US Master's Road National Championships, June 28-July 4, Louisville, KY
Mens 45-49 Criterium: Fireworks on the 4th of July
The racing action returned to Churchill Downs this morning for the final day of the Masters Cycling National Championships. Vic's rider Joe Paulson lined up with a large field for the first event of the day, the mens 45-49 race. The temperature was in the high 60's and the skies were overcast, but the predicted rain was holding off as the scheduled 10 AM race got underway a little late, as has seemed to be the norm at these Nationals.
The first 10 laps were full tilt and the pack was strung out as various riders attempted to establish breaks, but nothing too serious was able to get away. Joe gambled that the field would stay together, and conserved his energy mid-pack. Excel rider Bob Dahl, on the other hand, initiated or followed a number of moves in the hope of making an escape from the field.
As the 50 lap, 25 mile race progressed, the speed became a little more reasonable, but it was difficult to maintain position near the front in the ever-surging pack. One effort to move back up brought Joe to the sharp end of the peloton, and he made a token appearance in the lead before tucking back behind the largest body he could find nearby.
In the final 10 laps, the speed increased again, and riders started taking creative lines through corners trying to move up, causing a number of near-crashes and shouting matches. Joe kept moving up when he could do so without great effort, but would then be swarmed by another surge, and find himself instantly 30 riders back again.
In the last 2 laps, yet another doomed break attempt was reeled in, and the full pack started jostling for final position. Joe found himself slamming on the brakes in every corner as desperate riders dove inside looking for lines. Half way through the last lap, Joe finally found an open lane and sprinted up the inside toward the front, but a rider in front of him closed it down just before the second to last corner, and Joe was involuntarily in brake mode again. It was wall-to-wall into the final turn 200 meters from the finish, and the inevitable contact between riders started a cascade of falling bodies and bikes that Joe braked again to avoid, then slipped past. He was able to hold off the riders behind him, but couldn't overtake those who had gotten through the corner cleanly, and crossed the line in 12th, with Bob Dahl finishing right behind him in 13th.
After a few warm-down laps, Joe wished good luck to Byron Nix, the Green Mountain 40-44 rider who was about to mount his title defense after winning out of a break on the same course last year, then headed to the van to mop off and pack up his bike. As he did so, it started to sprinkle, and Joe had to admit that he'd gotten some good weather breaks this year. Mike and Joe then headed through the tunnel under the horse track, made their now traditional post-Nationals pit stop at the nearest White Castle for 10 burgers and some fries, then headed west as the rain began to come down in earnest.
One other important task remained: espresso. The boys figured they'd need to stop in a bit for gas anyway, so they jumped on the interstate and enjoyed their sliders on the road. The rain came down harder, the gas gauge dropped, but their trusty GPS searched for coffee shops to no avail. They crossed the entire state of Indiana in a downpour and a caffeine drought. Finally, they pulled off the interstate and drove several miles into Mt. Vernon and filled the gas tank, but found the promised "Life's Little Perks" coffee shop closed for the holiday.
Increasingly desperate and grumpy, they exited again at O'Fallon, Illinois, where the GPS claimed they'd find a Starbucks. No 'Bucks, but the Schnuck's grocery at the identified coordinates had a Kaldi's Coffee stand inside, where they finally satisfied their coffee Jones with some mochas, and took the precautionary measure of purchasing a bag of chocolate-covered coffee beans to avoid further caffeine trauma. As they got underway again, the rain finally stopped, and while the sun didn't appear, their moods certainly brightened.
Mike and Joe are now gazing once again at the Gateway Arch as they pass through St. Louis. The plan is to drive until they grow too weary, then stop for the night, and continue on to Colorado tomorrow. It's been an eventful trip to Nationals, and the boys are ready to go home.
Race Results for USA Cycling 2009 Masters Road National Champ, Louisville, KY
Criterium 07/04/09 Results