The ancient curse "may you live in interesting times" came to mind today in the 50+ criterium at the Masters National Road Championships this afternoon in beautiful Bend, Oregon. For today's races, the venue changed to downtown Bend, for a fast and mostly flat 1.2 K rectangular course with the finish line in front of the historic Tower Theater on Wall Street.
After his best-ever 10th place finish in the time trial on Wednesday, Joe was hoping for big things, but was worried about all the recent hard riding he was carrying in his legs. The day started off well under sunny skies and ideal cool conditions. Before warming up, Joe watched teammates Mike Newsome and Bill Simmons contest the 40 K 55+ event, and got a glimpse of how fast and furious the racing would be. Mike and Bill rode aggressively and stayed near the front for the entire race, with Bill finishing in 15th place, with Mike just behind in 18th.
With a break before his race for awards ceremonies, Joe started his warm-up with time to spare, or so he thought. After several easy laps on the course, Joe shifted up to increase his tempo, and discovered that his bike was skipping shifts all over the place, even though the identical set-up had performed flawlessly a couple of weeks ago at the Colorado State Criterium Championships. Joe headed quickly for one of the mechanic's pits, and asked for assistance. The combined forces of 3 USA Cycling mechanics could not seem to get it to settle down, even after pulling off and re-mounting the rear derailed, removing and reinstalling the Di2 connections, and removing and reinstalling the cassette. The could get it to shift reasonably in the big gears or the little gears, but not both. Figuring that the final sprint would be blazing, Joe opted for access to the top end.
Jumping back on the bike with little warm-up time remaining, Joe found that the shifting was still skipping all over the place, and stopped to investigate. He found the rear wheel not fully settled in the dropouts, and corrected it. Alas, it only made things worse. Another trip back to the pits, more ineffectual attempts to get things working, and Joe finally settled for a clincher wheel from the wheel pit, and headed back on course. Rounding the turn to the front straight, Joe found all of the racers lined up, and found himself at the back of the 69 rider field for the start. Warm-UP?!? I don't need no stinkin' WARM-UP!!!
The gun fired, and the race was fast from the start. After several laps at the back trying to find life in his legs, so began moving up, and soon was in the mix of things. The attacks off the front were non-stop, and it was anyone's guess which ones to cover. Joe bridged to a few of the more promising moves, but none stuck. A mid-race pile-up in the downhill corner 4 added to the excitement, and Joe left a sizable patch of his borrowed rear tire on the pavement avoiding the carnage, but straightened out his skid, kept it upright, and chased back on.
A promising move of 3 strong riders launched up the road with 9 laps to go, so Joe dug in to join the party, eventually followed by 1 more adventurous soul. A big strongman was driving it, and it felt like it could be the one, so Joe went all in and did all he could to help the break stay clear. However, looking back with under 8 to go, Joe looked back and found the entire field on his wheel. He slipped back into the fold to try to get at least a little recovery in the remaining laps, and to his dismay saw 2 counterattacks finally succeed, taking all 5 medals up the road.
Fighting for position in the futilely chasing pack in the final laps, Joe hung on to salvage a top-10 finish, coming across the line in 9th place. He then proceeded immediately to one of Bend's fine coffee shops for a well-deserved double skinny mocha, his recovery drink of choice.