasn’t so much nervous about the speeds or the close racing as I was about doing something tactically stupid that would cause me teammates to exclaim, “What were you thinking!?!” So, I started the race toward the back. I was feeling great as the 4/5 race was a good warm up. I found the wheel of John James and sat there.
If you have ever watched Rudy, you’ll know what I was feeling like. Things were happening around me, but I wasn’t sure exactly how to interpret it all. I was just glad to be there with the guys. I only knew that Rodney had gotten in a break and it was our job to hold a pace that would allow him to get away.
Then from behind me about halfway through, I heard Rodney yell, “Jonathan! Move to the right!” I immediately did what I was told and Rodney came blasting past me on my left. We were getting lapped. I was getting really confused. I couldn’t tell who was lapping us and who was in the field with me.
Not long after this, I started to feel really good — except that my mouth was getting very dry. I had used up most of my water in the first race and had forgotten to pick up a second one before this race. I asked John if I could have a swig of his and he handed his bottle over. It was just what I needed. After getting John his bottle back and started to move up to the front.
For nearly four minutes, I moved to the front and pulled the field up to catch some of the riders who had earlier lapped up and now were falling back from the winning break. Of course, I didn’t even know they were actually a lap ahead of us! I just knew that Rodney was long gone and it was time to pick up the scraps.
Yes, there was no way I was going to win, but this was my first ever Masters 35+ race. I wanted to go in the records with a decent finish. It felt so good to be there on the front just tapping out a tempo. Of course, when we got within a lap of the end, things around me picked up and I decided to play it safe and moved into the line.
Coming out of that last turn, I was still with the front of the field and starting to sprint with about 10 other guys around me. Some passed me and I passed some others. I set my mind on beating Steve Baker to the line. I kept closing on him and then threw my bike at the end. I really thought I had him by a tire width, but alas, the camera showed I was a fraction of a second too slow. I’ll get you next time, Baker!
It was a blast! I was very pleased with my 11th place finish — more pleased with it than my 7th place earlier. Mostly, I was glad that I didn’t get in anyone’s way or do something tactically stupid. I’m ready for the next one! Can we have another race next Thursday?