Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Red Bull Last Stand - Battle around The Alamo

I’m fortunate to have been able to race many downtown Criterium races in awesome cities in North America: Chicago, Vancouver (CAN), Charlotte, Athens, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Dallas or Austin to just name a few. But none of these Crits have such a historic backdrop like the Red Bull Last Stand races on October 15 in San Antonio as we literally got to race around The Alamo and the site of the famous “Battle of the Alamo” - fought almost exactly 180 years earlier back in 1836.
The new event combined the more and more popular fixie-on-road (‘Fixed’) racing with traditional road bike races (Geared) for men and women and a total purse of $20,000 thanks to Red Bull and their efforts to bring something new and exciting to downtown San Antonio.
The week of the race I decided to just focus on the Geared race since it has been a while that I’ve ridden my track bike (especially on the open road) and I figured my best chances would be doing a Twilight Crit on a short, technical course in the late evening. Just like the ‘Fixed’ races all “roadies” had to do qualifying heats in the afternoon in order to advance to the Final. That was basically doing one or two “hot laps” on the race course while a timing chip determined your placing in the starting grid for the evening’s main event if you made it in the Top50 in qualifying. I came in 9th or so but that really didn’t matter so much as races like these are not pure speed alone. The races were all held in an Elimination format just like on the velodrome where the last rider crossing the finish line was pulled by the officials on every lap. This made the race itself actually a bit more exciting and interesting and maybe for some spectators confusing.
I believe we had 48 riders in the Geared Final which meant we would set out for 48 laps on the barely 900m long course with 5 or 6 turns and a wide but 180 degree final turn over some somewhat smooth “Texas bricks” every lap. After a short solo-flyer by Davis Dombroswki (RBM) for a prime - and everyone gotten to know the course and lines at race-speed in the pack - we still had 38 laps or so to go. At that point I pinned it hard through one of the tight spots on the course just before Turn #3. It was just out of pure instinct since we weren’t going super-fast and I wanted to draw out some other contenders instead of only racing in a big group and having to sprint every lap making sure you’re not last wheel and get eliminated. To my surprise, I was able to establish a decent gap, first 5, then 10, then 15 seconds. I knew I had decent legs when warming up earlier on the rollers but I sure thought that eventually a few other guys would join me up front. But not so quick, first I had built a solid 25-30 second gap or so with 20 or 25 laps to go riding at TT pace when – BAM! – I found myself on the ground after sliding out in that wide but 180 degree final turn (VIDEO here!). While I fell and slid on my right side on the bricks (to the “Aww” and “Ohh” of the people watching) I realized this is going to be bad, real bad but knew I needed to get up ASAP! So I grabbed my bike and got right back up, jumped on and kept pushing on (to my luck, my bike & body was okay besides some scuffs and "road rash" all over my right side). By the time I came back to Turn #1 after the S/F line I didn’t see the field yet so I knew I had only lost maybe 10seconds of my lead. With the help of the extra added adrenaline I kept riding hard while telling myself: “That was really dumb: you’re off the front solo, nobody else around you and you cause the only crash of the entire race yourself - in front of all the people”. The nature of course (twisty and some dark spots) kept being my best aid as I made sure to try enter a turn before the field gets to the previous turn - “out of sight, out of mind”.
Towards the end of the race I definitely started to get a bit nervous as the group (or what was left from the field) was closing in more and more and at one point the gap was only 7 seconds. But the fact that it was still an Elimination format and guys were worried of who’s going to get which Top 10 place rather than focusing on chasing me down kept motivating me to keep riding a hard pace and that sure helped me to stay away until the end. In the last 2 laps I realized I had won as the gap opened up again to 12 or 15 seconds and I could enjoy the crowd and seeing some of my friends along the course.
This was my last big race of the year and I’m very happy to be able to close it out with a win for our small, yet very successful Elbowz squad in attendance that night: Teammate Colin Strickland dominated the Fixed race (Solo Win) earlier that night and my other “elbro” Tony Baca helped me tremendously to seal the win by “guarding” the peloton while I was off the front solo and finishing 8th place himself. Gracias amigo!
I was told the next day that about 15,000 people came out to watch the races that night and there’s talk of a similar race like this in 2017 and 2018 which is great news for Texas cycling. So big thanks to Red Bull, promoter Ravi Rajcoomar, and City Council Roberto TreviƱo for making this happen and bringing exciting bike racing to downtown San Antonio!
And for the number geeks, here's my SRM data: 52:30min, 345W NP, 328W avg. P, IF: 1.04, TSS: 94.6, avg. HR 182bpm, avg. 98rpm, 1036KJ, avg. 26mph. Link to power file here)
video
 last lap shenanigans
Red Bull Last Stand Geared Race podium with Daniel Holloway (l) and Travis McCabe (r)
(photo: Red Bull Events)

with teammate Colin (and sponsor-correct drinks) at the Red Bull after-party