A Ride in the Park
It was a rare treat to have the Louisiana – Mississippi USAC Criterium Championships at home in New Orleans this year. The venue at City Park was scenic, spectator friendly, and challenging, and the events went off smoothly. My initial thoughts that the course would be too easy and non-technical went out the window pretty soon after the start of the Masters race. With two turns each lap that usually required brakes and subsequent out-of-the-saddle accelerations, it turned out to be a much harder course than I had anticipated, as evidenced by the fact that none of the races finished with big pack sprints.
The combined Master 35+/45+ race started out pretty fast. Two or three times within the first half of the race there were small breaks off the front that contained both NBO and Midsouth riders. With two teams unwilling to chase, I found myself doing quite a bit more work at the front than I’d hoped. At one point a 3-man break that included NBO riders Mike Corcoran, Woody Boudreaux and Jay Scheib opened a huge gap. I took a pull at the front but wasn’t getting a whole lot of help, so I sat up and looked around for the Herring guys and for Realdo. It was starting to look like a perfect setup for Reo to attack out of the pack and make the bridge, which was something I definitely couldn't do myself, so I didn’t want that train to leave the station without me. Sure enough, just after the U-turn Realdo launched at a blistering pace. Knowing that the race would be over if he made contact, I put the pedal to the metal in hot pursuit. I was going absolutely flat out for half a lap, hanging maybe four bike lengths behind and unable to close until finally he eased up as he got close to the break. I was absolutely on the rivet the whole time and just a hair’s width from blowing up entirely. Once we made contact, the break started working fairly smoothly and although I wasn’t looking behind me much I knew we must be opening the gap. Finally, as we got into the closing laps, Realdo attacked again and the response by the rest of the break was less than enthusiastic. I figured it wasn’t my job to chase Reo down, and besides, I was happy to have him out there. So with a lap to go, Reo had the win in the bag and it was going to come down to a sprint for the rest of the break. Somehow I got myself into the 2nd spot behind Jay who had started a long acceleration on the back side of the circuit.
When we came around the last left-hand turn I thought I was in a good position, just to the right of Jay, near the curb, with the wind coming from the left. However, instead of swinging out and starting the sprint like I expected, Jay stayed to the right and eased up coming around the turn and I found myself overlapping his wheel and with a tough decision to make. I could launch immediately down the right edge, squeezing between Jay and the curb, or try to back out and go around on the left where I knew the rest of the sprint, and draft, would be. I chose the former. Mike came past me easily and then, right at the line, Woody totally surprised me and threw his bike just to my left. They had to go to the video to figure that one out, and it turned out that, thanks to blind luck, I had just nipped him for 3rd overall (1st 45+). The course was seriously fun, and I was happy with the results, but as I was cooling down I noticed that something didn’t feel right. I had noticed it toward the end of the race too, especially when I had inexplicably skipped a pedal on the last lap, and when I finally stopped to investigate I found that I had maybe 25 psi left in my rear tire. Later inspection revealed a rusty metal staple sticking out of the sidewall, so I was pretty lucky to have made it to the finish. Now I had an hour or so to recover before the Cat. 1,2,3 race.
I was hoping to employ my usual “2nd race of the day” strategy for the Cat. 1,2,3 race. That usually involves acting as pack fodder, trying to avoid being dropped, and hoping to have something left at the end to pick up whatever leftovers the day’s break might provide. Well, it didn’t quite work out that way. This race started out absolutely ballistic – significantly faster than the Masters race. Kenny did his traditional go-from-the-gun attack for the first lap or so, but the pace didn’t slow appreciably after that. There were little groups splitting off the front. Reo and Tim bridged up to one of them and eventually things up the road merged and a break of maybe six riders started to solidify. The gap was growing and the chasing was starting to falter. The race was riding away from us. I looked around and wondered if Frank Moak would try to get up there with his two teammates. A couple of laps later Frank powered away after the U-turn and it was like déjà vu for me. This time, at least, I got his draft quickly, and along with Wylie Bagley from GCCA we ended up with a pretty significant gap. Wylie and I were working hard to chase, but of course Frank wasn’t going to work with us since he already had two teammates in that break, either of whom could win. Perhaps I shouldn’t have worked so hard to chase, knowing that Frank was just waiting for us to get him close enough to try for a solo bridge, but I knew that if we somehow could close that 15 second gap the rest of the pack would never catch. So I rolled the dice and for what seemed like an eternity we chased, gradually chipping away at the gap. We were getting pretty close when Frank attacked (more than once), but he wasn’t going to pull either of us up to his teammates and couldn’t quite get himself clear, so after responding to a few of those attacks our chase started to crumble. All this time the remnant of the pack, now substantially reduced in number, was hovering maybe twenty seconds behind us. Now that gap started to shrink rapidly. Kenny, Brooks and a few riders bridged up to us, and eventually we ended up with a group of I guess six or seven as the break rolled off out of sight. With only six laps to go I rounded a corner and heard the dreaded “pssssssst” of a flat. Getting the last free lap of the day and a wheel from Jason who was manning the pit, I got back in with 4 laps to go. With the break now down to four riders, it was going to be a sprint for 5th place and my legs were none too good. As the last lap began I moved up near the front. I figured Kenny would be doing leadout duty for Frank, so I tried to insert myself between the two but eventually gave in. I still managed to eek out a reasonable sprint under the circumstances, though, and I ended up 8th overall, so I was pretty happy with that.
In other races, we had a pretty good NOBC group in the Cat. 5 race which looked to be fairly conservative. Mike Rivault took 5th which was the best of the six riders we had in the race. The Cat. 4 race got pretty shattered after a couple of messy crashes. Brady Skaggs had attacked right after the race, opening quite a gap, but was reeled in. Later, I saw him way off the back of the main group(s) and figured he might have gotten tangled up in one of those crashes, but after the race when I was warming up for the Cat. 1,2,3 race I rode a lap with him and learned that the bottom half of his right handlebar had snapped off, so he had ridden the rest of the race with part of his handlebar held on with nothing but unravelling handlebar tape. He still finished 9th. It was nice to see Laura and Vivian racing in the women’s race, and Viv ended up in the medals behind the break of Taylor Alexander and Rosanne Simons.