Austin Tri-Cyclist Blog

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

RACE REPORT: Fayetteville Stage Race
March 19 & 20, 2011

Race Photography by Lee McDaniel Photography

Update: View the 2012 report over at the Ghisallo Foundation Racing Team

The thirteenth annual Fayetteville Stage Race – two long, lung-busting road races with the all-important, utterly lung-shattering 6.6-mile time trial sandwiched between. Put on by Houston's Southwest Cycling Club, the event is centered at "The Hall," and although there's no polka or square dancing (The Hall's general ambiance makes it seem like there should be), there's plenty of entertainment throughout the day if you like fancy bikes, fast riders, and know the names and lingo to follow the remote play-by-play from the announcers.

Keep reading for links, highlights, and for starters, the highly intellectual perspectives of our four fearsome embedded reporters.

Cat 1
Reporter: Gray Skinner of Austinbikes/Revenant

Gray Skinner, recently upgraded to Cat 1, finished 6th in the Pro/1 GC. There were 45 riders in the category, with Saturday's road race course set at three loops and 68 miles, and Sunday's at six loops and 95 miles.

"The first stage started out fast, with attacks going from the start," Gray says. "This continued throughout the first lap with no group ever gaining more than a minute." But after the second lap, a group of three (Russ Walker, Steven Wheeler of Super Squadra, and eventual GC winner Scott Simmons of Velossimo) got away before the hot spot time bonus line. Then two more riders managed to escape near the feed zone – seven-time Tour de France rider and white-jersey winner Raul Alcala and local legend Brant Speed. The break was then five and would not be caught. Simmons, Alcala, and Speed stayed together until the end, with Alcala taking the stage and the trio gaining three minutes on the field. Gray tried to gain a few seconds at the end by taking a flyer at the 1k mark, but the fast sprinters caught him and he finished at 11th for the first stage.

In the time trial, David Wenger had a dominating performance, taking the fastest TT time of the day with 13:53, the only rider to make it under 14 minutes. Simmons came in at 7th, and Stefan Rothe at 8th. Stage 1 winner Alcala, who rode a road bike, took 20th, conceding a full minute to Simmons. Speed, unfortunately, fell victim to a slow clock and missed his start by two minutes, finishing at 25th. Gray managed a respectable 6th after a warm-up that included 30 minutes of motor-pacing from his teammate.

So the final stage was set on Sunday, with no one saving themselves for the long day ahead. The attacks came early. Sol Frost and Warney Crosby of Elbowz Racing broke away in the first few miles, and would stay away for the next 60, with a gap of 4.5 minutes at one point. "The break was caught around mile 70 and it was back to status quo," Gray says. "I put my fresh legs, courtesy of my teammate Sol, to the test with several attacks, trying to force another break. The leaders were quick to preserve their spots on GC, however, and no group was able to get very far." In the last ten miles, Gray attacked again, getting a gap for a short period with Alcala, but was brought back into the fold by hard riding from Speed. "I attacked again in a last ditch effort to gain some places on GC and maybe a stage win," Gray says. But Carlos Vargas was sitting on his wheel. As Gray drove on, with an effort comparable to the previous day's time trial, with 100 meters to go Vargas came off his wheel and sprinted ahead for the stage win. The gap to what was left of the field was 30 seconds, so Gray moved up to 6th on GC, and the top five came in together unchanged: Simmons, Alcala, Speed, Wheeler, and Wenger.

Cat 2

A quick Cat 2 highlight!: Chris Trickey, of ATC-sponsored Team Wooly Mammoth, won second in the Cat 2 GC, and was part of a six-man breakaway on day two that put three minutes on the rest of the field.

Cat 4
Reporter: Yancey Arrington

"The Saturday road race rolled out to nice weather but due to a weak pace ended in a 60 plus group sprint," Yancey Arrington says. At the end of the first day's 46-mile road race, he managed to navigate the minefield of dying riders for a 14th place pack finish. "Not a bad start."

Since the time trial was scheduled later the same day, it played a big part in how the first road race went down for Cat 4, as well as most other categories – riders seemed to be saving up right from the beginning, unwilling to push the pace unless they were coming up on the time bonuses at the hot spot or the finish line. But perhaps that was for the best. On the time trial course, riders were faced with an unrelenting wind, rolling hills, and hot temps. For some, it took as much mental staying power as physical to keep the pace strong until the finish.

In the TT, Steve Quick of Shama Cycles came in at 15:19, which put him nearly 45 seconds ahead of the field in GC contention. Our embedded reporter extraordinaire snagged 7th with a 16:03. "Only five seconds separated 2nd through 6th places in the time trial and the GC standings were shaping up to be a game of seconds," Yancey says.

The Sunday, 49-mile road race was a three-loop course, and Yancey says this race was nearly as uneventful as the first for the Cat 4s. "Hard accelerations up the hills and out of the corners split the field in half by the 3rd lap, but the peleton hive mind never let any breaks dangle more than 20-30 seconds down the road before pulling them back." And then about four miles from the finish, at a point when the pace was about to start weeding out the pack further, the Cat 4 lead group had to allow another category's break and pack to pass, which provided a few precious minutes of coasting for everyone's legs to refresh. The finish was a 30-40 person sprint, with Yancey coming in at 12th with a pack finish time. The weekend's efforts were enough to get him 5th in GC, along with a sweet $50.

Cat 5
Reporter: Jack Mott of team ATC

This was our Cat 5 reporter's first stage race, but his strategy was simple – stay with the front groups for both road races and dominate in the TT. "Mission accomplished so far as I finished with the front group and the same time," Jack Mott says of the first road race. "The only tactical error was riding 2nd wheel for quite a long while on the approach to the finish. This was a bad setup for the sprint and I had to really dig deep just to say with the pack." His right leg cramped, and he was worried that would come back to haunt him in the TT.

But tires were changed, the disc wheels came out, and the Cervelo P3 Aluminum "tri bike of doom" was ready for the TT, and so was our intrepid Cat 5 Hero. "I had in recent weeks been advised by my wife, who has a bit more TT talent than me, to simply go harder, and go harder sooner in my TT efforts," Jack says. "I decided to put this HTFU ethos to the test and from the very start it was an all out, leg burning effort. The plan was brilliant, I was able to sustain the pace the whole way." (His wife was so excited to hear "you were right," for once, that she refrained from saying, "I told you so.")

The winds gave his front wheel a few wiggles, but like any good triathlete, Jack stayed in the aero bars and hammered on until the finish. He came in with a solid third place, putting enough time on the first road race's winner, Edward Dominguez of Team Nick Lopez, to overtake his time bonus, as well as to get far enough ahead from fourth place to be safe from any time bonuses on day two. First place in the TT was James Perrin of Team Bike Barn, who "put on a clinic," beating the rest of the field by a minute, and second place was Stuart Page of Shama Cycles, who'd been riding hard at the front for a good portion of the first road race.

So alliances began to form, boasts were made, and Jack's new strategy was to hold onto his third place spot for dear life, and just stay with the front group on the 2nd day. No problem.

"Big problem," he says. "From the very start of the race Edward was on the attack, with teammate Carlos Barrios, who was then 4th in GC, working well with him. Edward and Carlos took turns attacking, and a few short-lived breakaways got away." Jack had agreed to work with Perrin and the Bike Barn team to hold off the attacks, and they did a reasonable job of the beginning. After Jack's rather ill-advised aero water bottle setup ejected his bottle to the ground, he offered to pull back the current breakaway for Perrin in exchange for a few drinks of water.

But then Dominguez and Barrios attacked together, and since they were 4th and 5th in GC, Jack felt he had to chase. And because Jack chased, Stuart Page was also compelled to attack to protect his 2nd place position. So a four-man breakaway with real staying power was born, gaining a lead on the main pack by 45 seconds. Jack assumed Dominguez would tire from the endless attacks and ease up, but as Page put it so aptly later, "No, Edward doesn't get tired." Jack went from cooperating to just sitting in, but the pace was so furious that he finally just dropped off to see if he could work with Perrin to bring the escape group back. But by then only about eight remained in the chase group, Perrin had lost the rest of the Bike Barn team, and even Perrin's cries of "Come on, work! Remember the water!" couldn't inspire Jack to keep the pace. Perrin eventually tried to bridge the gap solo, but didn't get far, and Jack drifted back into no man's land, his podium dreams disappearing. "I felt terrible for James and it was awful to lose 3rd place, but I felt like I experienced an entire Tour de France of action in one weekend, a great time, and plenty of suffering," Jack says.

Dominguez and Page's breakaway survived, with Page giving Dominguez the stage win in exchange for the help in getting Page the overall GC win, and a deserving one. Page had been at the front for the first day, put down a killer TT time, and worked like crazy in the break on day two. So sometimes the hare does get the prize, after all.

Women's Open
Reporter: Kat Hunter of team ATC

This one's me – the time-trialing triathlete, sometimes referred to as the "f---ing triathlete" (overheard at a TT results board a few years ago). People still come up to me at cycling events and say, "Hey, so you're the triathlete." I love triathlons, but I perform better at duathlons and time trials, and have done probably three times as many. Still, I suppose there are worse things to be called than "f---ing triathlete." My middle school basketball coach called me "Big Girl."

This weekend was my first real taste of road racing, and it was humbling. I discovered crosswinds; the talent level of the top echelon of women's racing in Texas; pack dynamics; the "hive mind"; why you'd ride the center line; why someone will occasionally give you a friendly, jock-style pat on the rear; the need for the appropriate brakes for carbon wheels (otherwise, every stop sounds like an out-of-tune orchestra performance...fellow riders, I sincerely apologize); and that you should pay attention to the sinus problems of the person ahead of you or you'll wish you had. I learned that there are different kinds of "fast," and in some ways road racing is harder than time trialing, because someone else gets to decide for you how hard you're going to pedal, and when. I discovered that I don't like, no, hate, sprinting. So there you have it, straight from the "triathlete's" mouth – roadies, you now have my full respect

Courtney Lowe, a newcomer from New Zealand and member of the FCS/Metro Volkswagen team, was undoubtedly the star of this weekend's stage race. In the first road race, she took off on a solo breakaway only a few miles from the start ("Ah ha," I say to myself, "that is what you're not supposed to do," and I overhear a scornful comment from another rider, "Wow, someone's already going?"). But then Lowe kept it all 46 miles, coming in a full ten minutes before the rest of the pack. For the rest of us, the first road race was slow – sometimes painfully so, with a lot of soft- pedaling at the front – but the "hive mind" was saving up for the time trial. It was a miscalculation. The TT might decide the rest of the GC, but a ten-minute lead? I don't think there were any illusions about first place after that. The rest of the field finished mostly intact, with a dead-out sprint at the end for the line and a pack finish.

One might assume (I did) that Lowe would be tired after her 46-mile solo effort, but she also took first place in the TT with a blistering fast time of 16:09. Louise Smyth of Team LaS'port was 2nd, Lauren Robertson of FCS/Metro Volkswagen was 3rd, and Amy Gray-Smith of Pro Design Porsche Bike Source was 4th.

I came in 5th, knowing when I crossed the line that I hadn't pushed it enough. I berated myself for the slow cornering and general lack of moxie, but in my heart of hearts I knew that even on a better day I couldn't have shaved 31 seconds off my time for first, not in six miles.

Sunday's road race was another schooling. Fellow newbies, please note that on a steep hill, it doesn't matter where you are, so long as you're in a position where you can escape if you need to. Otherwise, you're throwing on your brakes to avoid smashing into the rider slowing up ahead of you, watching 10 of the lead riders (suddenly and ferociously accelerating) split the pack in half and leave you in the dust, and then chasing them for miles in a solo TT that you know you can't really afford.

When I caught the lead pack, I was done, but they weren't. It was attack after attack, a night and day experience from Saturday's race. I doggedly hung on to the back, wishing, in fact, that I had given up, because then the pain would have been over. My goals at the beginning of the race – making up time by getting a time bonus, maybe trying to break away at the end – were very much readjusted by mid-race. I just wanted to finish with the lead pack. And that was shaping up to be a real accomplishment. I was out of water about halfway through the race, and hadn't brought any food. I was, in short, feeling completely miserable, so unlike the first day ("when-are-we-gonna-catch-her-dang-it, when-are-we-gonna-go..."), I didn't care when the first solo break came from Kate Chilcott of Metro Volkswagen, nor when just as we were about to pull her back, Lowe joined her teammate and they rode out of sight.

By the end, I had suffered enough to pat myself on the back for simply catching up with the lead pack (even if falling off was my own mistake) and then staying with them to the finish. Lowe and Chilcott ended up taking the stage win by 3.5 minutes, and the FCS/Metro Volkswagen team took all first three spots in the GC (with Lauren Robertson in 3rd). Their team effort was nothing short of amazing.

Many thanks to SWCC for putting on a great race!

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