District Road Championships, Cat. 4 Race Report
|The District Road Race Championship in Natchez, MS marks the half way point of the racing season - assuming it isn’t cut short again by hurricanes. Natchez was a nice upgrade from past years where the race was held on the rough surfaces of Hodges Gardens near Many, LA. The Category 4’s had an eleven lap, 57 mile race that started in middle of the day at 1pm. Each lap had about 225 feet of climbing with about 150 feet coming on a stair step hill in the first 1 ½ miles.
Things started pretty easy on the first lap. I hadn’t done any warm up before the race so I moved towards the front of the group and pushed it a little bit to see how my legs were feeling. I had raced with the Masters the day before and was concerned I wasn’t going to have much left for today. Everything seemed to be working however, plus I had a chance to get familiar with the course from last race.
The steepest hill is shortly past the feed zone. On lap 3, I ended up with Matt Davis of Team LaS’port and another rider with a slight gap on the field. Matt was taking the hills pretty quick – at least for the rest of us. We kept the pace fast after cresting the hill but the pack wasn’t far behind and caught us after a short time. I also quickly realized that although my legs felt pretty good on most of the course, I was having some issues snapping up the climbs. This could be a problem as the laps wore on.
On the next lap, Matt shoots up the steep hill again and this time I can’t go with him and neither does anyone else. He opens a gap and starts to pull away. I move to the front and start trading short pulls with a few other riders as we start to pull back towards him. On the back side of the course we get better organized and a group of four or five are now working together to keep the pace high. Brooks Abel with NOBC got a late start on his training this year and is trying to race back into shape. He came up and was working hard as were a few others.
There is a short, steep hill about 1 km to the finish with a very sharp right hand turn through gravel at the top. This turn puts you out on a road atop a dam. From the base of the hill we could see Matt holding his lead. The winding roads on the rest of the course made it difficult to see riders off the front. The chase breaks up a little as we make the sharp right turn but then starts up again with a double pace line. Everything is moving great until a rider in a plain white jersey can figure things out. I am behind him and yell to him to pull through or pull off but he doesn’t seem to get it. Things for the most part fizzled after that. As has been the case for many of the category 4 events this season, Matt Davis will stay off the front and finish solo.
The pack is starting to thin some and after another few laps, Mitch Evans with Raising Cane’s attacks the group. I bridge up to him and we start working. We are able to stay well off the front of the pack for a while but get caught after a few miles. The pack is down a few more riders. Stan Prutz with Tiger Cycling is at the front of the group when they catch us. He is riding strong and I tell him to come with us next time so he can help us stay away.
The discussion now in the pack is that we didn’t catch Stacey and he is off the front of the pack between us and Matt Davis. I usually am very aware of what is happening in a race and am sure we caught him right after Andrew. Mitch said he is pretty sure that we didn’t. The consensus seems to be that we caught him and he must have fallen off the pace.
As we start the last lap, my legs have been cramping off and on for a while. It seems like the wind has picked up as well. Brian Lejeune with Raising Cane’s has been leading the climbs for the last few laps. I have been really fighting to stay close and know that this last time he will push the pace. As Brian takes off I put my head down and dig up the hill. After 11 laps, I seem to finally find the gear I need to spin without locking up my legs and still move fast enough not to loose ground. Stan pulls ahead of me slightly and the three of us have a nice gap on the field. We immediately start trading short pulls and the pack is quickly out of sight behind us.
We continue working not taking any chances with the field catching us. Brian continues to push the pace and does longer pulls. He says something about playing “cat and mouse” and I tell him it is a matter of fatigue not strategy. I recover a little and we keep the pace fast. I know we aren’t going to get caught by the pack but no sense letting them even get close at this point.
With a little over a mile to the finish, I see Stacey in front of us. Is he off the front or off the back? It turns out he had stayed away when he attacked. (Mitch you were right, I was wrong). At this point in the race, I am still not sure about Stacey but it doesn’t matter because we pass him with about 1 km to go at the base of the dam. He said he had been fighting cramps as well. Looking back, I guess that is why the Pro Bike guys were so anxious to slow the pace.
Stan is first on the long straight to the finish and I am on his wheel. He starts to pick up the pace right away as we pedal into the head wind. As we hit the 500m mark, Stan is into a full sprint and I am staying with him and don’t hear Brian behind me. At 200m I dig deep and hope the cramps in my legs won’t seize. I am able to come by Stan at the line to finish in second place but not without a lot of groans. Stan had a great race and I glad he was with us on the final breakaway. Matt finished several minutes off the front – a now reoccurring event.
It will take a few days of rest to get my legs back. Hopefully, they will be ready for NOBC’s Tour de Lousiane next weekend.