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Friday, August 3, 2012

2012 Georgia Cycling Gran Prix

Have mercy on my soul it was so Hot!

CAT4/5 Race waiting in the shade of the Pit Tower.
That pretty much sums up my experience with this years edition of the Georgia Cycling Gran Prix. Although I only did the first race at Road Atlanta I could tell it was going to come down to who could recover the best over 5 days of racing to become the king in this series. I joined the usual suspects on a Wednesday afternoon for a CAT4/5 race on the famous track. We'd be going counter clockwise for 10 laps on the 2.5 mile track. (That's 25 miles for you English majors).  The temperature of the outside air when I stepped out of conditioned air in my van was 98 degrees. The temperature of the asphalt (according to the track director) was 145 degrees. The temperature under my helmet during the race was somewhere between french fry grease and molten lava.
The usual suspects were Stephen Sisk, Robert Loomis, Trace Nabors, and Sean Philyaw. I knew Sean and Robert would be feeling great. They've been training like I wish I could and have been on the podium a lot so far. My goal, besides survival, was to support Robert by keeping things together for the sprint. A goal I should have shared with Trace.
More on that later.

With zip lock bags of ice dripping down our backs we started the race. I only felt good for the first few laps (until the ice melted), then it became clear that I would not be winning the race.
Attacks were brought back. Tactics failed. Riders dropped out on every lap. Life became a vacuum. I just kept pedaling and sweating. I started using the wide track on the decents to advance back up to the front in efforts to set an easy pace. On one lap I found myself off the front with Sean. We pushed a little and didn't get a bigger gap on the peloton. Sean looked at me and said, "they're letting us dangle out here". So we settled into a comfortable pace and let ourselves get brought back. It was way to hot to dangle.

Trace Nabors on the front.
We stayed on the front with 4 laps to go until the next time up the tough climb at the bridge. Several riders attacked and Robert ended up going with them. Sean and I both moved to the front and rode a steady pace hoping nobody would chase. Wrong! A few riders went up the left side in persuite.
It took a second to recognize that the leader of the chase was none other than our friend Trace Nabors. As soon as I recognized it I called his name. Then I called it a little louder. Then both Sean and I found ourselves yelling at him but the wind on the back side kept him from hearing us.

So he chased down Robert and the breakaway. But that whole thing was enough to cause the racers to sit in and wait for the sprint. I only hoped Robert had enough left to sprint with.

CAT4 Podium, Road Atlanta, Race#1
He did. Robert is like a sponge when it comes to advise. Before the race I told him not to start his sprint until he was 3/4 of the way down pit road. There's a hill before the sprint and guys will go up that thing too hard. Then they get excited when they speed onto pit road and start sprinting right away. He waited and jumped them for the win. Nice job Robert!

I watched it happen with satisfaction. Then I realized how finished I really was. We started with 75 racers and finished with about 40. I made my way back to my loving family. Lisa was ready to douse me with freezing cold water and made my recovery drink. I sat down in a chair and thought I was feeling better. When I got up I fell back down on the nicest old man sitting next to me. He just laughed. He couldn't understand why any of us were out there in that heat. I couldn't argue with his logic.

That was the only race in the series I had time to do. Thank goodness. But Sean and Robert were committed to the whole thing. I've been waiting impatiently for a story from them about what they experienced. Here's the story from Sean of his victory in the Oxford Road Race.

Georgia Cycling Gran Prix Road Race as told by Sean Philyaw (Winner)

A short preface from the day before to show how things can change on a dime in cycling:
Day 2, at the Gwinnett Center Crit, was a miserable day for me.  The GPS showed 104° Fahrenheit and I went down on the third lap when a rider in front of me checked up on his brakes.  Thankfully, I was able to halfway jump the curb and go down in the grass.  I did bend the rear wheel and pick up some road / grass / dirt rash in the process. I jumped back on the bike and went to the wheel pit for a free lap.  Thanks to the moto-official Bill for that one lap reprieve.  I finished the race pretty far back in the pack and my confidence was dropping like a rock.
After the race, I drank my recovery drink and sipped water every 10-15 minutes until going to bed, to be hydrated for the road race the next day at noon. I grilled chicken and asparagus, my wife boiled orzo pasta and I ate a good meal with my family.  Good quality time to get things back in perspective.  After supper, I called my coach, Nate O’Neill, and told him about what had transpired during Day 2.  He told me, “No pressure mate. Chin up and tomorrow’s race is a whole new day.”
I hopped into the shower, scrubbed the wounds on my leg until they bled and covered them with Tegaderm, so I would not stick to the sheets that night. As a cyclist, when, not if, you get road rash, Tegaderm is the bomb!
That was Thursday night and the first night in three where I actually got good sound sleep. I was physically exhausted from the racing, as well as the heat, and mentally exhausted from the stress and pressure of racing.

Day 3
Robert and I had agreed to meet at my office at 8:15 and carpool to Covington for the Oxford Hills Road Race.
Great, I thought, now I have to listen to Robert brag about how good a cyclist he is for an hour and a half home and an hour and a half back………………..
Just kidding!  Robert is a very gifted athlete and an extremely humble too.
One of the benefits of racing in Georgia is that you get to see so much of our beautiful state when traveling to and fro.  This is the icing on the cake for sure.  We were close to the racing venue when I decided that we should drive the last third of the course.  I had studied the road race map, along with the topo data, and found a spot that I thought would be a good point to start a breakaway. After seeing the area in person, I wasn’t so sure.  We got a good look at the finish line, parked the car and made a dash to the steam house, only to find that since we were utilizing a church property for the race, the church had graciously allowed us to pollute their building instead. On the way up to the building Robert said, “Always bet on the last horse to poop before a race.” Then he graciously allowed me to proceed into the facilities ahead of him.  He’s a crafty racer for sure.
We kitted up, fixed our bottles, aired up our tires and rolled down to the staging area for the start with our spare wheelsets to go in the wheel truck. Johnny Mayero, a strong rider from Frazier Cycling, was sitting there with us baking in the sun when he asked Robert, “Why are you so strong and you don’t shave your legs?”  This was a recurring question from members of the peloton for the remaining races. Robert always smiled at them and laughed because he is used to the abuse and pays it no mind.
From the moto-official John Patterson, “CAT 4-5 Riders, there are 59 of you racing and we will be enforcing the yellow line rule. You will be doing 4 laps, or 42 miles today. Do not litter on the course.  If you have a flat or mechanical, raise your hand and the wheel truck will assist you………..Riders ready?”, and then the whistle blows. At this point, your heart is pounding furiously and if you are an adrenaline junky, these are the types of moments you live for.
I hit the start button on my Garmin, push off, clip in (this is where Speedplays come in handy) and accelerate to get up close to the front to stay out of any possible early crashes.  Robert and I didn’t really have a team plan per se for this race, other than trying to keep Robert out of danger so he could continue his quest to win the omnium.
The course is a 10.25 mile loop with two good long gradual climbs and a bunch of rollers thrown in for good measure. 

This is my kind of course!
Why?  Well, I’m a big guy, by cycling standards anyway, and climbing is not my strong suit.  I really love powering over rollers and putting the hammer down on long gradual climbs.  Cyclists always say to race your strengths and this course suited my strengths well.
I ended up riding on the white line for the first half of the first lap, about half way back in the peloton.  It’s not a place I like to be, but hey, there’s nowhere to go at the moment.  Lifetime Bikes has a guy or two up the road in an early six man break and all you can see at the front are Lifetime Bikes jerseys.  Hey, if you’ve got enough guys on the road, why not? There were rumblings from the peloton. Some of the riders were getting antsy. I love it when guys complain about the pace, yet they are not up at the front doing anything about it. If you want to go faster, get up there and do it yourself!
That blasted yellow line was in the way too and no one could move up.  A guy about seven or eight riders up from me on the white line slid over onto a nicely manicured lawn and proceeded to move up on the shoulder of the road gaining at least ten positions in the process.  It was a thing of beauty.  Star Bridges, who has seen it all in cycling at least twice, once told me of a guy that did this just before the field sprint to gain a better position. My appreciation goes out the rider that made the gutsy move on this particular day. He initiated the beginning of the downfall of the Lifetime Bikes blockade.
A few riders then went up the road to try and bridge, including Robert, but most came slowly back to the peloton as we began to pick up speed. Three of the six that were off the front in the beginning came back to us and we could see the remnants of the first break just up the road when we began the second lap.  They would be back with us shortly.
As we started up the first of long climb of the second lap, the pace quickened and I was able to swing over to the yellow line side of the peloton.  As the group began forming a two abreast line, I took the opportunity to move up near the front on the left side.  There were a few of us up at the front of the peloton that were ready to reel the danglers back into the group, so we began attacking and taking  good hard pulls to up the pace. At this point I was sitting third wheel and the guy up front peeled off.  The second rider, who was now in front, called out “bridge” as if he were going to bridge up but then he peeled off after 5 seconds to let me take my turn. 
Huh? Never heard nor seen that before.  So I took his call out literally and laid down a good hard pull to bring the group back to the break.  That was fun I said to myself and I rolled back to fourth or fifth wheel to watch what transpired for a moment.
I feel good and there’s no need to let people recover, so I hit them again.  Other guys attack, I attack again and we continue to do this through the halfway point of the third lap.  Wow, a full lap of attacking in the CAT 4’s. I can honestly say I was having a blast. This is real racing, not the wait for the sprint at the end stuff you see so much of the time in the lower categories. It took a while to wear the group down, but they finally allowed me to roll off the front all alone and get a small gap with 14 miles to go.
Well, it just so happened that we were right in the area where I had told Robert during our drive in earlier that morning would be a good place to go.  There were rollers, lots of turns and a lot of trees to limit visibility. When I was studying the map before the race, I thought that this was a good place to sneak away using the “out of sight, out of mind” tactic. Of course, all of this is moot if the group is not tired and unwilling to chase.  So much in a cycling race is being at the right place at the right time.  You cannot force things to happen.  You have to have good fitness that you can rely upon and be able to take advantage of opportunities, if and when they are presented to you. I can’t leave out Lady Luck either. Who doesn’t like a little bit of luck every now and then?
A right hand turn comes up and then quickly around a curve. I jumped on the pain train and began time trialing to get a good gap. I did not look back for a while.  I crawled inside the pain cave and built a fire.
I have to say that it’s Robert’s fault that the group let me go.  He was the omnium points leader and they were happy to let me go, as I was seen as a non-threat. During all of the attacking before I got away I was next to Robert and asked him how he felt.  His reply was “not good”.  Just after that quick exchange is when I rolled up to the front. I luckily missing a crash that occurred 6-8 wheels back where a few of the stronger guys went down and would not continue in the race.
So I’m off the front in my own painful breakaway. I made a left hand turn onto a mostly downhill stretch of curvy road with a nice tailwind. I buried myself to increase the gap, staying right on the edge of maximal output without blowing up.  As I made the next turn, I took a moment to peek behind me and there was no one in sight. Keep pedaling and maintain, maintain, maintain is what I repeated to myself.
Being in a breakaway is something that is new to me, as I’ve only recently obtained good enough fitness to put myself into them. As far as solo breakaways go, this was my first.  What do I do?  Can I make it 14 miles alone?  Your mind plays out scenarios and you tell yourself, “I can maintain this heartrate / wattage for only so long , so you begin to wonder if you will make it to the end before running out of gas.
I roll across the start / finish line and through the feed zone with one lap to go.  I feel pretty good and look back to see that the chase group is nowhere in sight. I make a right hand turn onto the busy road with the two long climbs, while the Newton County Deputy blocks traffic for me.  After I’m safely through the intersection, he allows a large box truck on continue down the road behind me.  The red Volvo pace car is out front with the flashers flashing, which tends to be very hypnotic when your heart rate is sky high.  The truck stays behind me for a couple of miles on the long straights, which helps me to hide from the peloton.  After the truck passes me and the pace car, I settle in for the last time up the two long climbs.  Looking behind me, there’s nothing but open road, so I decide to ease off just a bit up the climbs to save energy.
At the top of the second climb, I look back and see the group way back down the road.  I make a right hand turn and disappear from their view. A few rollers and two right hand turns later, I’m making the left again onto the slightly downhill run with the tailwind. I’m trying once again to time trial this section, but my legs are beginning to feel the effects of soloing for 12 miles.  I dig deep and push as hard as I can on the ups and coasting on the downs to rest my legs.  I’m okay on nutrition and managed my hydration well, but at some point your body begins to say enough is enough.
I make the final right hander with one mile to go.  I know that there is one good little hill on this section and then a nice downhill to the small rise at the finish line.  I get to the bottom of the last hill and look back to see the chase group closing quickly.  I panic and stand on the pedals, mashing with all I have.  Uh-oh, this was not a good idea.  I almost blew up. I ease off and begin making the calculation of how hard I should go to make it up the last hill with time to spare.  I crest the hill, look back and they are close.  I push onward down the hill and have just enough energy to roll across the line ahead of the group. I did my best job of posting up when I crossed the line, but my head and arms were not willing participants.  I was able to manage a smile though.
CAT4-5 Oxford Road Race Podium
I somehow pedaled the bike through the parking lot to my car and collapsed onto my cooler after removing a cold bottle of water from it.  Robert finished sixth, in spite of the visit from the cramp monster and when he rolled up, he collapsed onto the ground and we sat there for 20-25 minutes savoring the race and trying to get our core temps down.
Whew! What a difference from the day before. Cloud nine does not begin to describe the way I felt when standing on the podium after having had such a bad day 24 hours earlier.  All of the hours of training had finally paid off!
Yes, winning is good, but you know what else I discovered during this 5 days of racing, helping your teammate(s) is even more rewarding.  I had a blast riding for and with Robert in his pursuit of the omnium win.  Robert did ultimately win the whole enchilada and we had to race until the very last day to secure his points for the overall win.

Sean Philyaw
2012 Georgia Cycling Gran Prix Overall Podium
Congratulations Robert Loomis!

Robert is supposed to be working on his own write up of the series. I look forward to sharing that with you next week some time.

Thanks for reading!

Chad Hayes 

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