The short version: Monday @ Benton Park, pack finishes in both cat 4/5 and cat 4 races, 1 top 10. Friends and family, nice weather, kids race, rubber side down - a great day!
I visited my hometown on Labor Day for the finale of the Gateway Cup races. Gateway Cup is a longstanding tradition in St. Louis and fields are usually close to full for each of the 4 races, which begin on Friday night. I raced the cat 4/5 and cat 4 events on Monday only. My family's calendar was full for the rest of the holiday weekend and I had hoped to take advantage of fields softened by a 4th consecutive day of racing. Neil joined me in the 4/5, also racing on Monday only, while Rob Ragfield joined me in the 4, having also raced Friday and Sunday.
The start/finish line of the Monday course was on Arsenal Street along the north side of Benton Park, on the city's south side. The course wound northward from there, along the western edge of the Anheuser-Busch brewery and past several popular restaurants. The 1.77-mile length almost gave a circuit-race feel, but the 10 turns, including a chicane, were pure criterium.
The cat 4/5 race was the first of the day, scheduled at 10 am. I was on course warming up by 9:15. Nine cars were parked along the route and a city police officer was writing tickets. I wondered why they weren't simply towing the cars, as signs were plastered everywhere alerting the public of the "no parking" order that began at 8 pm the evening prior. None of the cars were in critical spots near the corners, so I thought perhaps they were planning to run the race with the cars there, maybe with cones to direct riders to the center of the road upon approach. Surprise, surpise: the announcement came at about 9:55 that the race would be delayed to tow the cars. A single city tow truck moved them all, which took about 90 minutes. Why did they not begin to move them earlier? Were they hoping that the owners would magically appear at 9:45 to drive them off? Not surprisingly, all of the races were shortened, the cat 4/5 race to just 5 laps and the cat 4 race to 7. By the time we got underway at 11:45, I had ridden 30 miles in warm-up.
The 17 mph northerly winds were gusty and made the 2 Interstate 55 overpasses a little sketchy. I was tempted to change out my Zipp 404 front wheel for the lower cross-section Mavic Ksyrium, but handling would prove manageable tucked into the race peloton. Most of the crosswind sections were either well-protected by buildings or along wide enough roads that no contenders would be forced to the gutter. The northbound stretch along 13th Street, uphill and straight into the headwind, would be an ideal launching pad for an attack. Though I started near the back of the cat 4/5 race, I was able to work my way up within a couple laps and hold a decent position in the first 15-20 wheels. On the last lap, I launched an attack and opened a gap on the uphill headwind stretch of road. I stayed away for only the next four turns before the peloton shut it down. It was the right move for me, but not quite strong enought to win. I sat up and riders started to pass. After I had recovered, I grabbed the next wheel to come around and rode it to the finish. I passed a couple riders on the final sprint to finish 8th. Neil stuck around for most of the race, but I think he lost contact with 1 or 2 to go. He would finish 15th (6th of the cat 5s).
The women 3/4 and masters competed in shortened races before the cat 4 race would start. There was no opportunity to warm-up on course between races, so I was thankful to have warmed up in the 4/5 race. The field was packed with over 100 riders starting. I followed Rob and Jason (708 racing) across the street before the race, thinking it would be easier to squeeze through the barriers and get to the start line as soon as they allowed us on course. We found a crowd there as well, and wound up near the back of the field. We'd have just 7 laps to work through the crowd. I was able to move up just barely fast enough to avoid getting dropped, but was forced to ride across a few gaps that riders ahead had let open. With 2 or 3 to go, Rob and I both found ourselves on the wrong side of a gap that grew to about 50m or so along the long eastbound stretch along Pestalozzi. I said to Rob, "let's go, we gotta get back on." I think he got on 3rd wheel behind another rider, but I think he dropped before we bridged to the peloton. Rob was looking strong, but I think a weekend of hard racing had taken a toll.
On the headwind stretch with 2 to go, I made a push for the front of the race. I made a strong move on the straight and entered the left hander on the inside, about 10 wheels back. I was pushed far enough inside that I rolled over the apron of the concrete curb, which was raised an inch or so over the asphalt roadway. I slipped sideways off the apron, completely lost my line, and drifted toward the rider on my right. I apologized for almost taking him out and had to slow a lot to correct my line and avoid causing a crash. In doing so, I lost the ground I had gained and drifted back to the rear. The pace lifted on the final lap and I never saw a better chance to move up. I coasted to a 35th place finish, near the back of the lead pack. I think I could have done a lot better had I not faltered on that critical turn. I made the mistake of looking at the danger in the road rather than looking through the turn where I wanted to go.
Cat 4 ride profile Can you tell which lap held the prime?
I put my bike up to get ready for the main event - the kids' race. Zachary participated in the 5-6 year old division, which would be contested over about 200m of flat to uphill tarmac. It would be his first race without training wheels. He warmed up on the footpaths in Benton Park and was eager to go. As with my race, there was a huge log jam along the barrier openings to get on the course. We failed to get a good position on the front row, so we lined up in the second row close to the left side of the road.
I coached Zach on looking for an opening to ride through. It was tough at first, as some of the kids had trouble getting started. There were even a couple of crashes. Zach kept the rubber side down and was able to squeeze around the traffic about 1/3 into the race. The fastest kids had already broken free, but Zach was still able to sprint home. About 20m from the line, I pointed out a kid just ahead of him in a Cubs jersey. "Get the kid in the Cubs jersey. Go! Go! Go! Don't let him beat you." He fired the afterburners and passed him right up. Awesome!
Approaching the Finish (a little hard to see, number 29, green wheels)
My mom and dad, Zach, and I grabbed drinks and a mid-afternoon meal at Frazer's along the course. We watched the elite women's race and most of the elite men's race before heading home. All in all, it was a great day of bike racing. The weather was beautiful, sunny and 75 degrees. Despite a turny course and sometimes rough road surfaces, I didn't see any crashes in the 4/5 race and only 2 solo crashes in the 4 race. Couldn't ask for more! Well, except maybe a podium finish. Next time.