Lelli, Hed and Sprattling, FTW
By Luke Seemann | May 3, 2009
Race name: Circuit of Sauk
Race date: Saturday, May 2, 2009
On the specialness of this race
The Circuit of Sauk has always been a significant race to me. It was my first road race back when I was a pup in 2005. I performed pitifully, but the sting motivated me to return every year since to redeem myself.
Later I learned that it was on this course that Eric Sprattling, a key figure in the founding of this team, passed away in 1999. Ten years ago. Kyle reminded me of the fact this week. Wouldn’t it be a fine tribute, I thought, if ...
On the bike
People should know by now that I’m not much of a gear fetishist. You may have noticed my eyes glaze over when you start talking about your new 8mm carbon-fiber widget-wadget. Indeed, I’ve always professed to not notice much difference between components. Parts are parts, bikes are bikes. When people ask a question like, “What kind of crank are you runnin’ there?”, I shrug and change the subject.
So that should underscore how remarkable it is that I’m talking about my bike for the second week in a row.
This week I rode for the first time with carbon wheels, Stinger 60’s compliments of Hed Cycling. Wow, what a difference. Nobody told me to expect a bike to levitate and sparkle when souped up like this.
Together, this set-up is a dream. It almost seems unfair. The bike leaps forward with each stroke—“snappy” might be the word I’m looking for—and once it’s going, it doesn’t want to slow down. The result is more speed on less energy.
The handling is ideal, too. I have a reputation for being a tentative descender. I nervously clutch the railing when I descend stairs, and I grab a handful of brake when I go down anything more technical than the Diversey Avenue bridge. Not so with the Lelli/Hed combo. Descending through corners was like going down a fireman’s pole. I didn’t tap the brakes once.
Only 20 other guys in this race, including Brian, who was nervous about the two big climbs. I told him to just position himself near the front so that he could afford to glide back if necessary.
We hit the first climb about three miles in. Three guys were off the front a bit, but nobody was concerned. Brian and I were in perfect position, third and fourth wheel. Soon I was at the front, doing what I do: Sitting and spinning and thinking happy thoughts.
My plan wasn’t to attack on this first lap. I wanted to remain anonymous and wait to strike on the second lap. But these wheels ... they have minds of their own.
About halfway up I looked back and the only person I saw was Brian, holding my wheel like a pit bull holding onto a mailman. We’d dropped the field! I was within my comfort zone, but Brian was really pushing it. “Steady, Brian,” I said. I don’t want him to crack.
And then I shifted up a few gears, got out of the saddle and bounded up the rest of the climb. (Honestly, climbing is hard. I don’t like it. Often the only reason I attack is because it’s the most elegant way of making the pain end sooner.)
I passed one of the guys who’d been off the front. Then the other. When I got to the third, a Chiropractic Partners rider who by this point was on the flat and almost back up to speed, I sized him up. On the one hand, he had a helmet mirror and a headband, certain signs of being a Fred. On the other hand, he wore a Wisconsin state championship jersey, so he must know something about this bike-racing business. With six Brazen Dropouts in the field, the odds were against us, but I cast my lot with him and turned up the tempo. A potential break is just too hard to resist.
Pull, draft, pull, draft. We worked well together. At times we were out of sight, but at others we could look back and see the field. It looked like they were letting us dangle. I was comforted, however, knowing that Brian was back there keeping things in check.
When we hit the top of the second climb, we could see the pack at the base. But that’s how topography can distort the space-time continuum of your gap: Your physical gap will always shrink on the climbs, but in the temporal dimension your gap is in fact unchanged. Sure enough, our gap grew again on the descent, and by the time we hit the tailwind at Turn 1, we’d never see the pack again.
Pull, draft, pull, draft.
When you’re in a successful break, it’s important to remember that it’s still a race. Although it’s a good thing to become friendly with your temporary allies, you can’t be lulled into detente: At some point you must flip the switch from “beating the people you’re not with” to “beating the people you’re with.” Often I have forgotten to flip this switch. I would not forget this time. Too much was riding on it.
With about four miles left, I put in some probing attacks, just to test his strength. He covered each one, and I couldn’t tell how much it took out of him. All I knew is that I did not want this to come down to a sprint. I had to keep at it until I broke free.
I was able to let him lead me into the final hill. As soon as he got into a comfortable rhythm, I leaped up the right. After a few strokes, I looked back. He was still in his saddle. Perfect. I kept up the pressure, and by the time I hit the top I could barely see him.
Now to make it stick. Two miles to go, including the descent. Pedal, pedal, pedal, look back. Pedal, pedal, pedal, look back. For all I knew he was an ace time trialist and would soon be on my wheel.
Finally it became evident that this was going to end up just as I’d dreamed I would one day finish a race. I had time to zip up, and as I approached the finish line I pointed to the heart we wear on behalf of Eric Sprattling, and then I proudly pointed to our team logo.
I’ve come a long way since my first trip to Baraboo four years ago, and none of it would have happened without the team. If ever there was a team victory, this was it. Brian may have been the only teammate with me in body, but everyone was there in spirit.
I knew I’d be a bit knackered for the second race, but we had some handsome firepower there: Jacques, Newt, Kevin, Peter and young Dave Moyer. My goal was to contribute as much as I could to create a favorable selection and then let the others do their thing.
What would a favorable selection be? We started with about 16 percent of the 38-strong field. A good break would thus improve on that percentage, and it would have a good mix of climbing and sprinting ability.
It didn’t take long. Fireworks started on the first climb. Groups formed and fell apart until after the second climb we were a group of nine, including me, Jacques and Dave. 33 percent good guys. No other team was represented by multiple riders. I liked this group.
Some were anxious about keeping the tempo up, lest stragglers catch us. I urged Jacques and Dave to take it easy. Long ago Seth had taught me that if you drop people on the first of many climbs, it’s not a big deal if they catch back on: You’re just going to drop them the next time up. This proved to be true today, too ... except for Al from Cuttin’ Crew. We left that dude for dead multiple times, but each time he came back like a relentless zombie, pale and drooling. Major ups to him. (I believe he would hang on to the end and finish 5th.)
By the last lap I was really feeling the first race, and it wasn’t too far into the big climb that my legs just didn’t want to go any more. I kept looking down to confirm I was in the small ring. I had to bid adieu to the break.
Between then and the finish line, I would be scooped up by a group of seven, including Peter. We were racing for 10th place. My legs were absolutely dead, but I put in as many attacks as possible in the final few miles. I knew none of them had a chance at sticking, but nobody else knew that. I was just hoping to open up something for Peter, and indeed he was able to sprint clear in the end, falling just inches short of winning our group sprint. Ahead of us, Jacques finished 4th and I believe Dave was 7th.
No W, but we asserted ourselves on the race, and we raced it on our terms. I hope Eric would have been proud of us.