Yesterday was the annual Hell’s Kitchen race outside Fayetteville Arkansas in at a little intersection that they call Hogeye. I’ve been going to the race most of the last 6 or 7 years. You get a pitch fork as a trophy for winning it. Mark, Rob and all the guys do an excellent job of putting on a great race. It is a pleasure coming down there and getting in some early season miles in a beautiful area. The course is next to the Joe Martin course, so there is a pretty substantial climb each lap. We rode up the climb 4 times this year, with the finish of the race at the crest.
The race was a local race. The tactics were the same. The Mercy team had been doing a training camp down in Ft. Smith, where the team is located, so they had all there guys there, something around 10 or 11. I knew the race was going to be frustrating before it started.
I was all over the map in how I felt. If I were to rate myself today, I’d give myself a 5 out of 10 for the day. Not too good, but not horrible either. I think maybe the race started too fast for me, so I never got a chance to ride into it. I don’t know, but it took a good 2 + hours to feel anything other than bad.
Zach Reed, from the Dogfish team, took off like a banshee as soon as we clipped in. I chased 10 bikes lengths behind him for the first mile, knowing I was going to pay for it later. The Mercy guys marked me. Then more came. When it was all said and done, which was 2 miles into a 73 mile road race, there were 3 Mercy riders and 2 Dogfish guys and me. We were over 2 minutes up 5 miles into the race.
I almost immediately started sitting on. In retrospect, that wasn’t the smartest move. The break was a disaster for us. The two best Mercy guys, Austin Vinton and Colton Jarisch were with me. They are both pretty young and getting better race by race. They were down in Texas with me a couple weeks ago and were riding good, so I knew that they were the two to beat. But, that was never going to happen from that situation. Early on, they started jumping. I didn’t try to cover anything. Zach had been pulling the hardest from the group. I’m not sure why that was because later on, he was toast. But, he seemed the strongest of the two Dogfish riders. So I went off the back with Austin and Zach. I thought bringing the best two guys back to the field was the best that I could do at the time.
The 3 of us were coming back to the field, but made it over the climb before the field made it up. The field split on the climb and Brian, plus Ben were in the front split of 8 or 9. I went pretty hard once they caught on, but everyone seemed to be pretty done. And that was the story the rest of the race. The field would split up on the climb and slowly regroup the next 10 miles afterwards.
Brian and Ben eventually rolled off the front with three Mercy riders, Austin, Adam Mills and Nick Coil. Plus, Jake Lasley from Sound Pony. That was probably the best we were going to do. The front three were 7 minutes up by then, so that was done.
I rode around with the remainder of the field the last hour. It split again the last time up the climb, but sort of came back together at the bottom.
We came close to catching Brian and Ben’s group a couple miles before the climb. We were probably less than 20 seconds behind them, so I attacked my group, just to get them super winded, so they would have be disorganized and tired so they wouldn’t chase.
All the paying places were up the rode when we started up the climb the last lap. I was feeling the best I’d felt all day, but was starting to cramp in my left hamstring where I did a couple weeks ago it Texas. We where climbing the hill too slow, exactly cramping speed. I grabbed my leg a couple times and it sort of worked. Finally about 1/2 up I just decided to go harder. I heard someone go “Boo”. I agreed completely. At the steep pitch, maybe 400 meters from the finish, there were only 3 of us left. Will Gault, Tulsa Tough, took off and shelled John ShalekBriski, a young Military Cycling rider, who is stationed in Oklahoma right now. Will was going too hard for me, so I let him go. So, Will won the bragging rights sprint.
I was sort of disgusted, but now don’t feel so bad about the race. I would have played the start much differently if I had a do-over. As it turned out, we needed to get to the climb the first lap together. Brian, Ben and I could ride up the hill about as good as anyone. Colton and Austin would have made the splits, but I think the rest of the Mercy riders wouldn’t have. That would have evened out the numbers and made the race not so defensive on their part. I was shit at the start and that had a lot to do with the outcome. I was going the best at the end of the race, but by then, it wasn’t a race anymore.
Local races here in the Midwest tend to go this way. It is best when it is closer to even numbers, but when it’s not, I guess we just have to suck it up and get beat up on. And that is pretty much what happened.
I want to say congratulations to Joseph Schmaltz, from Lawrence, who just finished 2nd overall and won the epic road race out in San Dimas in California. He was beating up most the best riders in the country last weekend. Joseph is on a different plateau than he was last year, which was already good.