Minneapolis was my stomping grounds for nearly 5 years, and it’s been nearly that long since I’ve been back. I cannot express how much I miss this place and the friends I have here. Today was a perfect day to get out of the slump of a 12 hour plus drive from Tulsa, OK on Monday.
Tuesday started out on a ride with my friend ‘Joey C’ , his two children (Anna and Sean), their friend Gavin, and “Sully” across the numerous bike path and commuter trails in Minneapolis. Eventually getting a little peek at the Time Trial course for the Nature Valley Grand Prix which starts tomorrow morning. I also managed to get in some quick catching up with my great friends Dale and Pat at Grand Performance Bicycle shop in St. Paul. So great to see them.
Followed this up with a quick lunch and massage, then to spin the legs one last time soaking up my old stomping grounds. I took the bike out for another spin throughout the city also bumping into some of my first teammates, Shawn Brick and Michael Phillips along the way. How cool is that, they were the ones who started me out on the bike, good ol’ Birchwood Bike Team!! And the night ended with a great meal prepared by Joey C that saw Pete Hanna and Matt Cimino swing through for a quick brew and catch up on life. How I miss this place.
I also made sure to get adjusted by the Chiropractor I interned with 5-6 years ago, Dr. David Patterson. I wanted to thank him for not only helping me grow as a Chiropractor and bettering my adjusting skills, especially with athletes, but as a Doctor.
What I particularly enjoy about the Twin Cities, Uptown Minneapolis area specifically, is the proximity of everything you need. We didn’t have a vehicle, save a bike, but was able to either walk or ride a commuter bike and grab those groceries and a bite to eat within minutes.
Of to racing: Wednesday morning we had a Time Trial along the Mississippi River. An undulating out and back course, with little elevation change and only a slight wind to contend with on the way back. I was the first rider to go, and the goal was to not get passed by the one minute man behind me, Luis Amaran. He had proven to be on form the weekend before in Tulsa Tough.
Goal achieved, and since I was the first rider off, I had set the fastest time of the day 🙂 For only about 20-30 seconds, then Amaran came in right behind me and took it. At the end of the day, our team had 5 riders within 10 seconds of each other, around 30-40+ seconds back of the leader, Tom Zirbel (Kelly/OPtum Health).
The Second stage of the day was an evening Criteirum in downtown St. Paul, with the Xcel Energy Center as one of the back drops. It’s a flat and fast 5 corner course, with a couple of open sections to move around on, then some cobbles and bricks to shake up the smoothness of the course and put riders on their toes.
Kelly/Optum Health looked to control the race and keep Tom out of trouble. It seemed as thought the rest of the peleton was happy with this as well. Early on I took a flyer off the front hoping to excite some gamblers not looking for overall stage race glory, but rather a stage win. It was soon gobbled up in a couple laps. In subsequent sprint and time bonus laps, I also had a couple digs in hopes the field would split and a group could get away. Not to be, so safety and live to fight another day set in my mind, and held position near the top 10-15 not fighting for wheels, and rolling in to keep the same time. The rest of the team did the same, so we all sat in that same area, 30-40s back overall, with plenty of cards to play in the next road race. In the leaders jersey now was John Murphy (kenda/5Hr Energy) with a one second lead after picking up time bonuses along the way.
Thursday is a 75+ mile rolling road race, with 4 or 5 technical finishing circuits. It was not to be. The late afternoon start, and predictably unpredictable weather of the midwest, saw the officials (mostly police) call the race off. There was some intense rain and lightening, so probably the best call. It is a bummer, as our mechanics have to work their butts off to get everything sorted in situations like that, so the highs and lows of the day are incredible for them.
Friday was an evening criterium in Uptown Minneapolis, just blocks from where I used to live. THe day was long before the race, so Sully, my good friend Pat Lemieux (Kenda/5hr Energy) and I set out and enjoyed a ride through Minneapolis on to St. Paul along the river, up the Smith St. Bridge, and then back through Summit Ave. I love that ride, and everything along it. Then a quick shower, bite to eat, nap, and we are good to go for the evening.
The criterium is flat and fast as well. Offering 6 corners and little place to move around. The goal here was to move near the front and hold position there, and near the finish, if feeling well, give it a go. Early on there was a move off the front for some of the sprint points and time bonuses. The move had enough riders from each of the teams, and guys not going for the overall, rather for the Sprinters Jersey, namely Carlos Alzate (Exergy). Carlos is always going particularly well, and I was bummed I missed the move. Being just a bit too far back when it happened.
Near the end of the race, the teams were lining it up for their sprinters, Bissell, Exergy, Kenda, Jelly Belly, Kelly/Optum Health. It was lined out pretty good, so hard to move up, and without teammates, I did not feel the need to fight for wheels, so I set out on a solo flyer with 5 to go. Knowing fully, unless someone came with me, it was a futile attempt. It was still fun as I had many many friends watching and cheering me on as it went. I was caught with about a lap and a half to go, and able to muster some strength to get back in to the peleton and not lose any time overall. Brad Huff (Jelly Belly) lit up the sprint and proved he was on form.
Saturday, was the 100+ mile day in the rolling terrain of Menominee, WI. Loved this race. It was a race of strength and speed. mixed in with rain and poker and GC protection. There was a lot of attrition in the race as we hit the KOM hills that pitch up really good, then open up to crosswinds over the top and a dwindling peleton going all out. Love that hard nose racing. Unfortunately, we lost one of our heavy hitters in Joe Schmalz to a mechanical at a critical moment, and we were without him for the rest of the race.
Little breaks would go, then come back. with about 30 miles to go, a break of around 8 went away with our teammate Heath Blackgrove represented. Christian Helmig and I felt pretty good about the group and how Heath was going overall, so we covered moves going up to the break and tried to conserve energy for the finishing circuits in case it was pulled back.
It was not. As we came into the 4 final finishing circuits, with something like 17 corners each lap, the break had a gap of about 1:15. An unorganized chase from teams not in the break had the gap slip out to 1:50+ then finally down to about 1:10 as we crossed the line.
Heath finished 4th in the break, and sat 6th place overall, and with the Stillwater Criterium ahead, anything could happen, and we could likely end up with a top 3 overall for our team.
The Stillwater Criterium is Epic to say the least. And this particular day saw us start with dry roads, leading into the last half of the race with slippery wet roads as the weather changed on us.
The Chilkoot hill we climb I’ve heard has 20+% grade, but that’s not the hard part. It’s following, when you have to keep it on the gas for another 600 meters at 3-5% following that effort, that really starts to hurt.
Our goal was to protect Heath and keep him up front for the overall. Fortunately He and Joe Schmalz had a call up, so they were up front right away. Sully, Mat, Christian and I had to make our way from the back to the front as quick as possible. Not easy to do on this course. You can pay for that later.
2 laps in, I found myself at the front. Right near Heath, Christian, and Sully. Perfect. Then I believe a sprint lap came, and the race was strung out for a couple laps. It settled down again, and I looked at the attrition and saw just Christian. It was down to survival mode now. We saw riders on the sides of the road each lap getting off the pace.
Halfway through the race, the rain started. it makes for interesting racing. We were given the heads up that it would come, so we had already let some tire pressure out, down to 90 or so, and I felt confident through the corners.
With 5 to go, there were little surges and Christian and I knew we needed to be near the front. We had them all covered.
Coming into the bell lap, Tyler WRen (Jamis ) and CHris Uberti (Panther) had a 8-10 second gap at the top of CHilkoot Hill. I decided to Hit out to bridge the gap. As I crested the Chilkoot portion, and now onto the 3-5% 600m drag following, I glanced back to see if the peleton was hot on my heels.
They weren’t. It was just Christian, my teammate seconds behind me, with no one on his wheel. Perfect I thought. I let up on the gas and waited until he got on my wheels. I figured we would work together and he’d launch me on the climb for a shot at the win.
Just as that though crossed my mind, Tyler Wren impressively attacked Uberti at the very top of the course, and I knew if I hesitated for even a moment, our chances could be gone.
So I gave everything I had to save Christian for that one final dig up Chilkoot Hill. I was seeing double by the time we hit the base of the climb, and about a third of the way up we nearly made contact with Wren, and Christian launched his sprint from behind and I knew we would get the win. I was completely exhausted, but did one quick look back to see that it may be possible to get on the podium myself. I dug as deep as possible, with my tongue hanging to the ground, and came around Wren for second on the stage, going 1-2 on the day!
It seriously was the most incredible feeling to have that happen, with all my friends in attendance, in that dramatic fashion, and knowing you helped set it up for your teammate and he delivered. We were SOOOO excited and happy. What a moment. Incredible.
So many things have to go right and there are so many people involved in making that happen. It’s not just us on the bikes, it’s the sponsors, the director, the mechanics, the wives, girlfriends, families, fans, critics..etc. Just happy to be apart of this and hope to inspire others to achieve their goals.