Monday, April 30, 2007

Athens Twilight Criterium (4/28/07)

Wow...where do I begin...Jeff, Curtis and I went to our favorite race of the year in Athens, Georgia. This race is held in the downtown section of Athens, right next to the University of Georgia. The course is 1 kilometer long, 4 corners, and anywhere between 25k-40k screaming, piss-drunk college kids and cycling fans. Racing the course is like being in a super loud tunnel constructed of people.

The race has been held since 1980, and I started racing it when I was about 16 years old in 1985 or 1986...jeesh I'm young! This was my first big race as a junior, and I got the cockiness beat right out of me...a great eye opener.

Morning Qualifier Races
On Saturday morning there are qualification races to do the Amateur Finals race, which is run before the Pro race. The last 2 years I have done the morning Masters 30+ race with Curtis...and the last 2 years I have taken 3rd, and Curtis has taken 4th in the qualifying race...EACH TIME (weird). Curtis has had better luck in the Finals race, and has come extremely close to winning on several occasions, with several top 5 finishes. Of the 4 times I've done the Finals I have placed 7th...EACH TIME (weird). This year they changed the Masters race to 35+, so Curtis was too young, and would have to qualify in the Category 2 race.

Jeff and I were first up in the Masters 35+ race, and they took the top 15 for the Finals. The race was pretty slow, with most of the riders concentrating on not wrecking and saving their energy for the final sprint up the hill. Two rider got away late in the race, and the rest of us sprinted for the remaining positions. I won the field sprint...for 3rd (again...weird), and Jeff was 7th. Curtis raced a couple hours later...stayed upright, and took 4th place (again...weird) in his race. Now we had all qualified for the Finals, and were one step closer to our goal.

Twilight Amateur Finals
The downtown course is always packed, and this year was no different. For our event, there were probably 15k-20k people lining the course...and they were lined up 4-5 deep along the entire finishing straight.

The entire race is only 20 laps making the starting position crucial, so we would forgo the warm up and stake out our spot on the starting line. There were about 120-130 riders with a mixture of categories. There were top qualifiers from each category, and many quality riders. I noticed a few ex-pro's and many Category 1's and 2's. Lined up next to me was Roberto Gaggioli, who has won the Pro event...and has had over 200 Professional victories. He's now "retired", and decided to do the race with us by qualifying in our Masters 35+ race earlier in the day...Oh, brother.

The starter's gun finally fires, and we sprint off the line towards corner 1. Corner 1 is pretty's very narrow, and is taken after blasting down the slightly downhill front stretch. I've crashed there a couple times, once giving me a nice black eye dealt to me by my racing glasses. Turn 2 is next, and once through is a nice uphill drag for half of the back stretch. Turn 3 is a fast one that heads very quickly into the infamous last turn...number 4. Many a pileup has taken place here, and I have had my own share of bouncing off metal barricades or the stray rider trying to move up in the final turn. Gaggioli and a couple riders had a slight break, and were closely following the pace car...I jumped across to them, but it soon fell apart and we were back in the pack.

On about lap 4, Curtis jumps into a small breakaway and takes a $40 preme. The break is caught a couple laps later. About lap 8 a rider makes a strong attack on the back stretch and gains a nice gap. He continued to stay in front and slowly gained small amounts of time each lap. Going into lap 9 they rang the bell for a $40 preme, and I decided to bridge across...I caught him right before turn 3. After exiting turn 4 I stayed on his wheel, then sprinted past him to take the preme. The best line of the weekend was shouted by one of the race announcers as I sprinted by the rider to take the preme, "...SOMEBODY CALL A COP...THAT GUY JUST GOT ROBBED!" I almost started laughing!
Call the Kopps?? Oh, COPS.

I tried to wait for the guy I just passed, but he seemed a bit tired from his earlier I decided to keep going alone. There were 8 more laps to go, but I decided that if I got caught then one of my teammates would have a great chance to counter attack.
Me suffering to keep speed up the hill...

I glanced back on the straight aways to see if the pack was gaining, and on lap 5 I could see the entire pack lined out chasing. Luckily Curtis and Jeff were "enthusiastically" blocking, and helping disrupt the chase efforts.
The "Kopp" patrolling the pack...with an eye on Gaggioli

Each lap seemed soooooo long, and the hill on the back stretch started to take it's toll...but, it was amazing how you can push yourself with so many people screaming for you. While I was in front I took 4 more premes (That helps with the gas money!). I didn't know I truly had it until I came out of the last turn and looked back to see I still had a good gap. The finish was great, it was so loud I couldn't hear anything...then, more good news...Curtis dusted the field to take second place! Jeff rolled in 26th, and just 1 place out of the his first twilight race! ABRT, 1st & 2nd place (and 5 premes)! The victory lap was pretty cool, and all 3 of us were ecstatic.
Jeff strolling over to take part in the "scrum"

Having great teammates made all the difference in achieving our goal.
Am I really that short in real life?!?

Curtis, me, and a non-English speaking Argentinean

Posing with 2 of the Karma girls...mommy!

Now is a time for me to take some R&R, and get ready for the next part of the season. Ending the first half with a win was very nice, and hopefully the success will continue in the second half!

P.S. I'll post more pictures as they come check back.