Getting my feet wet in West Lafayette
By Brian Morrissey | May 20, 2008
Race name: Tour de West Lafayette
Race date: Sunday, May 18, 2008
Saturday, May 17:
It was a quick drive out, with no traffic, and we actually made it to downtown West Lafayette in under 3 hours. And what did we find?
Lots of cars on the course. And it was kind of obvious they weren’t going anywhere.
A woman asked us what was going on. Her house was right on the course.
“Can I back out?”
“In 20 minutes…”
“Didn’t you get a flyer?”
She had, but not much else as far as information in the way of what was happening. Seems she got it maybe a couple of days before, as well. Nor were the police towing any cars.
It was probably a consequence of several factors involving lack of planning, small-town police syndrome, and some NIMBYism (not in my back yard).
But the police were there to help, and there was no real guff from any locals to speak of as far as we could tell.
In any case, the course was halved and the hill stayed in. So did the time limit. Do the math: (course/2) + (hill)x(same time) = *&$#ing HARD.
57 riders started. 12 finished.
The only flat section was the 100 meter start/finish stretch, and that started after a tight fast corner after a fast hill, on an open course with a yellow line rule.
I was 3rd wheel for the first lap, then rode at the front for the next 3 getting some points. With the hills and trees, there wasn’t much wind expect for the flat part, so it wasn’t really pulling. But after a while I did need to sit in and recover for a while, but never sat more than 10 wheels back.
Early on as I was on the front for bit collecting points, I nearly ended my race at that tight corner, thinking for a couple of awful seconds I was going to have to bail it in the grass. Turning from the line at speed, you had to go all the way to the curb before straighting out. A crash in 3/4 sprint in the 3 man break happened here in fact. Too much power in the lean and you’d lose your wheel quickly.
But the constant climbing took a massive toll. With 5 to go I remember looking back and thinking, “that’s ALL?”
On the last lap, it happened on the back, just below the stinger and it decided the race. The order at that point at the top was pretty much how it finished. And I missed it. I only moved back maybe 2 wheels but it was enough to keep me out of the upgrade points. The hill down to the turn was fast and the line was always single file.
So I was just a bit skittish enough to stay in line and try to get back it back by licking a few plates clean. Which I did. The results weren’t posted by time we left, but I believed I was sitting 9th in the GC.
Tomorrow is the road race, with an even bigger hill. So we know who to watch for and although the pack shouldn’t shell off as much as it did today, the 3 of us who finished today are in good position going into the decisive 5.7 mile time trial.
Sunday, May 18:
Well, things never do end up exactly as you thought they did, remembered from the depths of the race, do they?
We arrived at the start of Sunday’s two stage event around 7:30 that morning, after a dinner with the 8 of us - Jeff and Debi, Jon and Lara, Katy and I, and Bob - at Olive Garden the night before. The results of the criterium yesterday were posted, and I was actually, in 11th place. I thought for sure I’d gotten those other two at the line, but it was not to be. Other the other hand, I was in 5th place for both the sprint points and the KOM points, so that could come into play later, as well as give a payout if I could get up into the top three.
The French Purdue student who’d gotten off the front had a lead of 15 seconds, then there were 11 of us all behind him. From there, the next closest group was at least 3 minutes behind.
The staging area was a state park of some kind, on the site of one Fort Ouiatenon, a French Trading post in the 18th century that played a bit of a role in the French and Indian war, and then it fell into the hands of the English, and eventually the Native Americans, before being destroyed by U.S. troops in the 1791. The park was very spacious, with a recreation of the trading post and other buildings up near the road, several picnic areas and wide open lawns.
We gathered up the road just after nine and watched the 3/4s roll out with the Sheriff’s car in chase, and then just a few minutes later, we were rolling ourselves. Immediately, three Beverly Veepak guys were trying to dictate a fast pace into a strong headwind, in spite of having the 3/4s and their chase vehicle in site the entire first 4 miles. I simply sat on their wheels alternately, pulling through only once, and they would oblige by pulling some more If they wanted to stay in the wind, that was fine by me.
The course was a lollipop of sorts, except we didn’t go back out on the stem to finish. Once onto the loop and past the start/finish line (although the race was live from the moment we rolled out) it was 4 laps on the loop.
The hill was a bugger. A bit shorter than Hillsboro, about as steep as Spring Prairie, it was an ess curve and you couldn’t see the top until the very, very end. And once at the top, you were hit square in the face with that stiff wind once again. This discouraged any attacks on the hill, but invited encouraged them shortly after - for quick recoverers, or on the flat approach up to it.
Two significant attacks got off in the race. The first, just as I mention happened just after the flat left turn past the hill, approaching the start finish. Probably just going for sprint points, his jump was very strong and he got a decent gap that stayed open while we were in the head wind and then into the curving downhill stretch before the turn where we originally turned off. Jeff and I eventually reeled him with two long hard pulls, catching him about a half mile before the hill.
Then, with two to go, a Pista Elite rider snuck off the front before the hill, unbeknownst to me, at least. Jeff, Jon, and I sat at the front of the pack up the hill measuring our pace, and I began to think about grabbing one more KOM point. Just as I jumped we came to the end of the ess curve and I saw him, already grabbing the points. Conviction is not a strong point of mine, and I sort of half-assed it the rest of the way, expecting the 2nd place to be mine, only be pipped by another rider. He smirked at me as I cursed myself.
Back on the flat after the hill, the Pista rider was maybe 50 yards off from us, and his gap was not as strong as the previous attacker’s. We let him dangle out there and watched thrash over his frame in the headwind, tiring himself out. Closing in on the left turn to the decent, we chased, and then swallowed him halfway down.
The last lap was fast and fun. Coming down the hill Jeff, Jon, and I had a nascent train formed, ready to steam ahead of the sprint. But the hill completely broke it up. I really needed to do well in this race, and it was a familiar site going up the last time: several riders passing me. It was all I could do not to let the insurmountable gap open up, especially with the headwind at the top.
As we crested, you could see everyone try to recover as fast as they could, and then ramp up the speed. I closed my gap, grabbed Jon’s wheel, and we closed in on the leaders.
The line jumbled as everyone looked for an opening and a wheel at the same time, and suddenly, Jon, myself, and Jeff found ourselves behind a wall of riders about 6 wide, and just as we were spinning up, the race was over. We finished 6th, 7th, and 10th, respectively, but it could’ve been the complete reverse, it was that close. For all our teamwork up to that point in the race, if we could’ve just held out train…
Back we went to the staging area. We had at least 2 hours until the time trial. Riders would go off at 30 second intervals in reverse order of the GC, and we had to wait until they calculated the standings from the finish of the road race. We lounged in the sun, ate the Jimmy John’s sandwiches they provided us for lunch, and explored the grounds.
We finally saw a crowd growing at the registration table, and figured the results were up. Imagine my surprise when I saw that I was 7th in the GC. Jon was in 8th, and Jeff was in 9th. My sprint and KOM points had really made the difference in my case. Jeff, Suddenly, I started my warm up, I was feeling some of the first real pressure I’ve felt as a racer.
The penultimate stage, the individual time trial, was a 5.7 mile, point-to-point course. From the start of the road race to the start/finish line, it was almost entirely into the head wind, and up the same hill. The three of us went off together in order, with the three final riders just behind us, the French Purdue student was the final rider. They first grouped us by time, then by number since we were all at the same time in the standings. I was Jon’s 30 second man, and since I’ve never come as close to a minute from him in the team FCTT, I had plenty of motivation right behind me.
Since it was so short, it was on from the beginning. I was around 87% effot immediately, and caught my 30 second man, a little guy with peach fuzz on his legs from Wild Card Cycling (Champaign-Urbana) with in a couple of minutes. The wind was tough. I was averaging 22-23 on the flats. A slight downhill got me up close to 27 but that was brief. Once out of the wind I was able to increase the pace a bit, and as the miles ticked off and the hill approached, my effort passed 90%.
I followed Jon’s advice, and spun up the bottom of the hill. Halfway up there was a group of kids cheering us on, and it was enough to get my out of the saddle and hammer and thrash my way to the top. A supreme mental effort just to get back in my big ring immediately in that wind was required but soon I was up to speed, and in the distance I could see the start finish.
Shift. “Clunk. Whirrrr.” Shift. “Clunk. Whirrrr.” Shift. Empty the tank on afterburner.
I crossed the line just over 30mph to big cheers from Katy, Debi, and Lara, and held back the vomit.
I spun down the road about a half mile, and turned around to see Jon doing the same, and Jeff just passing him. We rode back to the start finish and rehashed the final ride. Jon had passed the Wild Card kid as well, but both Jeff and Jon had been passed by a rider behind them, in a blue Endure It kit, on a big time TT set up.
Once back, and the TT results up, waiting for the final calculations, it became obvious that the rider who clipped Jon and Jeff was going to be the winner. He was in our group that was only 15 seconds behind, and he’d put at least a minute into our time. Plus the French rider who was in first had finished behind us. Jeff had crushed the TT, finishing 3rd, in 15:48. I managed a 7th place finish at 16:03, and Jon was right behind with 16:05. Everyone else who finished ahead of us in the TT was out of the top group that was behind the leader, but without knowing how the KOM and Sprint points would figure in, we guessed that at best, we could be looking at a 2nd place in the GC for either Jeff or me, and we’d all be in the top 10 for sure.
After standing around for what seemed like an hour (I was holding my jersey, and didn’t want to be too optimistic) the crowd gathered again and we went over to see what awaited us.
The unattached Samuel Langley, from Naperville, I believe, who passed Jeff and Jon, had won. I can’t recall who was 2nd, but the French rider had accumulated enough points while off the front in yesterday’s criterium to retain his top 3 finish. Jeff got the 4th place, I was 5th, and Jon was 6th. We were all in the money for the event!
And better yet, XXX was the exemplification of team work. Several riders came up and congratulated us as a group. If there’d been a team classification for the 4/5s as there was for the 3/4s, we’d have won, hands down.
What a feeling! I’ve had previously exactly one top ten finish in my nascent racing career and to get 5th place for the omnium in this event was way beyond my expectations. Yet, although I had regretfully skipped Monsters of the Midway to come here, in search of upgrade points, I had succeeded. The 7th place in the road race netted me 3 points! And with our gracious partners there to offer an incredible amount of material and moral support, it was definitely a breakthrough weekend and one for the books!
Too bad my trip would end on a lame note. We were delighted to have found the Triple XXX Family Restaurant on our way into town on Saturday, and we stopped there for a pre-crit lunch. We ate light, telling ourselves we’d make a return stop for one of their “famous burgers.” On our way out of town that afternoon, we returned, and I had the Dwayne Purvis: a double cheeseburger with peanut butter. What the hell, I thought, if this is what they eat in Indiana…
Long story short, I am on my second day home sick. I’ve eaten, in the last 36 hours, exactly three bowls of cheerios. This in itself was enough to make Katy worried, knowing my appetite. Feeling much better, now that it’s “passing” but I am going to be a bit pickier on the road in the future.