by: Jimmy Campbell
Finish Strong Endurance Cycling Team
Category 3 & Master's Racer
Lives: Chipley, Florida
DAY 1 MASTERS 35+ A’s
The Spring Fling Classic was the first race of the 2014 race season. It was different than most races because all Saturday races were raced as Masters. There were no category races until Sunday, which meant I would be racing with Cat 1 and 2’s. The other odd thing about the races was no criterium but two road races of equal distances for me. It is always fun to race the Master’s A race because I am definitely racing above my pay grade and I am the underdog. It is a true test of my racing ability and makes me a better racer.
Saturday’s race was in the afternoon so temperatures were absolutely wonderful. JoJo was battling an illness so he chose not to race but helped out in previous races by driving the wheel truck. After his shift, he informed me that there was a little hill in the last mile that was a bit of trouble for other racers. He said after awhile it gets blown up and stretched out after the “climb”.
Heading out, we had close to fifty racing in the Masters 35+ A race, which is a good crowd. The course consisted of seven laps of seven miles each and was pretty much flat with a few baby rollers and the so-called climb that JoJo mentioned before. I figured the first lap would be somewhat casual with everyone getting warmed up and checking out the course. Nope. It picked up pretty quickly and everyone was sprinting out of the first turn. “What’s the hurry” was my thought as I tried to figure out WHY were we going so hard out of the first turn? A few riders got off the front but it was early and a lot of racing was left so they would probably get caught later on. Then “tattooed calves” took off to try and bridge up to the breakaway. He was a skinny guy but was quick. I did not want to be on the front knowing that there were several strong riders but I was close so why not. I took over the chase and in my small ring was hitting 30+ mph and gaining on TC boy. Once we caught him I let someone else take over.
A few more turns and we were hitting the “climb”. It is difficult to call it a climb but it is actually really good for racing. It only has a 1% grade and is about 1.4k in length but it is amazingly deceiving. It gradually increases in elevation but about three quarters of the way up it seems to pitch ever so slightly but that is when it starts to burn. Once again, I was working miracles because as everyone hit that pitch and exploded and spread out across the road, I was zipping by people in the bike lane and gaining spots. Over the top it would pick up again and head to the last turn that would take us to the start/finish line. Once past that it would ease up for a moment and then off we were going again to repeat the same song and dance.
As we climbed the hill for the last time and made it to the top, the speeds picked up again. I had managed to stay with the group the entire race, which was an accomplishment in and of itself because of the caliber of racers competing. As we started to head into the last turn, I made the mistake that would cost me a better finishing spot. I became a spectator instead of a racer. I was watching everyone jockeying for position into the last turn and you could feel the energy building. It was pretty incredible to see everyone going back and forth across the road, moving up, and settling in to a spot to take the turn. My thoughts, as I watched this take place was, hang onto your hats; it is about to get crazy. I sat back and was figuring I would let everyone else make their move and I could take them toward the end. The turn was still a good distance from the finish and there was an incline to about 200 meters from the line. Yeah…that didn’t happen. As we hit the turn it got strung out and the race was on. I managed to pass several as they faded in the end because of the long sprint to the finish but I only managed a 26th place out of 47 with one DNF. There was only a three second difference between 12th place and 26th so we were all there together pretty much but it was a fast race. I was still ecstatic about being there with everyone at the finish and I did manage to beat some Cat 1 and 2’s. I was the third Cat 3 so not too shabby and a lot of fun.
DAY 2 CAT 3 RACE
BWAHAHAHA!!! Day 2 was the category race and was the second race of the day so it started early. JoJo was feeling well enough to join in on the festivities. Since it was a category race I was feeling a little more confident than the day before. Plus, I expected it to be a little tamer than the Masters race.
Off we go and sure enough it was fairly pleasant starting out and even in the first turn it did not ramp up as fast as it did in the Masters race. I was hanging out toward the front to keep an eye on any breaks but initially nothing was really happening. A few would jump but go no where. Then it started to get heated and we hit the climb pretty hard. Same as yesterday…I could hang out toward the back and end up top ten on the front at the top of the hill. Everyone was just blowing up at the three-quarter mark. For me, sure, I could feel it a bit at that point but I just kept it steady and zipped by folks. This was the plan for this race. Last lap, make a move to get position after the climb before the last turn. With that in mind, I hung out in the pack most of the time.
Second lap and things are still pretty hot. A few tried some moves on the backside and I covered them but then let others go chase them down. I stayed in the back with JoJo for most of the lap but once we hit the hill…zoom zoom zoom and I was up to the front again. Over the hill and into the run for the right hand turn. Well, I was getting antsy with others riding into the turn so I took to the front and wanted to be the first through it. Sure enough, I lead the train into the turn and went flying through it while smiling at the kid on the corner with the GoPro taking pics. =) I kept it heavy after that but then eased up and let someone else take over. Everyone was still together and we motored on.
Lap five is where all Hades broke loose. There had been a group of four riders off the front for awhile and they had a pretty good gap but there was still a lot of racing. Lap five people were trying to bridge up or chase down. The peloton broke into three different groups and each one was pounding it like crazy. This was not your momma’s race. I was helping up front to chase down two groups and we were not slacking. At one time, on the backstretch, I looked down and we were doing 34 mph and accelerating. I thought to myself that this was sprinting speeds. Even with that effort, it was still not bringing people back. As I pulled off and the next took over, I was worried I was going to get spit out the back. I dropped my head and just kept pushing with lungs and legs burning. I kept telling myself to fight, fight, hang onto that wheel and it would eventually slow down. It took awhile but we did catch the group in front of us and then the next one. Finally, we caught the final group but there was still two off the front. Eventually one more would take off and get a gap for the final lap and finish.
Everything back together and folks still petering out on the climb, I was able to manage a steady, strong pace up the climb and pass people. On lap six, I had jumped to the front and was driving the train through the quick s turn that took us into the climb. I lead up the climb and gapped EVERYONE except one rider who came around me as we went over the top. I jumped on his wheel and we were off. I did not realize it till I glanced back but JoJo said that I had about a thirty yard gap on the peloton at that point and we had a two man break but we were not planning on attacking at that point. By the time we got to the last turn the group had caught us and some were diving on the inside of the turn.
Last lap and here we go. JoJo and I were hanging out as always and everyone was moving around for position. Into the climb for the last time and I move up to the top twenty five percent of the group. A couple skinny kids take off but everyone is after them and we are headed toward the last turn. As my plan was to move up at this point, I did. I jumped left and moved up to about fourth wheel. A perfect spot, IF the leaders would go from the turn. They could lead me to the promise land. We took the turn and………no pick up in speed. They kept it steady and two of the guys split and sat up. What was this? One guy went in between them so I went with him. Still no acceleration and I knew it was a long way to go so I did not want to go too early. He did not have much punch so we were just going steady. Then on the outside people started to pass and it picked up just before the 200 meter mark and still on the incline. Others came around the right as well. I jumped on someone’s wheel and it was on. The guys on the left side had an early jump so were ahead of everyone else. One guy who came by on the right blew up and then the guy I was following eased up. I was racing so, game on. I could see the finish line tent now and the ONLY spot I had left for me to go was a sliver of asphalt between the grass and the rider ahead of me. I threaded the needle as I passed him and actually bumped his elbow a little as I was out of the saddle. I thought I was going to go into the grass it was that close. Once by him, it was pretty much a dead even sprint with everyone else. No one seemed to gain position at that point and it was over. I was happy to be on the front with the others across the road for the sprint. It made it worth while.
I ended up 15th out of 44 riders and found out that there were three others off the front so the sprint was twelve of us heading toward the line. My goal was top 10 and I missed that by seven tenths of a second. I wonder if deep dish rims would have given me that edge but my regulars did fine.
Overall happy with the way I raced and satisfied with my results. I am right there with everyone else, so it is just a matter of being in the right place at the right time. Giddy about my “climbing” ability because I seemed to be stronger than most, on the course, for that section. If I was more confident I might have attacked in those sections to hurt others. Maybe next time. =)