Race Report by Joseph Reis
During the week of 6/20 I competed at the USAC Junior Nationals. Nationals took place in Georgia starting on 6/23 and ran until 6/26. The racing consisted of a 30km Time Trial, a 50km Criterium, and a 96km Road Race on the last day. My Dad and I made the long haul down to the peach state a few days prior as to have a little time to settle in. I knew that the heat would be a major factor in the way I raced, but when I stepped out of the air-conditioned car after two days of driving, the heat hit me like never before. I knew this was going to be a challenge yet I couldn’t have been more ready to race. In these next few paragraphs I will give detailed reports of the new experiences each day had to offer.
6/23- Time Trial
The TT course was a pretty basic 30km out-and-back route that started and ended on a long dam. The terrain was relatively flat with a few small rollers. I wasn’t exactly sure of my abilities going into this race though. My body had been responding well to the heat so far and my legs were feeling snappy after spinning them out and doing some openers the day before, but this would be my first real TT of the season. Besides this, I had to change my riding position the night before so as to comply with UCI regulations. The bike fit was radically different now and my riding style had to be tweaked. To say I had the pre-race jitters would be an understatement. I tried to focus on the task at hand though and I just focused on positive energy and getting a good warmup.
When I rolled into the start ramp, my body took over. I watched the starter’s fingers slowly fold as she counted down the final seconds on her hand and then it was go time. There was nothing to hold back now and it was up to my training to decide how I fared.
I slowly settled into a groove and tried to stay as aero as possible while keeping a high cadence. This was the longest TT I had ever done so I wanted to make sure not to burn myself up in the first half of the course. I kept the competitor ahead in sight and slowly worked my way up to him. There was a bit of head-wind so I was sure that many of the kids would go out to hard and not be able to take advantage of the wind on the way back. I just kept my effort steady and powered through the hills.
A few minutes into the race I was powering past the competitor from earlier and the confidence was rising. I used this confidence to my advantage and kept up the positive thoughts as I approached more and more riders. By the 15km turn-around, I had passed a few riders and was now ready for the fast return. With the tail-wind, I easily spun out my 52×14 junior gearing and my cadence was sky-rocketed. The race was no longer about who could turn over the biggest gear, but about who could sustain the highest cadence. The legs were feeling fast and I let them run. I passed more and more riders who were slowly fading and before I knew it I was back to the dam. With 1km to go I pushed until I could push no longer and it was full throttle to the line.
I finished with a time of 41:30 which put me in 37th for the day. Overall, the race went well. I gave everything I had and I finished well into the top 3rd of the 122 rider field. I was excited, but the second I finished, I knew it was time to forget about the day’s results and focus on the racing ahead.
The criterium at nationals was a simple 1km course with four corners in downtown Augusta. Having the race at 4:30pm on one of the hottest days of the trip was brutal, but I certainly learned a lot. The legs were feeling alright after the previous day’s effort, but the body was not responding well to the 101 degree heat. Hydration was key and I managed to drink a lot leading up to the race, but a lot was not enough on a day like this.
I got my warmup in on a trainer in the shade and I was already overheating. As I made my way to the staging area, I could tell that the field was bigger than yesterdays race. There were 130 riders all crammed into the staging chute and I was in the back. I could tell that getting to the front would be an all-race event on this short, tight course. The sun was also brutal and the tall buildings of the city didn’t seem to provide the shade many wished for. I knew this was going to be tough.
Call-ups started and I was able to edge into the 2nd or 3rd to last row of the pack before we took off, but this hardly made a difference because the pack was instantly strung into single file. All of the sudden, the late afternoon affair had turned into a matter of survival. As each lap passed, I became hotter and hotter. The pace never really died down and we were all spinning out our junior gearing. About half way through the race, I managed to move up towards the middle of the pack and missed a crash, but I wasn’t able to get into a position closer to the front before the pace picked up. By this point I had nothing left. I was overheating to the point of chills and moving up was not an option. So I hung on for life and hoped to finish. With each corner I had to dig deeper and deeper to stay with it. I was suffering. Everyone was still fighting for position and I was just happy to not be at the very back of the field.
All the riders in the field were doing relatively well together. We were communicating and hanging together, but the combination of the heat, the high pace, and the short, fast course made things difficult for many of the riders. About 50 ended up coming off the back for one reason or another. I managed to stay with it and rolled in with the pack for a 57th place finish. This was perhaps the most difficult race I had ever done and I was happy to not be part of the long DNF list. Had I started at the front of the pack, the race might have gone differently as I wouldn’t have over-exerted and over-heated by mid-race, but the way the course was, moving up was extremely difficult. This is one experience that I will make sure to learn from and never forget. Next time I am in a race like this I have to find ways to keep cool. I witnessed many southern racers’ methods of keeping cool and I will know what to do in the future.
6/26- Road Race
The road race went pretty well. The race was held on an army base which made for a very interesting morning of going through security checkpoints and listening to machine-gun fire while warming up. I was feeling much better about the race than I had about the past two races. For one, the race was being held in the morning so heat wouldn’t be an issue. The course also had some nice hills in it that I knew I would be able to fare well on. Unfortunately the hills were not big enough to split the pack, but they were enough to sort out the group.
As I warmed up I could tell the legs were back. I made sure to get to the staging area well ahead of time in order to get a decent spot and was lucky enough to start towards the front. The race started at a pretty good pace, but like most junior fields, the first few minutes were a little sketchy. The first climb of the 24km loop came faster than I thought it would. The 140 rider field stretched out, crested the hill, and descended the back side at a good click. I’m pretty sure there were a few attacks at the beginning too, but they were all brought back in a matter of minutes. The course didn’t really favor a breakaway though. With its long straightaways it was just too difficult to get out of sight.
Things stayed pretty calm for the first lap, but then the crashes began. I am not sure how it is possible, but there were close to 10 crashes in this race. Not just small crashes though. These crashes were nasty. Kids were going off the road into signs and were crashing in feed zones and taking multiple people out. The first crash happened before the finishing climb. From what I saw it was pretty bad and took out a number of kids. I was lucky to miss this one and hammered up the finishing climb and through the feedzone in order to get to the front and stay out of trouble.
The attacks continued, but never amounted to anything. A few teams put riders on the front to try in an attempt to control things, but there was never much organization and besides the crashes, not much really happened until the hammer dropped on the fourth and final lap. The legs were still feeling fresh and I was ready. I positioned myself in the top 20 and kept moving into better positions. About 15km out and a group of two go off the front. There are a flurry of attacks to try and bridge up to this group, but only one more rider would make the gap. I was trying to decide whether or not to go for it and decided against it based on the fact that nothing else was able to stick. I positioned myself 5th wheel and waited. I watched as the break was brought back to 10 or 20 seconds and then the team driving the train let go and the pack ballooned. I realized I was in trouble as I was suddenly blocked in on both sides with 3km left to the finish. I tried my best to get to the outside, but the more I moved, the further back I was forced by the swarm of riders edging for a wheel. We hit the final climb at speed. I had finally made it to the far left of the group and I was attempting to get to the front again. All of the sudden, the front of the group exploded. Riders started dropping left and right. It was ridiculous. I could barely move up the road because it was so congested. I had to slam on my brakes a number of times to wait for holes to open and then I would shoot through them to have to wait on another hole. By the top of the climb I had only managed to take back around 10 spots and had missed the lead group. I finished just behind in 33rd.
This was a pretty frustrating way to end a race that I felt confident about, but I guess that is just the nature of bike racing. The race was definitely a fun one though and although I didn’t place where I wanted, I know the legs are there now. It was also a new experience as I had never raced in a field of 140 riders. I didn’t realize how crazy the final kilometers could be, but next time I am in a field of that size, I will know what to do.
Going into nationals I knew that I was in for a wild experience. It is true that each race could have been different for better or worse, but the things I learned from these races were invaluable and overcome the feeling of “what if.” I know I gave it my all and I had a fun time. That’s all the matters.
As a final note, I would like to thank PVC for all the support! I can’t express how great it feels to be part of such a wonderful and supportive club as a junior.