Today marked the 1st day of the inaugural Tulsa Tough. The Tulsa Tough features 3 days of criterium racing in downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma. The purse is huge ($75,000 for the three days) with $10,000 up for grabs in each one of the Pro I/II races (25th place in any one day practically pays for all of your entry fees for the three days) – couple that with individual and team omnium purse and 100 plus dollar primes make for furious speeds, high risk-taking, and large fields (125 man filed limit was reached via online pre-registration well before the 1st day of racing began). Notable teams (i.e. Monex) and individuals (i.e. Eddie Gragus and Steve Tilford – both of which are longtime and established pros) were present. 1st race was the Blue Dome Twilight Criterium (race start time was 9:15 PM!). The course was technical yet fast (figure eight with wide corners, rough pavement, and a smattering of manholes strategically located in the corners).
The goal was simple for me: stay up right, mark the right wheels and finish in the money. Needless to say, I accomplished 1/3 of my goal (keep reading). There was a race before the race even began. 125 Pro I/II riders camped out at various strategic locations along the start/finish in hopes of getting a good start position at the line. As soon as the last rider from the previous race crossed the line – a mad stampede ensued as riders elbowed each other and spectators alike to get a good starting position. I was able to get a good start and off we went. As expected, the speed was absolutely furious (very little points were the speed dipped below 30 MPH). It took me a good 30 minutes before I was able to roll my tongue back into my mouth (and off the stem) and distinguish the shadows of the night from the potholes (its not very often that I do a crit with break-neck speeds at 9:00 PM). Once stable, I was able to move up and get into a comfortable state. As soon as I got to into the top 30 I began scouting for wheels that I needed to look for at the end. The speeds and nature of the course did not lend to successful breaks (although flyers were going off the front constantly). A field sprint was inevitable. Perfect. With about 10 laps to go all hell breaks loose. Smelling the purse at the end of the race, guys began taking unnecessary risks (the fatigue and nighttime conditions deceiving your senses did not help either). I was able to get through (barely) some sick crashes. With three laps to go, I was in a lovely spot – in the top 15, behind Tilford and Gragus with Gargusí team riding tempo at the front. At this point I was thinking “sweet, hold your position and get ready for the two-block sprint to the finish line for a top 10 placing.” As soon as this thought crept in my mind, riders began to go down on either side and in front of me (it was wild to see the sparks from bikes hitting the pavement at night). I had no room to escape and before you know it I was looking up at the streetlights. There was carnage all around me with guys moaning and groaning (about 20-25 guys went down). I was the last to be scrapped of the pavement by the volunteers before the field came back around again (about 53 guys did not finish due to the crashes). My lower back, ankle and bottom of foot were badly bruised along with some lacerations on the hands. I was taken to the hospital for some x-rays to make certain nothing was broken and to get cleaned up. Fortunately, the x-rays showed no damage. My traveling companions (Declan Doyle, Jeff Weaver, and Bennet V of Nuvo/Bacardi) were also not so fortunate. Bennet crashed with one lap to go. Doyle and Weaver got caught behind wrecks. Sled is in working condition. A few (10-20) ibroprofen and some ancient Chinese remedy ointment and I should be good to go for another day in the saddle tomorrow. Although I crashed, I felt good and was in position for a strong finish. Tomorrow is another day. Stay tuned.
Man-up or get out of the way,