Sunday, September 14, 2008

Tour of Missouri Weekend

Zach and I traveled to St. Louis for an extended weekend to visit Pops and Lulu and catch some of the action in the 2008 Tour of Missouri. Stage 5 took the riders from St. James to Jefferson City. After the pros finished, Jefferson City played host to the amateur Capital City Criterium, which I entered as only my second-ever cycling race.

Stage 5 of the Tour won by Boy Van Poppel, a Dutch Rabobank rider and son of another accomplished cyclist. The last 300 meters were uphill and too much for the world's top sprinter, Mark Cavendish. The race took 3 circuits around downtown. For the first lap, we saw the riders fly through half of the roundabout that encircles the capitol building. We set up on the inside of the turn into the roundabout. The inside column of riders banked their machines within inches of us. Then we crossed over to the finish line, but it was pretty crowded and hard to get a good view.

The 2-man breakaway enters the roundabout

The 5 jersey wearers: Dominique Rollin, David Veilleux, Christian Vande Velde, Mark Cavendish, and Roman Kreuziger

Then I raced in the criterium under the lights, but only completed 5 laps before getting pulled. The route included one nasty hill and a smaller one. The Big Shark team from St. Louis hammered the nasty hill on the second lap. I was caught behind two riders who were really struggling to get up. I quickly snaked around them to try stay connected, but a gap opened. (I'm not the greatest climber either, of course.) By the 3rd lap, I was about two city blocks off the back and alone. I kept looking around for someone to work with to get back on, but riders behind me were dropping out or getting pulled. I survived 2 more laps but the gap was growing, so the officials pulled me. Only about 25 riders started and about 8 finished. Big Shark had about 4 riders and pretty much outgunned everyone else. It was a bummer to drive so far to race only about 13 minutes. It was a late night, but at least we saw the tour. Here is my ride profile.

Final preparations for the Capital City Criterium

I've learned that the key to criterium racing is to get way up front, pick a good wheel to follow, and hang on. Then if you are strong enough, pick the right moment to break away. One of my problems is that I don't have enough confidence in the corners yet to get way up front. My other problem is that my training for the last 4 weeks has been virtually nil. Lately, I've only managed the Wednesday evening Prairie Cycle Club rides, which are down to 30 miles due to shortening daylight, some minor recovery on Thursdays, an occasional Tuesday Time Trial, and a few really short morning solo rides. I've quit my regular indoor training in favor of beer and barbecue. My Wild Card Cycling team did weekly criterium practice last spring, but having joined the team only a few weeks ago, I missed out this year. It should help me improve cornering next year. I will definitely try a few races with teammates next year.

See more pictures from the day on our Tour of Missouri Stage 5 album.

For the Stage 6 finish on Saturday, we saw Cavendish come blistering down the Riverfront at St. Charles to take his 3rd stage win! It was pretty amazing to see live. We were about 100m from the line. It was hard to get much closer because we had just come from the feed zone outside Defiance, where we also enjoyed a nice lunch and some wine. I figured it would be a good spot where Cav might be coming around his lead out man, but it looked like he was on his own by the time I spotted him. He was about 1/2 bike length behind a Rabobank rider, then blew past him in the last 50m or so. Ivan Dominguez, the Cuban Missle, tried to sneak around on Cavendish's left, but could not catch him. The feed zone was pretty neat. I had never seen that live before. All went pretty smooth, with no crashes. The soigneurs were set up along a moderate uphill grade and the riders were still able to effortlessly sit up with no hands and grab what they wanted out of the bags. I wound up with a Maxxis musette bag as a souvenir.

Enjoying some wine in Defiance, Missouri before the Tour passes through

Daddy and Zachy look on as riders pedal through the feed zone

See more pictures from the day on our Tour of Missouri Stage 6 album.

The remnants of Hurricane Ike pounded us early Sunday morning. I had tried to unload my tickets for the St. Louis Rams vs. Giants on Sunday on both StubHub and eBay, but they did not sell at the price I was asking. So our plan was to go to the game after church with Pops and Lulu, then catch Stage 7 of the Tour.

Zach and I planned to take the Metrolink downtown. We waited on the platform for about 25 minutes without seeing a single eastbound train. The winds were pretty strong and Zach was wearing only his 2007 Tour of Missouri Best Young Rider jersey. I wasn't expecting so much waiting, but before long he was getting pretty cold. I took him back to the car to get another layer, and guess what? Yep, the train came. I was really frustrated and asked a Metrolink security guard when the next train would come. He explained that they were running a single train eastbound and westbound on one track. Knowing that a one-way trip from our station at North Hanley to downtown is about 30 minutes, waiting for the train to return was not an option. We were already going to miss the kickoff as it was. The Metrolink staff were kind enough to refund my ticket. We jumped back in the car and headed downtown. Fortunately I was able to park for about $5 near the northeastern corner of the Tour route. It was a bit of a walk to the stadium, but we would essentially have to walk a roundtrip between the stadium and the race no matter where we parked or if we had taken the train downtown.

At the Rams game with our cycling jerseys

We saw the final 3 laps of Stage 7 after the Rams/Lambs debacle. The weather was crazy for the start of the race, but sun came out by about 2 pm or so. Forest Park was flooded by Ike and they had to chop about 3.5 miles from the circuit. I suspect the same flooding may have been responsible for the Metrolink fiasco. Even after the rain passed through, the winds were constantly gusting and changing direction, which may have contributed to Cavendish's miscalculation on the finishing sprint. He seemed to go too early and was overtaken at the line by Francesco Chicchi. We saw his post-stage interview live in St. Charles the day before. The interviewer asked him how he felt about the next day and he mentioned that no one had beat him in a sprint (when he was in the bunch) since March. He's amazing, but it served him right to lose one.

On second to last lap, we saw two riders go down exiting the corner at Olive and Tucker. None were seriously hurt, but a Jelly Belly rider snapped his steerer. He was trying to flag down a team car, but it had already past. There was a 2 rider break at the time that included one of his teammates, so his team car was ahead in the gap. I am not sure where the neutral service car was. The Bissell team van stopped for him, but all he could do was put the busted machine in the back, jump in, and abandon with 1 lap to go - after nearly 700 miles of racing. Bummer.

Zachy at 500m to go

Team Columbia sets up the train for Cavendish in the last 450m

As frustrating as it was earlier, the fact that we missed the first train was a blessing. I wouldn't have wanted to wait with my tired son for up to an hour after the race to catch the westbound train back.

See more pictures from the day on our Tour of Missouri Stage 7 album.

Sometime during the weekend I turned 37. Birthdays aren't really such a big deal anymore. Though I am in no hurry to get older, as a competitive triathlete and skier, I do sort of look forward to multiples of five. Those allow one to move into the next age class, where in theory, the competition slows down a bit. At least for the first year or so in a new age group, you are younger than most of them! For the next couple of years, I will plug away in the older half of my age group.

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