Chris Winn: Ramblings From The Road

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22 June 2012

NATURE VALLEY GRAND PRIX

 
For whatever reason June seems to be a pretty good 'go fast' month for me. Maybe it's the upcoming summer ahead or maybe the mornings spent watching Wiggins crush the Dauphine gives me that extra kick in training and racing. Coincidentally the Nature Valley GP falls mid June and ever year it becomes a strong focus on the NRC calendar. Looking back to last year with one day of racing for the whole of May, I didn't quite have the sea legs to steer the ship for victory. This year has been a whole new ball game with close to 40 days racing in the legs already thanks to San Dimas, Redlands, Joe Martin, Gila and a bunch of local hit outs. I've learned over the years that I perform better with more racing in the legs than not, so with that in mind I was confident going in that with a little luck and opportunity the form was there to try and snag a result.


As I do most years my trip to Minnesota began a little early, especially with a new time trial course to recon. To be honest when I first read about the changes (thanks to road construction) I was a little worried. I've gotten to know the old TT course well over the last three years and I really like it mainly because it finishes with a bastard steep kicker that makes you work for your dinner. This year was a slightly longer 'out and back' style course and despite the lumpy profile picture was ultimately flat. For a skinnier guy this translates to working super hard against the stronger guys as the old power to weight ratio doesn't come into effect too much. Either way it's 'stay low and pedal fast' for around 16 minutes and try not to hurl afterwards on anything significant.

Before I knew it was time to suit and pin the numbers of for the first day of racing. With some potential weather rolling in I chose to go off early and although some rain did fall it wasn't too crazy for those going a little later in the day. I felt like I had a decent crack at the TT to finish 35th and 49sec back from Zirbel who I would have emptied my bank account and put all my coin on him for the win. So a good start knowing that the road stages and the Stillwater Criterium for that matter are very selective and anything could happen. Later that night the weather cleared and the fans were in full flock for the St Paul criterium. In my opinion this course is a little more tricky than the Uptown Minnesota crit so I'm always anxious to get a good start grid spot and stay up the front. So when I found myself sitting third last row on the line I knew I had some work to do! Luckily the legs were good and I had a clean run to find the pointy end. No time was lost and the sprinters did there thing with Carlos Alzate from Exergy taking the W.


Day two we awoke to some crazy weather. Water was sheeting from the sky and to be honest I wasn't too worried considering the stage at Cannon Falls started at 4:30pm. It could blow through right? Wrong! The rain never let up and driving down to the stage start things just seemed to get worse. We we ready to deal with whatever was thrown at us but soon enough the commissaries called a meeting and decided to reduce the stage to just 15 laps of the town circuits. However the new rules also called for no free laps in which many of the teams weren't happy about with the GC so close together. Either way it was almost go time and for a moment the rain did cease but a second commissaries huddle was called the stage was then cancelled completely. And just as if right on cue rolling back to the car it hosed down with crazy thunder and lightning. Brad and I did the only thing we knew best in such a situation and that was find the nearest Chipotle and smash a burrito while contemplating life. It didn't stop storming for the rest of the night and the reports were that Cannon Falls had flash flooding. A wise call and a short spin on the turbo kept the legs in check for the next day.
  video

With everyone essentially having a recovery day mid race the Uptown Minneapolis Criterium was going to be full gas with the GC overall still so tight. As aggressive as it was, especially in those first 15 laps, Kenda handled the pressure well and kept Murphy in the yellow by the end of the night. Once again the mission was accomplished for me with no time lost and all skin kept intact. Onwards to the road stage!
As expected the final road stage at Menomonie was super aggressive. It was just one acceleration after another as Optum, Bissell, Competitive etc. all tried to wrestle the lead from Kenda and break the race wide open. A team like Optum had 4 guys all within striking distance so it was tough for me to follow everything and jump into every move. Sure enough a group of seven rolled away but to be honest it felt like the tens of other short lived moves that would be back in a heartbeat. By the time Kenda reassembled with the riders they had left, the break was well up the road and with every other team represented they were solely left to the task of pulling it back. The conditions of the day also made things a little interesting with torrential rain times creating a few heart in mouth moments braking into corners. In the wash up the break stuck it by a minute and I rolled in the main bunch of 40 odd. Looking back at my training file it was one heck of a stage, with 3330kj burned, TSS of 355 and 31 surges over 10w.kg!



Every time I line up for the Stillwater stage it's hard to forget the 4th place a couple of years back. The bad thing now is that everything else now equal or below result that is a devastatingly poor ride. Although the legs were pretty toasted from the day before I tired to focus on the process of how to best ride the stage rather than what my legs were telling me. After a good start and keeping clean wheels up the front all of a sudden there was one new factor I hadn't experienced on this stage before. Rain. The skies slowly opened up and boy did the course become slick. With a crazy steep run into the bottom corner the overall pace of the bunch had slowed significantly which played into Optum's favor who were well in control. With 8 laps to go a break of 6 had split off and were looking threatening. Whether it was missing the move the day before I decided to drive across in what I hoped would be a critical race decision. I was able to do just that but only a lap later we had been brought back and the reset button was hit again. With 3 to go the race was splintering I simply didn't have the legs left for the final punches up the climb. In the wash up a disappointed 16th was all I could manage but i guess the positive is there is always next year! However I did move up in the overall GC to 17th place.

I must give a huge shout out to the Horizon/Panache team for all their help over the week. The guys rode super and I can't thank them enough for helping stay up the front, fed and out of trouble. It truly takes a team effort at bike races and especially even more so at the higher NRC level. So it was awesome to see that we finished as the highest amateur squad on the overall teams classification at the end of the week. Well done lads.

2 comments:

David LaPorte said...

Actually, the Cannon Falls circuit race, which we tried to create on the fly, DID allow for free laps and would have had four neutral pits (one every half mile).


We cancelled the race primarily because we figured that it was undocumented and confusing. Which was obviously the case.

David LaPorte
Nature Valley Grand Prix

Chris Winn said...

Good to know the full story, thanks for the update David!

It was hard to relay all the info standing in the pouring rain!