This event has become a Colorado classic: 3 days of racing in beautiful Steamboat Springs over Labor Day weekend. Saturday’s TT is followed by Sunday’s scenic road race and a downtown criterium on Monday. Robb Cope and I had been looking forward to this weekend all season, and our families too. Corey Piscopo and Moots put on a well-run event, and the weather was certainly cooperating. This was my 2nd multi-day race of the season, after the Morgul Omnium in May. A good initial TT can help set one up for a GC podium in most stage races/omniums in CO, but my TT form was rusty and my fitness had been ebbing for a month.
I reconnoitered the course Friday afternoon by car, and this proved wise. The route had enough technical features to make it interesting. Friday night was spent enjoying family and friends, and many beers were sacrificed to the cycling gods. After all, it was the last race weekend of the road season in CO, and cause for celebration.
After a rather incomplete and ineffective warm-up, I was the first one off with no 30-sec man to chase, and settled in for ~30min of pain. Staying safe in the turns and across the one RR-xing, I only needed to relinquish the aero position a handful of times. At the end of the day I was 6s ahead of 2nd place, local Mike Satkiewicz of Steamboat Velo p/b Moots, and 8s ahead of 3rd, Kevin Eldridge of IC3 Colorado. Yikes, not the buffer of >20sec that I had hoped for.
Robb and I met early on Sunday morning to talk road race strategy, and if two teammates working together might have any advantage. With a goal of GC podium, we needed to stay at the front, safe and in control. That’s exactly how Robb executed until the halfway turn-around when his selfless efforts finally surpassed his fitness. His last effort, on a punchy short climb, exploded the peloton. A group of 7 formed a break on the flank of the penultimate climb. Here Dan Perkins gapped us off 15s, but we steadily reeled him in by the crest of last climb. Now it was a fast run-in to the finish with a tailwind. We failed to organize well, instead jockeying for position in the last kms. I probably ended up doing too much work, and the heat was torrid. 10miles of leg cramps would affect my sprint, which I knew was already weaker relative to a couple of the guys in the break. Positioning going into the final turn before the 300M slight uphill finish would be crucial.
Dan Perkins lost focus for a second, overlapped his front wheel, and went down at around 36mph with 1km to go. Fortunately he was okay, given the same finishing time as the rest of us, and was able to start the crit on Monday. That incident shook me up a bit, and I tried to refocus as the final right-hand turn approached. Within seconds it was there…and so was some junior left over from the SM4 field. For whatever reason he decided to sprint with us, and accelerated on the inside, dive bombing our break. Not cool. I had decided to be first into the final turn to try to minimize the damage in the sprint, or so my logic went. Now I was forced to check up on the slower outside line. Losing momentum, I started to sprint early. I didn’t have much in the legs except more cramps. Seizing up, all five competitors from the break sprinted past in the final 200M. They all got the same time, but I let a gap open and was timed 3s back from the race winner. Kevin Eldridge got 3rd and collected a 4s time bonus; I still led GC, but now only 1 second separated us. We had a comfortable lead on 3rd, so the crit would decide the top two steps of the GC podium.
Robb and I had dinner and discussed tactics. There was one intermediate sprint with 3s, 2s, 1s time bonuses. Additionally there would again be time bonuses for the top 3 stage finishers: 6s, 4s, 2s. We anticipated the sprinters would gobble up the finish time bonuses, but decided I needed to go for the intermediate time bonus, or at least neutralize Kevin’s attempt. No alcohol this evening.
I got a good warm-up and lined up early in the first row, which is rare for me. I had a quick discussion with Mark S., a big diesel, and he indicated he would be happy to surge before the intermediate time bonus and see if we couldn’t get away without Kevin. As the race started Robb and I moved to the front. My legs felt good, so we stayed there, with Robb doing most of the work in the wind. I would pull through on the backside downhill to let him recover. We rotated more or less like this for 15min, and the field was happy to let us control the pace. So was I, because thanks to Robb, I wasn’t burning matches. Mark made his move, but it didn’t have enough initial jump to create a threatening gap, and everyone rolled up to him. We approached the middle of the race and the intermediate sprint. I soft-pedaled back to 5th wheel, jumped hard on the one uphill city block in the rectangular course, and accelerated off the front. Within seconds I had a sizable gap of 50M. I looked back to see Robb, ever the vigilant lieutenant, setting a false tempo in pole position (AKA “blocking”) on the long downhill backstretch to let me stay away. If Kevin had been able to get around Robb, I’m sure Robb would have outsmarted him again at the sprint. I captured the 3s time bonus by a healthy margin and other racers collected the 2s & 1s bonuses. The pressure was now on Kevin to finish 1st or 2nd. As it turns out, Kevin was spent. I still had some matches left, so I led the field into the last corner and sprinted for 5th. Robb got 9th. It was Kevin’s turn to lose 3s by being gapped off for 17th, still safely in 2nd on GC. I took a cool-down lap to thank the volunteers around the course and even enjoyed a celebratory beer with a generous local spectator.
The GC win was a memorable way to cap off the season–all the more memorable to do it with the help of my friend & loyal teammate, Robb Cope. We both upgraded to cat3 the next day, and anticipate racing together in the 40+3 field at Steamboat in 2016 with more teammates. Thank you, Robb! Much deserved gratitude goes to the town of Steamboat, all the race volunteers, officials, race director, and sponsors for continuing to provide racers the best stage race in Colorado.