This past weekend, Virginia Tech hosted a weekend of races in the mountains near Blacksburg, Virginia. For the first time in my collegiate career, the weather in Blacksburg was nice (in years past we have had just about everything – snow, sleet, hail, rain, tornadoes, thunderstorms).
The first race on Saturday was an 80-mile road race comprised of five, fourteen mile laps. Halfway through each lap we had a three-mile long rolling climb – the first mile was the hardest with a few steep pitches up around 15-18%. After the top, it was a four mile downhill/flat roll-in to the finish. The roads in rural Virginia were all pretty narrow and a little bit rough. Our Men’s A field was combined with ten or fifteen guysracing in the open Pro-1-2 field.
Three miles into the first lap, Brandon Freyer (Appalachian State) attacked on one of the small rollers on the course. I followed, as did Eric Fisher (William & Mary) and Justin Crawford (racing in the open race). Eric was not particularly keen on working, as he had no teammates back in the field, but Brandon, Justin, and I worked well together and in the next four miles our gap went out to 40 seconds. We held steady over the climb and went fast enough over rest of the lap to extend our advantage to over a minute.
On the backstretch on Lap two, another rider in the P/1/2 field and Matt Howe bridged up to our break – with two riders in the break now, we were in great shape. Our gap held steady around a minute and a half, but Navy led a hard chase in the main field. As we crested the climb for the second time, most of the main field caught us. Gruppo compacto.
One of the teams in theP/1/2 field drilled the pace hard in the crosswinds on the backstretch to make the race hard, and splits in the peloton developed. The third time up the climb was hard and a selection of fifteen riders was made (12 collegiate, 3 P/1/2). Matt, Alex, and I all made the split, but Eoin was gone for the day.
Appalachian State had four riders in the lead group and attacked a lot, but the three of us were able to cover most everything and no move stuck. Just before the fourth time up the climb, Alan Garvick (Appalachian State) attacked and got a gap. By the top of the climb, he had a thirty second gap. Cohesion in chasing was hard to find in the field, and Garvick’s advantage went out to over 1.5-minutes. Recognizing the victory was probably gone, we resolved to race for second.
The final climb was tough. I got dropped with a few others on the steep sections, but I made my way back up through the caravan (seriously, I moved up on the less-steep slopes partly with the help of the wheel cars that hap jumped in the gap). The group didn’t push hard over the remainder of the climb, but we went plenty fast on the four mile run in to the finish. Alex was the best-placed in the field sprint and finished 4th on the day. Matt was 6th and I finished 8th. Pretty decent result, overall.
After the road race, we had a couple hours to rest/recover before the start of the team time trial. We ran a cobbled-together team: Matt’s crash last weekend left him with a sprained wrist – he was able to race the road race but was in too much pain after that to race the time trial. Eoin has been dealing with lung/respiratory issues and was struggling to breathe with an inflamed lung, but he suited up to do what he could. In addition to Alex and I, Jacob Miller, Duke Cycling’s president (and a sophomore undergrad) filled out our team. Jacob has not raced much this year because he’s been dealing with a knee injury. Our strategy was to keep steady and for Alex and I to do the majority of the work and just let the results fall as they may – our participation was key for overall team standings.
The course was a 20km run of the road race course – 10km out, 10km back (so no big climb, but plenty of little rollers. On the way out we kept things steady. I botched the turn around (the road was narrow and I carried too much speed into it). I ran off the road and had to unclip my foot to keep balance. We reorganized and pushed hard into the headwind on the way back. Jacob and Eoin took harder pulls. We came within sight of West Virginia’s team and lost Jacob in the last 1000m or so. We came across the line with a time of 28:50. Alex and I both felt like we left a bit out on the course and were pleasantly surprised when we learned we won the event by 13 seconds over Appalachian State and 16 over Virginia Tech.
Sunday’s race was a criterium on Virginia Tech’s campus. The loop (about three-quarters of a mile) had three corners and a short climb to the start/finish. After cresting the climb, the road turned left in a head/cross-wind to the first turn. Turn two was a fast downhill turn and turn three was pretty flat, but the climb started shortly out of the turn. With a seventy-five minute race (longer than the normal sixty), our strategy was to play it cool, cover moves from the major teams (Appalachian State, Virginia Tech, Navy) and wait until later to be aggressive.
From the gun, Corey Davis (James Madison University) and Evan Lang (Virginia Commonwealth) attacked and earned a fifteen second lead. A few chase groups tried to materialize, including one of yours truly, Will Massey (VT) and Miles Hubbard (App State), but nothing stuck and a devoted chase was reluctant to form. I don’t think anyone thought that a two-man move (both of whom had no teammates) would stick. But, lo and behold, it did, and Corey and Evan lapped the field. Bummer.
All four of us struggled Sunday. Tired legs from Saturday and a climb every eighty seconds or so really took its toll. The best I could manage was to hang in the race – every time I tried to attack or chase, I felt like I was pedaling squares. Attacks came and went, but nothing stuck until late in the race when Evan and Corey’s battle took two more riders (Garvick of App State and David Fuentes of George Mason) up the road. Alex bridged to the move and the rest of the field was content to sprint for sixth.
Duke sits solidly in third place in the conference now with two race weekends remaining. This coming weekend, the team makes the long trek to West Virginia University for a road race and criterium. I’m not entirely sure if I am going yet or not – many team members are uncertain of their status for this race.