O’Fallon Grand Prix Road Race

P1/2 Bj Keane

O’Fallon Grand Prix Road Race is 80 miles made up of 4 laps of a ~20 mile loop. There are lots of turns and intersections which makes for fun racing that forces you to corner some and allows for breakaway riders to get out of sight relatively easily. There are a few rollers and a short punchy climb about 1000m from the finish of each lap. We once again had a strong squad of seasoned road racers signed up: Matt Brophy who had two road races wins already this year; Jesse Siemen who was 2nd in Hellbender and 6th at the Burlington RR; Brian Smith two weeks removed from his 2nd place at Hellbender 40+, Robin Zuend who stacked up a pile of RR results on the way to dominating the cat 3 MOBAR competition in 2014, and my main long ride training partner Jason Murphy. I’ve done more 4+ hour rides with Jason than anyone else and I know he has the legs to go the distance in any road race. There were only 20ish riders that started which was very disappointing. It’s a great race on a fun course that isn’t too challenging. Poor attendance is a big reason why we keep losing road races from the racing calendar and as someone who likes road races, it’s frustrating; but I digress.

Lining up at the start, we had our 6 riders, Korte had 3, Dogfish had 3, Cyclery had 3, Big Shark had 2, and there we few solo riders including the TT winner and omnium leader Josh Leibowitz. This wasn’t a race that I was gunning for at the start of the season but when Jesse put me on the spot with a nomination for the team to ride for me in the weekly “what’s the plan?” email, I was quick to accept the nomination. Maplewood Crit was really the only race on the calendar that I had marked for myself and with it likely not happening, I was eager to go for a good result. The plan was pretty straight forward and mirrored what we did at Hellbender a few weeks prior: Send guys up the road with attacks and counter-attacks, force the other teams to work, and ultimately establish a numerical advantage in a break. We had the largest team and the quality so all we had to do was execute the plan.

The race started off with Justin Maciekowicz (Korte) trying a little acceleration from the gun I think to see if the field would perhaps let him leak off the front early. The field all reacted and after Justin took a short pull on the front Murphy quickly countered and got a gap. He dangled just out of reach for a couple miles before the pace in the field slowed to a crawl and he began to slip out of sight still very early in the first lap. There were a few accelerations from guys trying to get off solo to bridge but the team was marking everything which only served to slow things down even more. After one such failed attempted, Matt Brophy attacked and established a gap with Trevor Lister (Cyclery) in tow. Those too dangled for a bit before the field slowed and their advantage over the field began to balloon. The team was sitting pretty now with Murphy still first up the road out of sight and Brophy and Lister off the front and likely to bridge up to Murphy. Near the end of lap one, with Brophy and Lister drifting in and out of sight of the field, we approached a left turn at a tee intersection. Much to our disappointment, Murphy was coming from the opposite direction. After a miscommunication with the corner marshal lead him off course and he had to turn around and backtrack. Luckily, Murphy integrated with the field and was still in the race despite having to forfeit the huge advantage he had developed for nearly an hour solo off the front. Once the field saw Murphy come back, the field once again slowed to a teenaged pace and now the gap to Brophy and Lister started to grow. It wasn’t long before they were out of sight. Lap two was mostly slow paced riding with a few hard attacks by riders trying to get off the front but there was no sustained chase effort. Brian, Robin, and Murphy were like watchdogs grabbing wheels on the front and the guys nearer to the back were doing a good job communicating the sporadic accelerations. It was an ‘all hands on deck’ effort to neutralize the accelerations.

The start of lap three seemed to trigger a sense of urgency in the field. I think everyone was beginning to realize that: 1. Brophy and Lister had a huge gap; 2. Quantum SBR was not going to let anyone attack and get away unmarked; and 3. Time was starting to run out. After a couple of failed attempts by Justin (Korte) to try to organize a chase with Dogfish and Big Shark, he decided to put his head into the wind and lay down some of the TT power he is known for. Justin pulled solo nearly the entire 3rd lap only getting few short relief pulls from his teammate Evan and Jim (Dogfish). The pace went from what seemed like less than 20mph on lap 2 to mid to upper 20’s on lap 3. Justin was drilling it and while this was bad news for Brophy, it was great for the rest of our Team who was able to sit in the draft. Justin’s big effort paid off and Brophy and Lister were back in sight and then eventually absorbed back into the field near the end of the 3rd lap. There was a short respite before Jesse attacked on the punchy climbs at the end of the loop taking a few people with him including myself, Josh Leibowitz, and Brian Dziewa (Korte) and a couple others. My only problem with the course is that the punchy climb and most decisive course feature is also 1000m before the feed zone so if you go hard up the hill and get a gap, then you have to go hard through the feed zone or nullify your effort. Despite stringing out the field Jesse and I opted to sit up through the start finish and allow everyone to get a final feed. We weren’t crawling by any means but we certainly let off the gas. Near the end of the long start/finish stretch as we were approaching the first left turn, Brophy attacked. He had been off the front for basically the entire race and after being in the field just long enough to catch his breath and take a feed, he attacked again! This time he was solo. He quickly gained a 10 second advantage and once again the field stalled. I was watching Justin at this point because I knew that after chasing the whole 3rd lap to catch Brophy, that he likely wasn’t going to just let him ride out of sight again. Sure enough, Justin wiggled between one of his teammates and one of our guys that was sitting on the front and I slid through right behind him. Justin was going pretty hard but once he looked back and saw that he had a gap with only me attached, he seemed to commit and go a little harder. We were about half way up to Brophy when I looked back and saw Jim (Dogfish) chasing up to us. He was dangling behind me for a bit but he looked like he would eventually make the connection. Just when I was considering coming hard around Justin to make it difficult for Jim, I happened to catch a glimpse of Jesse who was now making his way up to Jim. This was great because I knew even ‘Beastmode’ Brophy had to be tired at this point and dealing with Jim and Justin in a 4 man break would have been a handful but with Jesse’s fresh legs, I liked our odds in a 5 man break! Jesse and Jim made contact with Justin and I shortly before we caught Brophy and Jesse rolled up next to me and asked what I wanted him to do. I told him to wait for Justin to pull us up to Brophy, let Brophy get in the draft, but then DRIVE the break to get us out of sight of the field. And that is exactly what Jesse did. We got out of sight and started to rotate; sort of. Jesse, Justin, Jim, and Brophy rotated pretty well with me doing as little as possible. A few times when Brophy needed a rest I would roll through and Jim skipped some pulls trying not to overextend while I got a free ride. I started to talk to Jesse and Brophy as they rotated through to the back. The plan was to attack the final climbs and try to shell Justin and Jim. I was the freshest of the 5 and feeling good on the climb each of the previous laps and Jesse and Brophy are both AWESOME climbers, so I liked our chances. As we rolled down the final little downhill with about 1200m to go, Jesse nailed it and hammered a short flat section, across the concrete bridge, and then came into the base of the final climb HOT. He was crushing it but I was glued to his wheel. Justin responded to the initial acceleration and was in contact with my wheel at the base of the climb but about 3/4th of the way to the top I could feel him coming unglued. At this point, I was verbally whipping Jesse like a horse racing jockey trying to get him to dig as deep as possible; telling him we were dropping Justin and to keeping going! He kept in nailed all the way through the final left turn into the finishing stretch. We looked back shortly after the turn and realized we were home free. Jesse sat up true to his pledge to work for me and let me coast in for the Page win with both of us posting up and enjoying the victory.

It was awesome to reap the reward of such a well execute race by all my teammates and I can’t wait to pay if forward to each of them in the coming races. This was my first race on my new BMC SLR02 and my first win of the season………Coincidence?

 

Good looking podium.