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Steamboat Springs Stage Race: Crit race finale

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Steamboat Springs Stage Race

The final day of racing at the Steamboat Springs Stage Race was a classic crit race held in the heart of downtown Steamboat. The .8 mile long rectangular course featured two long straights, one slightly uphill and the other slightly downhill, a short upward pitch, and two fast but safe corners. Despite tired minds and shattered legs the racing would prove to be fast from the start. Find out how the day went and see more photos after the break.

I was just lucky to make it to the start. Our group went off at 10:40, and since I was staying just blocks away I rolled out at 10:00 for my warm up. After signing in I rolled onto River Road, a quiet country road just a few blocks away. My legs were spinning well and I was feeling confident. As I turned around to head back I decided to do a few hard efforts to get my body primed. Then the pedals just stopped moving. I looked down thinking I had dropped the chain, but it was on and completely in line. Rather than just muscle it, I unclipped and stopped.

Looking at the bike I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. The chainline was good, the wheel would spin, but I could not pedal. Thankfully a local out for a spin stopped and literally pushed me the three miles back to the race. I ran up the mechanic, handed him my bike and told him I had no idea what was wrong. He pulled the rear wheel off and instantly it was obvious what the issue was. The lockring on the cassette had loosened up so nothing would turn. I told him I had a spare wheel coming (my wife was running down with it), but he just took my wheel and ran across the street.

I expected he had a neutral wheel for me, but in less than a minute he was back with my wheel. He had tightened down the lockring, slotted the wheel in, gave the pedals a turn and I was set. As he pulled the bike from the stand they began staging the Cat. 4’s. I pulled off my vest, took off the iPod and rolled to the start, adrenalin pumping like mad. Courtney came running up with the wheel in hand, but obviously I didn’t need it. I was taking deep breaths, trying to settle back down and listen to the marshall’s instructions.

Starting the day I was in fifth overall by a scant seven seconds, so I would have to pay attention to number 324, the guy stalking my position. He is a local kid, Preston (I nicknamed him Mootsy) and I would continually hear people cheering him on during the race. There would be a time prem sometime during the race and I knew I couldn’t let him take it. I quickly thought of what I needed to do and then we were off for 40 minutes of circling pain.

All in a row for the last day's crit stage.
Up front and feeling good. The rider in the black Moots jersey was just 7 seconds back of me on the G.C. Photo: C. Johnson

Each crit race is different, some are hard from the start while others roll around civilly for a few laps. This one was relatively civil and we rolled together through the first loops. I found Mootsy and just made sure I was always in a good spot. There were a few hard accelerations, but everything was covered quickly. At the 15 minute mark or so they announced the time bonus preme. I immediately found Mootsy’s wheel and sat there for the full lap. Coming out of the last corner we had a long slight uphill straight so it wasn’t lightning quick. Mootsy was on the front with me right behind him in perfect position. I planned to go around at the line if I had to but thankfully two other riders pulled up quickly on our right with about 50m to go. They pulled away to fight for the extra seconds so I could relax, mission accomplished.

The rest of the ride I stayed up front and watched wheels attentively. One rider got away and another took off to join him. The pack let them go, content that we would swallow them up. As a group we were working well so we felt comfortable letting them dangle out front. With three laps to go the attacks started. Most of them were on the sweeping left turn that lead into a slight uphill. My legs were still feeling powerful and I remained in contact with the front group with little difficulty. Some guys started to get shelled off the back, which makes it safer at the finish. Bull riding not withstanding, a Cat. 4 bunch sprints are the single most dangerous event on the planet.

Leading the pack into a fast sweeping left. Photo: C. Johnson
Leading the pack into a fast sweeping left. Photo: C. Johnson

With two to go we caught the two rider up front and the group was about 10 to 12. The cat and mouse games started but again nothing was getting away. The finish straight was going to be tough. The slight uphill made it more a power drag race than a pure speed contest. Coming out of the last corner guys accelerated and quickly six us were 10m ahead of the rest. With no teams or lead outs going, it was chaos and every man for himself. I stuck to the far right and tried to time my acceleration just right. Having never been in a sprint finish for the win I was super motivated, but didn’t know exactly what to do.

We were spread across the road and I was in 4th or 5th but catching up slightly. As the line approached I gave the pedals all I could to pull of the victory. In the end I had to settle for 4th. Had I been smarter or more attentive I could have definitely been on the podium, maybe even pulled off the victory. I learned something though and won’t repeat the mistakes I made.

Fighting for the win. Photo: C. Johnson
Fighting for the win. Photo: C. Johnson

Looking at the photo above, notice the rider in red. He had the sprint comfortably, raised his hands at the orange cone only to realize the finish was the white line. He recovered in time to get his hands on the tops and do a quick bike throw, barely taking the win. I didn’t even notice that as I came up on the inside, but now I realize why he was coming back to me so quickly. The premature celebration is the one mistake you can’t forgive!

It was my best crit finish ever so I was pretty happy with everything. Especially when I consider I was lucky to even have started. Of course you run through the race in your mind wondering if you could have done better. I try to look back and learn what I could do in terms of positioning, tactics, efforts or attacks, but I also think of what I did right and keep it positive. As I spun around Steamboat for my cool down I realized I had defended my 5th place, raced at the front not only that day, but in each stage and had been in it for the win on the last day.

Overall the race was a great experience for me. The stages were beautiful and the mix of time trialling, road racing and crit racing was really different from your typical one day race. While I woke up each morning tired and a bit cranky I still was looking forward to each day’s stage. The race was extremely well organized with plenty of marshalls, mechanics and support each day. This is a race I will certainly circle for next year.

A podium of one. 5ht overall and some prize money! Photo: C. Johnson
A podium of one. 5th overall and some prize money! Photo: C. Johnson
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