Riding This Week


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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

2012 Georgia State Criterium Championship

I'd never been to Historic Tattnall Square Park in Macon, Georgia. I'd never been to the campus of Mercer University. To be honest, other than the City of Macon, I didn't know where we were going when we loaded up and left Oakwood at 7:30AM this Saturday morning. But let me tell you people it was a beautiful campus. No wonder people love going there. Joining me on this weekend's quest were my friends Star Bridges, Sean Philyaw and young punk Robert Loomis. I looked forward to everything...even the 2+ hour drive because we would all be together and free to be...guys.

So before I tell the story of the day let me tell you who the players are:

Star Bridges - Married now for about a year and a half to Mrs. Lisa, Star had been a bachelor until that time. He's my age which gives us the same life history but Star has nearly 25 years of bike racing experience in his head. He started racing years ago when men would carry tires on their backs like Rambo carried bullets. He has seen it all. A veteran of the Athens racing scene Star raced with the fabled John Deer team. He was  Director Sportif for the United Community Bank Cycling Team during their glory years at the Tour de Georgia. He's been to every decent southern state there is to race his bike and some non-decent states too. There's nary a downtown manhole cover that hasn't felt the rubber of his tires and/or kept a piece of his skin as penance. When he speaks...I listen. And he's back in shape after taking some time to earn another degree in college. What's that all about?

Sean Philyaw
Sean Philyaw - Hardly a spring chicken, Sean is racing his bike for only his second season ever. Like me he picked up the habit a little late in life but boy has he made strides. We met last year during some rides my church's cycling ministry put on. He likes to tell people that I pressured him into racing. That's just silly. Every man is born with a racing gene. Some give into it wholeheartedly. Others try competition every now and then so they can satisfy the itch. In some men...the gene is dormant. But Sean has a double dose. All I have to do is mention a race and he's ready.

Robert Loomis
Robert Loomis - At 23 years old Robert is a lot younger than any of us. This is his first year of racing and it shows. I believe his first race ever was the season ending Grant Park Crit in Atlanta last year with Star and me. He's like a sponge. Soaking up all the advise and trying everything. He's great fun to pick on too. It's kind of like having a rookie to play tricks on and stuff. We like to shake him up and watch him go. He's got a great attitude and is very polite. I like him a lot. He hasn't really bought into the cycling thing completely though. It's our belief that he'll never have success until he settles things with the cycling gods and shaves his legs. We're just sayin'.

Preparing for battle at the State Crit Championships
We arrived and found a perfect place on the course to set up shop. Robert's CAT5 race was an hour away and our CAT4 race was two hours away. The Junior races were happening. We registered and came back to the van to start pinning numbers on while Robert got ready to race. After seeing the course we had some final advise and off he went.
CAT5 Start - Robert Loomis

I was able to make some video of the CAT5 start, the middle, and the finish. Before you watch it I'll tell you what happened. Robert was great! He was all over the front without a problem. He even attacked them one time to see if he could get away. We cheered him on every time the field came by. Then on the final lap Star and I went to the finish line to watch the sprint. Two pictures above you're looking at the final turn and then there's a slight uphill to the finish of about 150 meters. We fully anticipated Robert to be sprinting for the win. Sean was back at the van and said Robert was leading into the final corner. He stood up and hammered down on the pedals. His weight was too far forward and it caused his back wheel to hop up and shift over. The whole action caused him to loose control and crash. His second crash in as many races. The equivalent of being two inches short of the game winning touch down. Can you say "character building experience"? Robert can.

Robert is OK. His knee is messed up and his elbow...again. But mostly he was just disappointed. I just can't wait until his next race. I'm channeling my inner Mr. "T" when I say, "I pity the fool that races against Robert next time!"
We started getting ready for the CAT4 race. I gave Robert the cameras and he did so much better at taking photos than I did. We warmed up by riding around the Mercer campus a little. When we got back to the van Robert was missing. I didn't see him again until the race was over.
The three of us rode up to the starting line just in time and took great positions at the front. Then we were surrounded by, according to Robert, about 58 fellow cyclists. The largest field that day. I have to tell you that I don't remember anything after that. It was a strange race when I think back on it. I don't remember anything that didn't happen within 10 feet of me. I never looked around. I never heard any noises, not the announcer, not the music, not anything. I was very focused because basically I had no choice. We were moving so fast and it took big effort to stay near the front.
Each lap was .7 miles in length. Basically we raced around one city block. The corners were nice and wide. There was a hill on the back side of the course and a 150 meter slight uphill to the Start/Finish line. The picture on the right shows the last corner before that uphill finish begins.
I followed Star's lead and we kept ourselves near the front. I never saw Sean but as you can see in the pictures he was right there with us.
I tried to focus on my breathing and making the best gear choices. Each lap I tried to think about how to attack the last one. Especially the sprint.
Riders would take advantage of a downhill on the back side of the course to try and move near the front. Sean and I were both almost taken out by riders advancing on the outside left who would not declare their presence or intent. One rider hit my arm as he passed by and nearly took me down. These are the perils of Crit racing. I politely informed him of his mistake. Due to a lack of oxygen my suggestion was limited to only a word...or two. Many such words are used during a criterium race. It's common.

The picture on the right was taken as the climb on the back side begins. You can see how everyone is gasping for air. Check out Sean's stressed out leg muscles.
There were attacks all during the race but the pace was so high that none of them lasted even an entire lap. We hammered around the course as if it were the State Championship or something.
With about 5 laps to go the cycling gods struck a blow to my veteran friend. A rider avoiding another rider steered into Star's back wheel and broke Star's derailleur along with about 4 spokes in his rear wheel.
Miraculously he held on and didn't crash. He slowly dropped back through the field and got safely stopped. Star's race was over.

But I had 5 more laps to go. And now the field ahead were energized by what they must have thought was a crash and possibly a resulting gap in the field. The pace increased. When we swung around to the climb again I heard Star call my name. He was standing on the side walk holding his bike in the air and yelling something. It was the first time I remember anything happening outside my 10 foot radius. It started my mind spinning about tactics for the remaining laps. I was sitting in the top 20 and needed to be closer to the front before the last lap.
 Experience has taught me there are only so many options in a situation like this. The pace was high. The energy required to move to the front would be close to sprinting power. If I made it up there and nobody would let me in then I'd be stuck in the wind, blowing myself up to stay there. Then I'd have nothing left to sprint with. Instead I chose to use the course to advance on the outside using the least amount of energy possible. Under the circumstances I only gained a few spots before the last lap began. So I waited.

There's also the "agreement" to think of. You see the three of us agreed that on the last lap if one of us found our self behind the other then the guy in front would lead out the sprint. All you had to do was say the rider's name.
So I listened for Sean to call out my name. When I didn't hear it on the final stretch I knew it was all mine to sprint for.
The last turn came really fast and we were sprinting like mad. My plan was to start one gear lower than I'd been in for that section. If I needed more gear I could pop it down during the sprint. But I didn't need it. Or maybe it's more correct to say I couldn't have pushed a bigger gear. My sprint maxed out at 1300 watts. That's really good for me because I'm skinny. I managed to hold my place and took 15th out of the 54 guys that finished the race. 25.6 MPH Average Speed and 320 Watt Average (I don't know how to do "normalized power"). Not bad for a 40 year old in the State Championships.

Here's a video Robert took during the race:

 Sean finished in 26th and was not very happy with it. He's extremely competitive. I told him, and it's true, that it was a great result. When you consider that he broke his elbow three months ago and that it's only his second year racing I call it a great result.
We all met back at the van to calm down and talk about the race. It took me the entire cool down lap to get my bearings. That sprint really hurt! I found my friends all smiling and jovial even after the mornings events. The stress of the race took some time to get over.
We sat and recovered for a while. Talking about the race and watching the Master's race. We talked about the crashes and near misses and lack of oxygen in the Mercer University air.

After changing clothes I walked up to the finish line to see the official results. I watched with much envy as the CAT4 podium was awarded. It would be so cool to win a State Championship. I probably never will but it won't keep me from trying again. The Road Race Championship is coming up so I'll get another crack at it.
Broken spokes.
We packed our things and headed north. Our job here was done. But we were hungry so we found the nearest Moe's and scarfed down some TexMex. Then we got back on the road but a Starbuck's called to us in harmony with the Dunkin Donuts right next to it.
An opportunity presented itself during this time. A teaching opportunity for the young Robert Loomis. You see I didn't buy just myself a doughnut. No my friends. I bought my wife one and my two girls one. And I used this humble act of selflessness to show Robert how easy it is to keep the women in your life happy. You just have to always...sincerely...try.
I'm not saying it works every time. I'm not saying they always appreciate the effort. But you have to always look to show them you are thinking of them. You even get points for trying. Oh yeah. And that's better than no points at all.
We made it back to the park-n-ride in Oakwood. I wish I had a voice recorder to record all the stories and recounts and banter that went on during our trip. It's stuff you can't recreate. In a way that's what trips like these are all about. It's why I look forward to them. It's why I love bike racing. A beautiful day, a great destination, some competition, and great friends. I can't wait for the next one.

After that I went home and unloaded the van so I could join my family at the church. It was Respite Care night and we volunteered to help. From 4pm to 7pm the church provided parents of special needs children some time to relax. They can drop off their kids and we play games and make crafts and eat pizza. My girls love it. They buddy up with one of the kids and play with them the whole time. I was too late for some of the best stuff but did get there in time to hang out with them at the finale. They gave away prizes and had a dance party. You can imagine how much these special children enjoy being spot lighted and set apart. Watching them made me feel blessed in so many ways. How could anyone complain about anything while these children and their parents struggle mightily yet still find joy?

Well...that's my weekend. Better than some, worse than others. Like I said, I wish I could record every moment so you could hear all the great stuff that went on. Guess you'll have to make your own super cool memories. And maybe next time you can join me on one of these trips.

Last Place is better than Did Not Finish, which trumps Did Not Start.

Oh, and here's the progress on my new Ritchey Ti Cross bike. I'm just waiting on a new front derailleur. I hope to be riding it next week!
Lots a Love!

Chad Hayes


  1. AWESOME write up. Very factual. The Cycling Gods denied Robert the State Champions Jersey, SOLELY because his legs weren't shaven. So True.

  2. PS. Rear wheel is fixed. I'm ready for Twilight.