It’s the third season for the Winona Lake Criterium (near Warsaw), and for good reason: this is a race destined to become a regional classic. Set on pristine Winona Lake, mountain bikers and roadies alike discovered the beauty of the area in 2004 and have been flocking there in droves ever since.” Teammate Chris Kroll (coming off a strong finish from the previous day’s Eagle Creek Criterium in Indianapolis) and I represented Tortuga/Big Brothers in the 1/2 field. With decent cash, ideal weather, and a healthy field pre-registered – we knew it was going to be a good (but hard) day in the saddle. The primary teams of focus were Bacardi (Bennet, Beason), TX RH (POD, CT, Clark), and ABD (Athletes By Design – a strong Chicago team) fielding 6 guys lead by the always-strong Puffer.
Upon quick survey of the ½ mile course and investigation of how the 1/2 race unfolded last year – – – our goal was simple: DO NOT MISS THE MOVE! The race started off very quickly – almost without Chris (in his ritualistic pre-race deep meditative state, Chris almost missed the start of the race – – that would have really sucked). Anyhow, 15 minutes into the 60 minute race POD launches a wicked attack with Puffer, another ABD guy, Clark, and some FRED in tow. At this point I am thinking to myself “this is silly early for a power move to go like this” followed by “for sure Bacardi or someone is going to bring this bad boy back or can take me up to it”. Well, I was wrong. Before I knew it, I was doing something very atypical – – I launched from the field (just before a semi-technical turn) and was clear – in pursuit of the break. Now I remember why I despise TTs so much. The 10 or so seconds it took me to bridge the gap seemed like an eternity in a lactic-acid filled hell. But, I made it! Yeah that’s right, check it. Although the odds were against me (2 ABD, 2 TX RH, and some FRED) – – I felt good about my chances. Once in the break, I thought I can just sit in and recover for a good bit. Wrong again. ABD and TX RH were driving the break pretty hard. I took all of my pulls (yeah, that’s right) – although, not at the pace nor for the length of time the others were pulling (in spite of POD’s kind efforts to get me to do a little more work – he really was kind). Come on, don’t be silly, I was out-numbered by two very strong teams (what did you expect?!). After gaining 40 seconds on the field I am thinking “ok, lovely, the pace will settle and we’ll cruise into the finish line with all six guys intact – since the wind was brutal off the lake”. Wrong again. All hell breaks loose as an ABD guy (with Clark in tow) attack the break. With Puffer and POD still left from the original break – my ass was staying put. Realizing that Puffer was not going to do much more of the pace setting (since he had a teammate up front) and that the field is starting to close the gap – POD unleashes a series of attacks (attempting to bridge to his teammate and the ABD guy – and loose us mortal cyclist). Puffer was not letting go of POD’s wheel nor was I of Puffer’s wheel. Before you know it, we were catching the two escapees and the sixsome was back in business again (with even more momentum building). With 20 minutes left in the race we begin catching dropped riders from the field (we clocked 1:07 on a few of the laps – ½ mile course – do the math – we were cooking). Two laps later, the main field was in sight. A lap later, we are on the heels of the pack. A corner later, POD accelerates on the right side of the field as Puffer and I lose him (since we were accelerating to the left of the field). An ABD guy (that was with us in the break) follows POD with CT, Bennet, and some others guys that were down a lap in tow. At this point I had two choices 1) go solo again and risk blowing a gasket or 2) take my chances in the field. I picked the later (wrong choice). Despite Kroll’s heroic efforts in trying to bring the 10 seconds POD’s group had on us, we could not catch them. The race was now for 3rd place. With 7 minutes to go, I begin setting up behind Puffer. With half a lap to go, CT (who came back from POD’s group due to illness) begins his tempo in hopes of taking Clark to a good finish. Clark was no where to be found, so Puffer was obliged to take CT’s wheel with me in tow. Puffer rockets around CT in the last turn with me tow. Unfortunately, I could not pass Puffer due to the day’s efforts. ABD guy won, with POD 2nd, Puffer 3rd, and yours truly in 4th. Special Kudos go out to my mate Kroll. Although Chris worked his ass covering dangerous attacks from the field (while I was in the break) and spent himself trying to bring me back to POD after we lapped the field – he still managed to finish a solid 9th. BTW – My ass-neck (muscle region just under the cheeks) was so sore after the day’s effort, it took me a good four attempts to get into Kroll’s car seat (without cramping) for the journey back home…need to figure out some exercises to strengthen that muscle group. All in all, it was a wonderful day in Winona.
Man-up or get the hell out of the way,