Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Good Times in Arkansas

The last race on my 3 week stage-racing trip was the inaugural Tour of Arkansas, held in central Arkansas and promoted by our Mercy Cycling Team. I had a blast. We raced mainly on the previously used Tri-Peaks courses but the race seemed to be harder, more aggressive and less controlled. Two mountain-top finishes and a new, blistering fast criterium made it a real challenge for everyone.

Stage 1 turned out to be the decisive one, a 110mile affair from Russellville to Hector. After a 15mile neutral rollout and some mist and slight rain we hit the major climb 30 miles into the race. I made sure to be up front before that and got in a couple of moves but nothing really materialized so I just set behind the Team Type 1 train going up the 3K climb and once we reached the top, there were only 34 other guys left around me, including my teammate Alex Welch. Our "group" worked very well together, Type 1 had most their riders in there so they set a lot of pace and Jelly Belly was riding off of them. Some attacks went but they ended in nothing as everyone was too concerned to lose the race on the first stage and everything got chased down. Just at the end there was one serious move incl. Type 1's former Olympian Kobzarenko and 2 Canadians but thanks to the colorful Jelly Beans they got caught with 1K to go and I ended up 13th in a fast downhill sprint of maybe 25-30 guys.

pre-race preparations by Brice Jones (left) and Bill Marshall (right)

Well, if Stage 1 was labeled "EPIC" then Stage 2 should be named "Nebodiculous ", as we raced for 95miles over Petit Jean back-to-back before sprinting to the base of Mt. Nebo. Here, the team did an AMAZING job helping to pull back a dangerous break of 11 guys. Most teams were represented in that break about 40miles into the race and no one would take the initiative to chase. We messed up on that one. So we sent Mat, Adam Mills, and youngster Kolt (expect more from him in the future) to help Toshiba chasing the break down. It worked. The field was back together just before we hit the back-side of Petit-Jean and the next 20-30miles we raced like the base of Mt. Nebo would be the PMU Sprint Line in last year's Champ d'Elysee final ;-) My teammates were again amazing. Mat, Adam, and Kolt kept me out of the wind and literally launched me to the front of the field once we hit the climb. All I had to do now is going all out to the top and making my way through switchbacks and 18% steep grades. It went well; instead of going backwards like last year I actually settled into a good rhythm and could pass a couple of guys. Of course, I didn't had anything to match stage winner Glen Chadwick's or Mike Lange's pace but I ended up 15th on the day and was sitting 14th overall after that one.

unfair competition on 3 wheels (left) and at the back of the peloton at Mt. Nebo (right)

Yeah, it took everything out of me (left) while Texas Teams were represented on and off the road (right)

Stage 3 looked like it would be not too big of a problem, we only had a downhill from Mt. Magazine, 80miles of flat, and 8miles back up the south side of Magazine. Well, those last 8miles were probably the roughest 8miles I had in this year's Tour as I simply couldn't go with the front group once some attacks started to happen. I rode the last 5miles by myself and my GC spot "shuffled" from 14th to 25th or something. That was disappointing, especially since all my teammates (Kolt, Justin, Scott, Mat, Bill, Adam) sacrificed their own chances by protecting me from wind, wild Canadians who fight for every wheel, and getting me bottles in what was a gutter-fest for most of the race. The headlines of the day belong to teammate Alex Welch, though as he ended up in a 130K break-away with "10 Menzies" and Buck Miller for most part of the race. That was an awesome situation for us and his riding took lots of pressure off of our backs.

Crits in big stage races are usually very controlled if they happen halfway through or at the end of a race. That's how it was Sunday for the final showdown in Downtown Van Buren on the course previously used for the Celebrity Classic held at the end of the year in that area. team Type 1 had Chadwick in GC so they just rode tempo (for some threshold, for some VO2max intensity) the entire 75minutes. I started at the back and slowly worked my way up but when I finally saw the front of the race the race was already gone. Huff & Co. had 50 seconds and Type 1 was riding hard tempo so any attack would have been suicide. I tried but of course I was marked. Well, I settled in in 20th wheel and we went single-file through the 7-turn course, averaging 26.8mph and a HR average of 177bpm. Yes, it was one of the harder crits I've done this year, just behind Joe Martin last Sunday. Just to finish with the main bunch of 40 riders was a accomplishment today so I was not too upset with 39th place. Congrats to Brad Huff who is has an amazing comeback after a rough first part of the season!

Coca-Cola bike at the Burger Barn in Ft. Smith

I ended up 22nd Overall after 350miles of racing over the past 4 days. Considering that I had my little "off-day"on Stage 3 I can still be happy with the result. Now my focus shifts towards some crit action, as we have State Champs and Tulsa tough coming up. By then I will know if the past 3 weeks of solid race-pace paid out or not.


  1. Good luck Stefan. I am not looking forward to having you in the State Crit! It's gonna hurt.

  2. Keep it up dude! NRC racing should set you up nice for the upcoming crits. Maybe I will see you next week when you get back home.