The first race of my final season of collegiate cycling began in Corvallis, Or early in the morning. The Men’s D road race started with 46 riders from a parking lot. In what turned out to be a mistake from the organizers, it was not neutralized. Following the parking lot roll out, a second 90-degree right turn on to a frontage road followed only 100 yards later. On that long, straight 2-mile road, a 12 MPH cross wind. So with two immediate turns and no neutralization, a handful of riders hammered it from the gun and the field went crazy. Boise State had 3 riders in the field: Dustin Sharpe, Jace Hargrove, and myself. Our plan was to stick together and have me help navigate the early race to keep them, in their first collegiate race, from getting dropped. Within 30 seconds it was clear that the field was not going to fall apart. I looked back, saw teammates and said, “hang on!” We accelerated past as many riders as we could to pull ourselves up to what looked like an experienced group of about 25 riders. As it turned out, this would become the main field.
I looked back and saw one teammate but not the other. Jace had bridged up to the main field on my wheel but Dustin had missed it. Because of the poor un-neutralized start, we had effectively broken into two fields. The larger “main field” was 25 strong and the “chase field” with 21. Unfortunately for Dustin, the chase field quickly fractured and became collections of riders trying to hang together. We would never see him again.
Shortly after the start and regrouping of the main field, three riders escaped off the front. Portland State made it possible by blocking early. Two other guys, Oregon and Wittman riders, bridged up and the break was born. We let them dangle about a ¼ mile in front of us with no real fear of losing them. They were always within site. I regularly would pick a point up the road as they passed and count the seconds until we passed it. “Gap at 25 seconds!” Lots of teams appreciated the reports.
There were several short ¼ mile rollers and severe corners that cause the small some gaps in the group. We managed to stay tight even as other riders were trimmed. Our two laps around the circuit were made more difficult by the rain and wind, which only amplified after the start. We were thoroughly soaked and frozen after the first 90 minutes of racing.
As we began the final 9 miles, the group turned west and picked up a strong southern crosswind. With the break dangling seductively just off the front, a handful of riders decided to bridge up. As they went, a smaller group reacted late and also chased. The result was a tattered string of wet and exhausted riders who all guttered preventing any real support for riders on their wheel. It was a long and miserable 6 miles. I kicked out a little to try and give Jace some relief. Riders around us began to drop from the effects of the pace and conditions. We had to bridge gaps fairly often in that stretch.
Finally, we arrived at the finishing climb, a 3 mile push over 500 feet. It was mild but it served mostly to fortify everyone’s positions. It was spin and grin territory. One or two stronger climbers passed us but most held their positions. Jace and I reached to top of the climb and had a friendly sprint to the end. He pipped me, the punk, and took 16th overall, while I, the old man, took 17th. My job was to keep my teammates in the race and stay in the main field. I am happy to say I was successful. Dustin held it together and worked with everyone he could find and finished 33rd about 20 minutes behind us.
Later in the afternoon, the three of us competed in a 9.5 mile team time trial (TTT), a staple of the collegiate omnium. We all stayed together and hammered out a 3rd place finish in our field posting a time just a minute slower than out “A” team. Great weekend of racing! Next week, Salem!