Once Redlands finished, we headed home and got one week of training in before we headed back out to Arkansas for the UCI Joe Martin Stage race. It’s a 4 day race in Fayetteville, that goes through the Northwest corner of the state. My leg started to feel a lot better after resting for a few days after Redlands, so I was excited to be back to 100%.
Joe Martin is an interesting race, it starts with an uphill TT (more like a prologue) that essentially sets the script for the rest of the week. They changed the course to the other side of the mountain this year, so the opening climb was a lot steeper, but it added a fast descent with an uphill finish. We pre rode the day before, half the team chose to use their time trial bikes, while the other went with their road setup. I chose road bike.
I hit above my target watts, but saved too much for the second segment. Essentially I should have raced for the top of the hill then barely maintained into the run in. Lesson learned. I finished exactly the same place as last year. Not too far out of the top 10 time wise, but far enough out that I would need to race aggressively if I really wanted to move up.
Stage 2 is a 110 mile race through back country Arkansas roads. We roll out of a Wal Mart parking lot which is so perfectly Arkansas, that it makes me chuckle every time I think about it. Once neutral ends, the attacks start flying as I sit about 30 back from the front. We make a left hander onto the start of the backroads and we come to a few small rollers, I see about 15 guys rolling off the front. Haedo (the winner of that day) and I bridge, and we make it into the break. Once I was there, I saw that we had the most presence in the break. 3 of us were in the move, and the gaps were going up quickly. We drove it hard, and eventually got to 3 minutes. From there we knew it was the days breakaway, it just became a question of; will we make it to the line or not.
With Travis and Jonathan driving the break, I would pull through, and try to skip turns when I could- in case things got really hard on the 9 mile climb. We lost Jonathan right before the climb, and then Axeon started riding tempo. I attacked out a few times but no one was willing to go with and really work over the top. At the top of the climb, the moto came up and told us we had over 5 minutes.
5 minutes seems like an insane amount of time but with 18 miles of descent into the finish, it’s actually right on the bubble. I thought for sure we would pull through cooperatively then start attacking 5-10 from the finish. So I was pretty excited it was just downhill left. I couldn’t have been farther off. The attacks came and it was some of the hardest racing I’ve done in a long time. Attack after attack after attack. Travis and I tried to take turns covering as many moves as we could. A constant game of chess, do we cover or do we let someone else do it. About 5 miles from the finish, I look back and I see the peloton coming full gas. That feeling could be best described as being on the price is right, spinning the wheel and you hit 100, then it teeter totters and barely clicks over to 0. Pretty disappointed after spending almost 100 miles in a breakaway.
The next day is a 110 mile circuit race, 23 mile laps with a decent climb on each. Before the start, I was feeling the affects of the day before. My pre race coffee party was about as somber as when the dog dies in that movie you love. I sat there with the boys and tried my best to get amped. Thankfully we had 5 miles of neutral for a nice warm up. Once the race started, I found myself in the back, trying to get the ol’ pistons running. We make it around to the second lap, and I decide- ahh heck, might as well try and move up before the climb. I move to the front, and Carpenter from Holowesko attacks. I cover with Summerhill from UHC, and well, I’m like oh expletive, what did I do to myself again.
Back at it again in the breakaway. It was 2 UHC, one Jamis, myself, Hollowesko, Axeon, Coulton Hartrich, and Elbowz. The only big team missing was Silber. Coming over the climb we had 45 seconds. We kept riding and pushed through the remainder of the lap, bringing the gap to over 3 minutes. That’s when Silber started chasing…Right before the climb on the last lap, the peloton was around 20 seconds. The break started to sit up, and I dreaded the catch and attacks that would come up that climb.
So I kept going and attacked up the climb. Clarke, Carpenter, and Axeon came with. We made it almost to the top when we were caught, the acceleration never came, and we easily made it up over the climb in the bunch. The run in for this race is super narrow, and it takes a full squad to lead out your sprinter. The guys did a great job keeping Monk protected into the final turn, I was only good for one move with a few k to go, and it was up to the boys to do the rest. Monk ended up 7th on the stage- a great ride for him.
The final stage, is one of my favorite crits of the year. A super hard technical crit, with a big climb to the finish. It was my favorite stage… (that was before I had to race it after spending two days in the breakaway). I tried warming up, but the legs felt as stale as 3 year old Saltines.
I literally could not move out of the back. I watched Danny boy make his way to the 3 man breakaway, as I internally swore at the pain he was inflicting on me. Finally, about 20 laps into the race, guys started to get a little more tired, and I just kept moving forward. A huge gap opened up with 10 to go, and I was on the bad end of it. I did a huge move, and was one of a few to make it to the remaining 30 in the race. Now I needed to do my job to keep Monk protected for the finish.
With one lap to go, I made my way to the front with Monk, and a huge crash happens. 7 guys roll off the front, I saw monk got stalled up so I waited for him. About a 10 second gap opens, I eventually bring it back within striking difference as we are coming into the final two turns. I hear Monk shouting my name to go, when I hear BOOM, CRASH. I knew it was Monk, but I had to keep going. I got to the final climb right in position, but had nothing left. I slowly died to 18th or so. Monk was okay, but another disappointing crash for him. He was looking great, and would have been right in striking distance for a top 5.
After Joe Martin, we thanked our awesome hosts. (Thanks Underwoods!) and headed to New Mexico for Tour of the Gila.