This is a few days after-the-fact. I will get to the delay later...
The Minneapolis Criterium was an AMAZING event. I have no idea how many hours of planning, labor, and stress went into pulling that race off, but whatever it took, the sport of cycling is better for it! The course itself was awesome. Tight enough to give spectators some really cool viewing angles, but open enough to fit 146 riders safely. Can I talk about the JUMBOTRONS for a minute? Live video feeds were broadcasted from a bunch of the corners to a Jumbotron so that spectators could watch the ENTIRE lap and not miss a second of action! Couple that with a great audio setup, feeding music and commentary to all ends of the event, and you have yourself a grand bike race!
This go-around, my race story STARTS at staging, but does not end there! I managed a front-row start for the amateurs, which still put me around 20th. I wasn't very nervous before this race. Two of our host families were in attendence, my wife Melissa, and with long-time friends Geoff and Laura Beatty who used to ride with me but now live in Minneapolis. The 'home' support felt great.
The race started without much incident, but my struggles began at lap 3. A rider biffed it two wheels in front of me as he cornered and pedaled over a divet. I slowed up to avoid and then sprinted as hard as I could to connect back to the leaders. For a VERY short while, I was the only one who stayed on that group after the pile-up, and I had glimpses of thinking that I had accidentally made an important race split. Those visions faded in about 10 seconds when the field did glide up to us without much panic or incident. This left me with a serious match burned, and now thinking I need to be more cautious through the corners.
This caution caused me to start slipping places. Two laps later, I found myself maybe 30 back. It was at this point that two Competitive Cyclist riders decided they NEEDED to get to the front (to be fair, they were going to influence the race, whereas I was just trying to hang on). The first guy says something to me in spanish (sorry dude, no comprende) and I saw what he wanted. I was in no mood to escort professional bike riders around a professional crit, so I just squared out my arms a little bit, knowing he would try to navigate his was THROUGH me. I was wrong! He gave me the ol'e Grab-Back-of-Jersey-and-Pull-Backwards trick to give himself a hole in the field in which he could advance. I quickly closed the hole up once he left, but his partner in crime was expecting similar courtesy. Seeing that I was not keen to give up my spot, Competitive Cyclist number two grabbed my handlebars and gave them a back-and-forth wrenching and then shoved them off to send my flying to the right.
At that moment, three things simultaneously happened. The second Competitive Cyclist dude moved to where I had been a split second before and continued his conquest up the field, I saved face by NOT crashing onto my face in the middle of a professional bike race, and after three crazy safety-related incidents in a VERY short stretch of time, I was nothing short of SPOOKED.
The next, I dunno, 10 minutes I spent braking into corners, giving up positions, and moving backwards FAST. After that I settled down, and focused on getting my groove back. I did, and began a very slow surf up the field. As the laps counted down, the efforts along the two straightaways on the course started to take their toll. When Kenda/5 Hour Energy started to drill the pace at the front, a handful of riders IMMEDIATELY ejected, leaving some nasty gaps to close (which I did in futility). At 3 to go I was squeezing the last bit of juice out of my legs when I noticed that there was a gap about 5 riders up from me, and I finally pulled the ripcord. I rode the final two laps at a comfortable tempo, weaving left and right to high five any kid along the course who would put their hand out. I paraded across the line thinking I was the laughing stock of the race, until I later found out that their was a groupetto behind me, and I ended up moving up a few spots in the GC.
STAGE RACING IS CRAZY.
Major kudos to the young guns of the Nature Valley Pro Chase team, Conner, Tyler, and Tony rode like animals and looked cool and composed.