Chris Winn: Ramblings From The Road


10 May 2012


It was a welcome return to the Joe Martin Stage Race after 3 years of racing events elsewhere.  It's funny how the memories come flooding back as soon as you roll back into places, but one critical detail I had forgotten was that the town of Fayetteville Arkansas did indeed have a Chipotle Mexican Restaurant.  My burrito addiction was to be cured for the week so things were already off to a ripper start!  So the Joe Martin Stage Race is a four day, four stage bicycle race with one uphill TT, two long road stages and one tough cookie of a criterium held down town.  The form was still good coming of the the previous weekend and I was keen as mustard to snag a podium place on one of the stages.  Okay, maybe I should be more ambitious...all of the stages!

Getting to Arkansas a few days early allowed time to settle into our host housing (thanks again Matt and Val!) and also a chance to spend some time checking out the TT course.  Located deep in the magnificent Devils Den State Park,  it’s pretty much a 4km upwards slog so it was all about having light equipment and a good pacing strategy. Aside from hosting a bicycle race it really is a pretty area although I will warn you now of the bugs!  I got tagged on the back on my leg by a wasp or hornet of some description that made my leg blow up like a balloon!  I looked like a lopsided track sprinter for a while there but thankfully the swelling went down by race morning.  Come to think of it, if had I got bitten on the other leg also I could have really scared some of the competition....

 Devils Den State Park.  Pretty no?

Waking up on race day I was excited to get things started.  It was warm and humid, breakfast went down a treat and everything was going smoothy.  A small hiccup of a flat tire while warming up did provide a chaotic  wheels change within minutes of my start time but soon enough I was on the line ready to go.  I blasted out of the gates strongly but blissful unaware I was committing the cardinal sin of time trialling.  Don't go out to hard!  It's a fine line between 'hey I'm crushing this' and 'whoah there fella you still have to make it to the finish'!  With a violent 8min effort, breaking this rule had severe consequences and sure enough by the last 1.5kms I was well into the red.   It's such a terrible feeling that despite the hurt you know it's not translating  into any real speed on the road.  The results sheet confirmed it being 50secs down on race leader Paco Mancebo.

The first road stage was a solid 180km affair and made navigation life easy being just one big loop.  Mostly undulating although there was one 17km climb that wasn’t too crazy of a gradient but had potential to break up the peloton.   The wind also was out to play and rolling out of town we had a very solid head wind making that early break tough to establish itself.  I spent some time looking for it but after a while had decided to save the legs for future efforts.  So things were going just dandy in the bunch in that first hour but sometimes a bike race can throw up random events that you just can’t prepare for.  Taking a drink in the middle of the bunch all of a sudden the call of rock was shouted and before I could even blink I was down on the road.  Falling heavily on my right side I quickly curled into a ball to avoid further carnage of being hit by other riders.  Of course I was stunned but upon further inspection I was seemingly okay. I was fearful of the collarbone but with minimal road rash I was plenty lucky to come out of it intact.  With the speediness of SRAM neutral support making my bike roadworthy again before I knew it I was on my way.  And so began a nasty 40min chase back to the peloton into a block head wind.  Not pretty  To make matters worse I had lost my full bottle of water so I was dry as a chip and well on my way to dehydration town.  After taking some drafts from a few following vehicles soon enough the bunch was in sight, and it was the local state policeman who I owe a huge thanks too, giving me a sticky bottle sling back into the peloton.  Actually I was a little worried as it was not a normal cycling bidon but a gas station plastic bottle of water and as we accelerated I was sure that thing was going to explode! The rest of the day was a matter of staying safe in the bunch and seeing if I had anything left for the finish.  I came good for the 17km climb but by the run into the finish I was toast, losing contact on the last uphill launch to the line.  Still, things could have been much worse and I would be back in the hunt the next day.

The second road stage was slightly longer at 190km and featured a ride out to 4 laps of an undulating loop and then returning the same way.  In other words a lollipop loop!  Each loop had a decent climb to it which would serve as a perfect launch pad for anyone willing to have a go.  Normally however things stay together and it's a mad bunch sprint back in town to the line.  Things were no different this year, and despite having crashed the day previous I was feeling super good.  In fact as the day wore on I just kept feeling stronger and stronger, and as we headed back into town I tried to follow the many attacks of riders trying to get away.  It was soon clear however with Competitive Cyclist controlling GC and Bissell having the current National Criterium Champion in their arsenal it was going to be a bunch sprint.  Normally as a smaller, lighter guy I don't fair too well in mass kicks, but I was feeling so good I was keen to give it a crack anyway!  As expected, with a large bunch and a fast and open downhill finish things were hectic.  Lots of bumping and barging and soon enough the inevitable happened.  Guys were sprawling across the road sliding on their backs and I was lucky not to go down with them but had lost all hope in having a crack at the sprint.

For whatever reason I have had good success in the past on hilly criterium courses.  The Joe Martin criterium course is one nasty little bugger with technical corners and plenty of elevation gain.  And an uphill finish which I really like!  My plan was to stay up front at all times and follow the moves of the bigger teams that would have a chance of staying away.  Once again Competitive Cyclist did a super job of controlling the race and anything that did slip away wasn't given much leash before being absorbed again.  Despite going through a pretty bad patch at one point during the race, I was still hanging in there and all of a sudden the adrenaline hit with 3 laps to go.  Holding good position in the top 10 it was going to be a matter of timing the sprint to the line and not dying early.  I was there, but in reality just not close enough before the last turn and took 8th place.  A decent result but it's always tough when you can see the guy who won throw his arms in the air!  Good motivation however!

So overall Joe Martin was a ton of fun.  Crashes, wasp bites and whatever else bike racing throws up is just part and parcel of the game and despite not quite reaching my goals for the week I wasn't too far away and it sparked the motivation tank towards the Tour of The Gila in just two days time.  Yep, I had two days to rest up, and travel from Fayetteville AR to Silver City NM and get after it again.  No worries mate.

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