May 4, 2012

Joe Martin Stage Race – National Racing Calendar

Joe Martin was the first NRC race of the year for the Panther crew and after the tough race at Tour of the Battenkill, we were all looking forward to staying on the paved roads in the hills near Fayetteville, Arkansas. We arrived in town the night before the TT and a few of us went out for a short spin after the long car ride, the hills were a little bigger then I remembered so it didn’t take much to get the blood flowing back in the legs.

Stage One was a 4km (2.5mi) uphill TT that averaged 6.8%. We got to the race early so we could pre-ride the climb to see where we can gain all the precious seconds that we could. The first 500 meters was flat so everyone’s plan was to keep it steady until you could get into a rhythm on the climb. One of our guest riders Chris Aten was the top Panther of the day with a time of 9:07. Andy Seitz wasn’t too far off of Aten with a time of 9:14 and myself 1.2 seconds off of Seitz.

Stage Two was a much harder day in the saddle with one big 110 mile loop in the Fayetteville countryside. To make matters more difficult, we woke up to 25mph winds that surely wasn’t going to make the race any easier.  Once the race got underway there was a short neutral rollout then a fight for front of the field. Two managed to roll off the front opening over a 2 minute gap forcing Competitive Cyclist to set the pace into the headwind to keep their yellow jersey on Mancebo, making the first ha
lf of the race very easy as you could just roll along tucked safely out of the wind in the peloton.

Halfway in we made a left into the crosswind and the attacks started flying. Optum launched one rider after the other destroying the Competitive Cyclist chase efforts. The attacks continued up the major climb of the day forcing Mancebo to chase. Seitz and I had some climbing legs and were able to follow a few deceive moves and opened small gaps. I managed to get a flat tire at the worst time about a mile from the top and after a quick wheel change from our team car, I spent the next 15 miles chasing in the caravan. That big effort put me in the red for what was one of the fastest last 10 miles of racing I have ever experienced.With a big tailwind we all were spun out in our 53×11 and guttered on the white line. After crossing a bridge a curb kicked out and caught a few riders by surprise including Seitz who took a tumble. Uberti and I managed to dodge the flying bikes and sprint back into the pack. It was a complicated finish with 3 corners and 2 climbs 1km out. My legs gave out on the first climb and I crossed the line 47th with Uberti taking 41st and Aten 38th.

The morning of Stage Three was a little slow for most of the team. The stage was longer at 114 miles with a 23 mile loop that we would do 4 times plus an out and back to the finish. Half the loop was uphill with a climb that was surly going to split the field. The race was full of attacks and small breaks that gained a few minutes but quickly brought back. I was feeling good on lap two so I managed to get into a group of 6 that gained a few seconds quickly. Soon after I followed an attack by an Optum rider and rolled through with him. We gained some more time but it was quickly shut down by the Competitive Cyclist team.

With 10km to go I followed a Cash Call rider and we managed to stay off the front for a few kilometers. That flyer didn’t work so I jumped back in the field and found the Bissell train starting to form. Knowing that wheel was going to bring me to the line I jumped on the back and had to fight to hold the wheel. In the chaos there was a crash at the front of the field which took out the Bissell train and unfortunately me too. Uberti managed to slip through the cracks and join the remaining riders for the sprint finish where he took 8th place.

The final stage was a 90 minute crit with a pretty good climb up to the finish. I did this race the year before and it had to be one of the hardest crits of the year. Rolling up to the start line I had
my eyes set on the halfway point because if I made it till then that gets me a spot on the GC. My crit skills were a bit rusty so I had the hardest time moving up through the field. By the halfway point I was still hanging on and even in the last 15 minutes I was still in the race. I knew that I could make it to the finish so I tried to move up but just didn’t have the legs for it. I sprinted up the hill for the last time to get 38th and Uberti finished ahead in 32nd.

Overall I finished the weekend in 38th place and 5th in the Under 23 category. With all these hard miles in the legs the team should be on good form heading into May.

- Ryan Aitcheson