Meridian/Cuba Challenge Cat. 4 Race Report
The summer heat was in full swing at the Meridian/Cuba Challenge race. Saturday afternoon was the criterium race in downtown Meridian. The course was really nice with a couple of slight inclines and a big downhill before a right turn on to a long stretch to the finish. There were about 30 riders when our race started at 4PM, many of them from the Meridian Team. There were quite a few strong riders in the field which I figured would make it more difficult for Matt Davis to solo off the front like he has done in many other criteriums this season.
My plan was to keep pace with Matt and a few other riders who I know are strong and let any other attacks go. I figured if one of the Meridian riders got a big lead off the front, we had enough riders in the pack to reel them back in. The pace stayed pretty steady and there weren’t really a lot of attacks. The pack had thinned to 10-15 riders in the last few laps and I was feeling pretty good. I was staying on the wheel of Matt or Clint Austin with Trizilla.
On the last lap, Matt pushed the pace a little faster at the base of the last little climb. I was behind Clint in fourth place. I am not sure exactly what happened but as I rounded the right-hand corner at the top of the hill, my back wheel skipped hard to the left. I steered to the left to recover and about had things in control when I managed to T-bone one of the hay bales on the side of the course. I flipped over the bale and landed in some soft mud on the side of the road. I think I popped up before my water bottle hit the ground but by the time I got my chain back on, I was only able to finish 14th.
There was another crash behind me at the same corner. I think someone else had skipped a pedal on the road and several riders went down a lot harder. Matt beat Clint in the sprint to win the race.
The road race was 46 miles of rolling hills in Cuba, AL. We started at 10:30AM and it was already sunny and hot. There were a few more riders for the road race and the pace was pretty quick from the start. The course had a 3 mile lead-in to a 20 mile loop. We would do two laps on the loop before heading back in for the finish.
About half way into the loop, there are few steeper hills and Matt hit the first one of them hard. I moved up on his wheel and riders started to quickly slip off the back. He kept the pace high up the next one and I could already feel the power leaving my legs. Things stayed fast with Matt doing a lot of work on the front. I was wondering if I was going to be able to finish another lap.
On the second lap, Glenn Richard with Raising Cane’s had gotten off the front. The pack got close to him but didn’t catch him so I bridged up to see if maybe we could get away. It didn’t last long at all and we were soon on the steeper section of the course.
I thought Clint had dropped off the back of the pack during the first lap. That was not the case as he pushed the pace up one of the hills. Matt went with him and I was on his wheel. We had a slight gap but weren’t able to keep anything going. My legs didn’t have much power. I suffered trying to keep up as the pace jumped up the hills. Finally with about ten miles left, I had to drop off the back of the pack of about ten lead riders.
Darron Leach with Tiger Cycling came by me after I dropped off the back and I was able to jump on his wheel and get back into the pack. I was slowing on almost all inclines now. I dropped off the back a second time but was able to work back to the group solo.
Things eased up some as we made the turn on to the three mile section to the finish. I was able to recover a bit since there weren’t as many hills at the end of the loop. Just before the one km point there is a slight hill as the road crosses over the Interstate. One of the local riders took off and the pack went with him. I was right behind Matt as we got within 500 meters. There was one more slight hill before the finish. The sprint started at the base of the hill. I jumped with them and then watched helplessly as most of the field passed me by. Matt won the sprint again with a local rider finishing second. The rest of the field would trickle over the line over the next several minutes.
The road course and the heat definitely proved a “challenge” for me and several other riders.