SpeedWeek, Fort Ritchie, and Jeff Cup, oh my!

Congrats to Pierce Schmerge, who got the duty done with a second place in the men’s Cat 4 field at Fort Ritchie on Saturday! Andrew headed down south for the latter half of SpeedWeek to try and pick up a little race experience. And what an experience it was!

Starting with the Downtown Walterboro Criterium, I lined up for the 4/5 race.  On lap 2, a solo racer went up the road and I heard his teammates talking at the front, organizing a block. Since I was without any teammates, I bridged to the rider. When I made it across, we talked and agreed to work together. As we passed the start/finish, the announcer called out the move, punctuating the statment with “in the 4/5 men’s race.” Immediately, my companion let slip an expletive and asked if this was really a 4/5 field. It was, to which he responded “I’m a cat 2!

The racing had gotten behind schedule and my breakaway friend was apparently unaware of the time change. The officials pulled him on the next lap and I found myself alone. Expletives sailed through my head, but I committed to the move since it already had over ten seconds on the field. With approximately eight laps to race, I was joined by three additional escapees. Instead of keeping the pace high, the break refused to play nicely together. After a few laps of dangling ust off the front of the field, we were swallowed. Not ready to give up, I defended a position in the top ten wheels to tick out the remaining laps.

The final two turns of Walterboro came off a long, power friendly straight. The course narrowed significantly into the second to last turn (a 90* right), and barely opened back up as the last turn (another 90* right, almost immediately after the prior) dumped on to the finish straight. There were maybe 200 meters after to the finish after the turn, so it was full gas out. With a lap to go, I moved myself into the best position I could manage for the final turns. Turns out, luck was on my side: hearing my name called across the PA system as I won the sprint was pretty friggin’ cool.

After Walterboro, we were treated to a rest day so that we could drive to Spartanburg, SC for the Spartanburg Regional Classic criterium. There, my field would be a 3/4 with 30 laps of racing. The course was four 90* right hand turns, slightly downhill after the first turn, slightly uphill just before the last turn. The back of the course was windswept, and the field was very aggressive. I found myself working hard in the peloton, and struggled to find ways to keep position towards the front. I was discouraged, and almost immediately resigned myself to a pack finish. However, as the end of the race drew close, I was still in contact and working no harder than before. So, I moved towards the front. Teams had been working hard there all race, so I knew the work wouldn’t be left to me to make things pointy for the sprint. Single file, turn, single file sprint:  I should have been a little farther forward. I got boxed in and had a lot of gas left, but walked away with a sixth place.

The next day was the Dilworth Criterium in Charlotte, NC. Oh. My. Four strange turns through a rolling neighborhood. Most importantly, turn four, a 90* left, was at the base of a climb not unlike Carl Dolan. Except unlike Dolan, the field would park it in the turn, then sprint out of the it. What a course….

There isn’t too much to say about Dilworth. A couple teams rode very strong races from the whistle, and it didn’t hurt that all the riders involved in the moves that got space on the field were very, very strong themselves. I made a couple bridge attempts as breaks went up the road, and succeeded once or twice, but ultimately I wasted too much energy. With only half the race over, I realized I’d popped myself trying to get distance on the field. I sat up a bit to tuck in for a recovery. Next thing, I’m on the back of the field, working too hard to maintain contact. Out of turn four, the field sprinted. I didn’t. A gap opened and I said my goodbye. DNF. Not all races can go well, and I learned a lot, so I’m not crushed. But still, nobody wants that.

From the course at Dilworth straight into the truck to drive to Charlottesville, VA for the rescheduled Jefferson Cup Road Race. This one’s easy: at the front, at the front, at the front, at the front all race. I had good position, raced smart, and was happy with how easily fifty miles went by. The field wasn’t letting anybody get away, and I’ve been finishing well in sprints, so I wasn’t keen to upset the balance. Out of the final turn, I was aggressive with my positioning, which turned out to be too much so. With about 1.5km to go, I found myself on the front, pulling the field, with no chance of pulling off. So much for my race: as 500 meters passed, I was swarmed, as expected, and I rolled in for 23rd place. Disappointing? Yes, quite.

In five days, I raced four times and had a fantastic time. I got to watch some of the best riders in the country do their things, and I learned a lot from them. I’m happy with how much I improved my routines: from race parking bottle filling to packing improvements, I think every aspect of my racing was improved in one way or another. The way I figure, if I can take away some kind of education from a race, it’s not lost even if the result was garbage. And not to forget, a big thank you to my traveling companions, The Dirt Field and Monika Sattler who were invaluable: from number pinning and recovery drinks to directions to every. single. race. venue. They raced their debut SpeedWeek performances in the women’s P/1/2 fields for XO Communications/Battley Harley-Davidson and had phenomenal results. Chapeau!

 Oh, and before you ask: the upgrade requests are in. With any luck, Pierce and Andrew will be saying hello to the cat 3’s soon!

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