This past weekend I and a few teammates and friends decided to venture out of our racing comfort zone of southeastern Wisconsin. After packing enough clothes, gear, tools, bikes, and electronics to create a pop-up bike shop we made our way to La Crosse, Wisconsin for their annual cycling omnium competition aptly named the La Crosse Omnium. The omnium consisted of three days of racing: a 2.4-mile individual time trial up Grandad Bluff on Friday, a criterium race in downtown La Crosse along the Mississippi River on Saturday, and a road race across the Mississippi in neighboring Minnesota on Sunday.
Friday Time Trial
We all knew what we were getting into with a short 2.4-mile time trial: pain and suffering. If your legs and lungs aren’t burning throughout the duration you aren’t going hard enough. What we weren’t expecting was rain. We thought we had escaped it when we left Milwaukee. I knew the rain wouldn’t bother me during my charge up the hill but it left me with no desire to warm up. The last thing I wanted to do was sit on a stationary trainer or find a road to warm up in the cold rain. Instead I sat in the car with the heated seats on high closely watching the weather radar on my phone.
The rain did stop about 15 minutes before my start time. This provided me enough time to spin around in the nearby neighborhood and make sure my bike was working correctly. Following that it was off to the starting tent. Everyone has three goals in a time trial: 1) Go as hard as you can; 2) Don’t get passed by the person starting behind you; 3) Pass the person starting in front of you. A racer only has direct control over #1 though. Even if I got passed or if I passed someone I would be satisfied only if I knew I gave it my all and left everything I had on the road.
Mission accomplished. After 8 minutes, 57 seconds I reached the finish line completely gutted and gasping for air. I didn’t get passed by a very talented, featherweight junior racer behind me and I was making up ground on the two racers who started before me. When all was said and done I ended up in 5th place, roughly nine seconds behind the winner and ~30 seconds faster than last year’s winning time for category 3. It was an excellent start to the weekend and all that was left to do was go back to the hotel and spend two hours cleaning up our now-dirty bikes for Saturday’s criterium.
Saturday’s criterium took us down to the shores of the Mississippi River in downtown La Crosse. The bike races were part of a larger fitness festival that day so plenty of runners, families, and spectators were already present in the morning hours. Unlike the previous races I have completed thus far in 2014 today’s race was on a short and flat course around a few city blocks. There was a headwind on the back straight and tailwind down the front straight which would ensure a fast finish.
Combining the wind with the flat course, it was going to be hard for a break to escape but it would not be for lack of trying. I stayed at the front in hopes of getting away with somebody but nothing was working. Finally three of us got off the front and managed to get a decent gap to the chasing peloton. With three laps remaining I had hope that us three would be able to hold out. With two laps remaining our hopes were dashed. We were caught by the peloton which set the race up for a field sprint, not exactly my forte but still exciting nonetheless. I crossed the line in 8th place and earned myself a solid $10 bill and a 5th place in the omnium classification. I was happy with the race results and my performance. The rest of the day was spent enjoying the beautiful weather and watching the other races. Even better, it was capped off with exceptional ice cream from the Pearl Ice Cream Parlor.
Sunday Road Race
I knew going into Sunday that it was going to be a learning experience. Prior to Sunday’s race I had only completed one other road race, that being last year’s Tour of America’s Dairyland Fond du Lac road race which was raced under completely different circumstances and with many teammates. I had very little experience with reading a road race and the tactics involved. The category 3 race consisted of (4) 13.8-mile laps. The main feature of the course was a long, fast descent and an equally long and grueling climb. Even though I lacked experience I knew someone was going to attack on the climb and it was going to hurt.
I always like being at the front of the field in a race but I wanted to be at the front each time we went up the climb. I did this for two reasons. I wanted to be able to set the initial pace going up the climb. My goal was to keep the pace high enough to thwart off early attacks and also to put pressure on those in the field who don’t necessarily like hills. My second reason was to be able to react to possible attacks. I didn’t want to get stuck behind anyone if someone did try to jump away. My strategy seemed successful for the most part. The attacks did happen but they occurred at the top of the hill. It was hard to react to those attacks with the sting of the earlier pace setting but I managed to stay in touch.
In the end no attacks ever stayed away. I believe this was due to the nature of the course. As mentioned earlier its main feature was the descent and climb but those were located in the middle third of the lap. One may be able to gap the field on the hill but it always seemed like it would be difficult to hold that gap for four miles to the finish. Had the start/finish line been at the top of the climb the race would have evolved very differently on the last lap.
After 54 miles most everyone was still together. All that remained was one corner and a 1-mile run to the straight, flat finish. Given the size of the pack and since I came out of the last corner in bad position my hopes of a top ten finish were gone. With the 20 to 30 racers in the pack and the yellow line rule still in effect I had no ability or room to work myself through the hard-charging field. I had to settle for 18th place. That’s bike racing. Even though I knew I could have done better I was satisfied with my race and it was a nice change from the more common criterium races. Better yet, I already have some possible strategies for next year.
The race weekend proved to be very successful. I scored some decent results, had a lot of fun moments, kept all of my skin intact, and got to experience some sunny and warm(er) weather. Now I just need to continue all of these items through to the end of August!
Jadon is a Cat 3 road racer for Team Belgianwerkx who is focusing on criteriums and road races. In 2013 he won the Cat 4/5 overall at Tour of America’s Dairyland. We’re looking forward to another great year.