It was that time of year again. You train in the winter (try to) and hope to show up at Roubaix in decent enough shape to finish. Having only trained for 4 months after taking 2 years off after knee surgery, I was pumped about doing the rouge again. I love this race as it's long enough for the strongest men to come shining through.
Me and my teammate Stephen Mire had already raced the last 3 weekends so while we were getting good racing in our legs, we were getting a tad tired at the same time. We nonetheless went into the race with our coach and team owner Ben Stone of Sigma Development Racing Team coming down from Little Rock Arkansas to give support on and off the road.
Stephen came over the night before and we packed so we could wake up, slam down some coffee and food, and hit the road. We got to the race with it still black outside and started getting ready only to find out Stephens headset was loose. After a good 45 minutes of fiddling around with a flashlight and allen wrenches, we got it in their snug. Crisis averted! Hoora. We stuffed down a clif bar, talked strategy, and got to the start line on time and read to go.
The race was off and despite it being only 60ish degrees, I was freezing and couldn't stop shaking. I road the first few miles next to Johnny Brizzard from Pensacola and took note of his "Giant" that was covered in painters tape and with a piece of paper taped on the downtube in plain letters "G I A N T". That was a good laugh and having just met him, I had no idea he'd be as much of a factor in the race as he ended up being.
Our plan was to go into all the gravel sections first and stay with the front since it always breaks up. Unfortunately I had mistaken my urge to pee as nerves, and didn't go at the last minute.. This would haunt me the entire race as there never was a community pee break. As we rounded the corner the first gravel section came in to site. I was sitting in #1 spot next to my teammate when we heard that god aweful noise of a crash. Someone perfectly described the sound of a crash to me once as someone lifting a metal grocery cart and slamming it to the ground.. + loads of yelling and swearing. Being thankful we were at the front we entered the first gravel section rather slow since everyone slowed up a bit upon hearing the wreck. I couldn't grab any traction at first and quickly lost 5-6 spots after about 100 meters in. I clawed my way to try and grab a spot but was still losing ground. Losing momentum on this gravel section is a race killer. I finally managed to get my bearings and got in line. Going into the first left turn the gun in front of me overcooked it like crazy and went down hard. I stuck close to the inside and got by unharmed, only to come up on the next right turn behind 4 more guys going down. Another guy took out Ed Novak from Midsouth masters and that forced me and Brennan Percy (LSU Cycling) straight off the road into a ditch where I pulled a coup des gras and went flipping over the handlebars. Brennan later confirmed how awesome it looked. I quickly remounted and started pounding to try and catch the lead group which now looked like about 20 riders. They were out of site so I buried myself with Brennan in tow to catch them as I didn't want to be chasing all day. A few riders caught me from behind and were content to sit on my wheel. We came out of the gravel section and I grabbed a bag from Ben Stone full of goodies. This was a terrible time to try and go through a bag of food while chasing the lead group. so I attempted to hold on to 2 bottles, gels and food in this plastic bag while chasing. We caught the lead group after about 2-3 miles of chasing and I was able to sit up and put my bottles in the cages and.. doh! drop my food!
My legs were feeling good at this point and the lead group ballooned to about 30-40 as people caught back on. There was a small break up the road that no one seemed too concerned about and everyone was pretty content to coast along at 18mph for a good 20 miles. Once Pondstore starting nearing, the pace started to heat up. Me and Stephen made our way to the front as planned and went through the left hand turn onto Pondstore Road only to have a guy come shooting around me and crash in spectacular glory. That got everyones adrenaline pumping and the race for the base was on. Me and Stephen once again went in first and second and charged up the hill. My legs were feeling good and watts seemed decent as I was putting about 400 out whenever I looked, and ended up averaging 380w (5.76 w/kg) for the 0.6mile climb. I was tipping off the front of the group, caught one of the 3 breakaway guys, and went over pondstore with around 10 guys clipping behind. We regrouped and the hammer was thrown down for about 2 miles. This is where people started sandbagging in a big way.
After pondstore there were only 3 guys working at the front to keep the group away: teammate Stephen Mire, Kyle Taylor (Mobile Velo), Virgile (TCF), and myself. We ended up catching another guy in the break leaving only 1 off the front. The other were nice enough to sit on so after a few miles I coasted through the pack to assess what the group situation was. All strong riders, so something needed to be done to tire some of these guys out so my teammate Stephen would have a little advantage at the end if it came down to a sprint. Coming into one of the steeper longer rolling sections of the course I put a little pressure on the pedals going up a hill and got a pretty sizeable gap. I immediately put my arms on the tops and went into TT mode. My legs were feeling pretty good and the lone lead rider was now in site. After a few miles of rolling along I caught the lead guy and went straight to the front and kept pounding away. This is where my race pretty much blew apart.
I never do races without just water, until today. It was my own fault really. Our bags were loaded with a gatorade bottle, and a bottle of water with honey and salt. Either way, it wasn't good for me as I get severely dehydrated when I only have gatorade. All the sudden my legs get that twinge that feels like a cramp is coming on. I've never cramped during a race once in my entire life and couldn't believe it was going to start now. I was given a time check of 30 seconds from the referee when we went into old tunica. The chase had been roaring for about 5 miles and Stephens biggest competitors were doing all the chasing. Mission accomplished. These riders were then immediately dropped going into Old Tunica.
(part of file from solo break)
My legs didn't wanna go up this damn road. It was so dry and loose that I figured I could go up faster running than walking. I turned around and see the main group coming into old tunica and hear the motorcycle spin out and go down. A few riders managed to stay on the bikes and went riding past so I remounted and tried to stick on their wheels. A very select group of riders were now barreling along and I was having some serious trouble going through the descent and turns without sliding all of the place. I lost the group on a descent buried myself to chase back only to catch them on the last steep section of the gravel. I had to unclip and thought my race was over. My fighting mentality came back and I mounted up again and started chasing like crazy. I couldn't believe my eyes when I came back to the road and saw them about 45 seconds up the road. It was gonna be a huge effort but I pushed along and went flying through a hairy right hand turn at 37, using every inch of road and cutting into the apex. I caught 2 guys who were in chase mode and immediately attack past them and made it to the lead group. It was a huge effort and turned out to be my 2nd to last match. My teammate Stephen saw I was back on and told me that the 2 guys that were really good sprinters (these little twins from Subaru who I call the energizer bunnies) were chasing to get back on and we needed to stay away from them. I went to through front after almost barfing a lung up from chasing and did what I could to lift the pace. After about 3 miles of this my legs seized up and I had to pull over. I was livid to say the least. Our coach was riding behind us and I quickly asked for WATER. I just needed water. After throwing a Mark Cavendish fit on the side of the road, downing 2 bottles, and stretching, I remounted and VOILA.. My legs were perfect. I was pretty pissed that I lost contact with the lead group over such a stupid reason and began chasing again. I averaged around 24mph chasing back but never caught them. I ended up finishing about 50 seconds off the back and finishing 10th place overall.
My teammate Stephen ended up winning the race. Stephens riding so strong right now and I was so overjoyed at the finish that I almost cried when he told me he got it. We both had a great race and Stephens definitely going to be winning more this year.
So 4 races so far this season and 2 huge wins. Hopefully our year will continue to be this good.