By Adam Koble
It’s Tuesday morning, I’m listening to Macklemore’s new album, and I’m chilling in Greenville, SC for the week. I’m still on a high from this weekend, but since a day has passed I can think a little more clearly. My rating for this weekend: 10/10...
When the Team Arapahoe Resources race calendar was announced, I laughed to myself. The second race weekend was a stage race in Gainesville, GA – The Mission Source Tour of the Southern Highlands (formerly Gainesville Grand Prix). Last year it was the first race of my season. I was only living a couple hours away in Asheville, NC and racing for the 706 Project out of Athens, GA. This year, Team Arapahoe Resources drove straight from Wimberley, TX – a short 15-hour drive.
Friday: Downtown Challenge Sprint Prologue
“Who puts street sprints into a stage race?!” was my first thought when reading the race bible. But this was probably the most unique way to start a race I’ve ever seen. The course was on the square in “Gaines-Vegas.” In each heat, two to six racers would line up and start racing on the whistle. They’d race 200 meters to a 180-degree turn-around, then back through the start/finish, slightly downhill to the last 180-degree turn-around, and back 200 meters to the finish line. The total sprint was about 800 meters.
Out of our six-man squad, five of us made it past the first heat, four past the second heat, and one past the semi-finals into the finals. It was about 40 degrees and we didn’t have any rollers/trainers, so to stay warm I rode up and down a nearby parking ramp. The other guys on the team just back-pedaled while watching each heat from the sidelines.
My first heat went well. I went into it knowing that I’ve got a less punchy, more sustained power than most riders. After the whistle blew, I quickly clipped in and fought for first position before the first turn-around. At the corner, I slammed the brakes, turned my bike 180 degrees around the orange cone, and pushed the pedals as hard as I could. By the time I came back down through the start/finish, I already had a huge gap, so I kept motoring. At the second turn around my rear wheel slid out and I missed the corner. Luckily, I had about ten bike-lengths by that point, so straightened out, accelerated up to speed, and won without much of a problem.
I changed my plan for the second heat, as I was confident that I had the speed out of the last corner to win from second wheel. I went into the first corner in third position, accelerated with the group, then grabbed second position in the last 100 meters before the second turn around. My rear wheel slid out again! The first time I thought I just went into the corner too fast, but this time I was in a line of guys and I was the only one. There was a lot of oil on the road and that’s really the only explanation I can think of at the moment. Maybe once crit season starts I’ll learn how to corner again! I lost the heat, so spun down and watched my teammates.
The final heat was the most exciting race of the night. It was the two fastest guys, mono y mono. Andrew Dahlheim (teammate) and Ben Renkema (Finish Strong) lined up, started, and rode about 4 MPH down into the last turn. Dahlheim (whom we affectionately call “Doll House”) planned to take the first position before the last cone. He told me there was no way Renkema would ever take the first position, so he built the plan around that single fact. In the corner he paused briefly to make Renkema hesitate and loose momentum. The race wasn’t even close. Dahlheim set the tone for the weekend.
Saturday: Merckx Time Trial
The time trial course was well designed. The course was 16.2 km long and featured fast flat sections, rolling hills, and longer climbs. The first 4.7 km was an out & back, which gained altitude on the way out. The “turn-around” at the end of the first section was a 6.8 km loop.
I knew that as with any time trial, pacing would be very important. And as I do before every TT, I got nervous, second guessed myself, and turned to the Internet for support. I read several articles full of pacing advice and other tips that I already knew, and then made a plan for myself.
My plan was to roll out of the start house to the first corner, which was 100 meters later, at an easy pace. I’d get up to a moderate speed and find my rhythm for the first two minutes. After setting my rhythm, I would accelerate, riding under my threshold until the 4 km mark. For the second quarter of the race, I’d simply ride at threshold. In the third quarter, which is typically the point where people loose motivation, get tired, and slow down, I’d suffer through at the same threshold effort. It was my primary focus to maintain my effort. The last quarter was where I planned to go as hard as possible until the finish line.
It took the entirety of my focus to ride as disciplined as my plan dictated. I didn’t have a power meter on my bike, so I rode by feel. I made a point to always stay on top of the gear, and if anything, just go too easy for the first half. All in all, my plan worked out well. I finished 12 seconds down on the winner in 4th place. I was in the perfect position to contend for the general classification. My teammate “Doll House” finished in 7th place, 18 seconds off the winner.
The circuit race was crucial for us. The course was a 3.8-mile lap, which we completed nine times. There were time bonuses and points for the green sprinter’s jersey on the odd-numbered laps and points for the KOM climber’s jersey on the even-numbered laps. The finish stretch was very flat, but the rest of the course was rolling. The KOM points line was at the top of a three-minute long climb and the sprint points were given at the finish line.
The team’s plan was to take both jerseys and the time bonuses at the end of the stage. Ricky’s objective was to win KOM points, Julio would win sprint points, Alejandro and Jacob would follow moves, and Dahlheim and I would just sit as GC overall contenders.
The team rode well. We didn’t get as many jersey points as we wanted due to breakaways that were up the road. And we didn’t win the stage. But we did lead Dahlheim out for third on the stage after bringing back a breakaway that had about 40 seconds with one lap to go.
The GC leader and second place riders both were caught in a midrace crash. Phil O’Donnell (Axeon Hagens Berman) won the stage and jumped into second place overall. Christopher Jones (Kelly Benefit Strategies) took the yellow jersey and the lead of the race. I was sitting in third, and Dahlheim followed closely in fourth place overall.
I was starting to feel a lot of pressure. The next day was the hardest, where gaining or loosing a few minutes was not out of the question. And although we had two within striking distance of the overall win, I put great expectation on myself to be there at the end. It’s been a while since I got nervous before a race, but I had all the signs – butterflies in my stomach, shortness of breath, and endless thoughts looping through my head at bedtime. I had a beer and went to bed.
Sunday Road Race:
The road race was by far the hardest stage in the race. At 90 miles long with over 8000’ of climbing, the course would take a toll on most of the riders.
With Dahlheim and I both within 10 seconds of the overall lead, we knew we could win the GC with only the time bonus at the end, but the field was far too deep to take that gamble. The team’s plan was to send a couple guys in the early break so that we’d get a free ride all day. Anyone else on the team who was in the field was to make our job as easy as possible. On the last lap, I was to escape the field at any point I felt like I could stick it. Dahlheim would win the field sprint. Sounded simple enough!
Plan. Execute. Win.
Execution is usually the hardest part. Legs start hurting, motivation goes up and down, focus wavers, and uncontrollable variables play large factors in the race. But on Sunday, we nailed it.
Julio and Jacob went in the early break. And with two guys who could win the race up the road, we were very happy. The pace slowed greatly and it took the peloton a long time to get organized. Throughout the race, Amore Vita, Lupus Racing, and Kelly Benefits Strategies did the majority of the work at the front. The gap went out to over four minutes and thirty seconds on the first lap. Up the road, Julio was taking all of the sprint and KOM points. The team stayed at the front end of the race all day, sitting directly on the wheels of the chasers.
Throughout the day, we kept catching riders from the breakaway. But it wasn’t until 12 km to the finish that we caught two of the remaining three breakaway riders. As they came into sight Dahlheim rode up next to me and told me “This is YOUR race, Adam. You WILL win this.”
We caught Jacob on the KOM climb and he immediately went to the front and started following moves to help out. Julio had attacked over the top of the KOM and was out solo in front of the peloton. The chasers were motivated now that he was in sight and his catch was imminent, but he was riding as hard as he could to keep pressure off of Dahlheim and me.
The finish couldn’t have gone better. Every part of our plan worked out. With about 4 km left, the pelotons pace slowed over the top of the climb and I was in the perfect position to hit out. I stayed seated and accelerated up to speed as CCB tried to nail back my move. But I had a gap and I was motivated. As I came up on Julio just after the “3 km to go” sign, I eased up slightly and yelled at him to get on. He had no trouble jumping on my wheel. Since he had been out all day, he wasn’t able to help me push the pace, but I didn’t really need the help. We rolled into the finish line about ten seconds in front of the field taking first and second place. Then to finish off the plan, Dahlheim won the field sprint. We swept the podium on the final stage!
At the end of the day, we had accomplished a lot in only our second weekend racing as a team. Julio took the green sprinter’s jersey, I took the overall, and Dahlheim rounded out the podium in third. We won two of the four stages, and we really started to click as a team.
Thank you to Nate O’Neill and Betty Hodges for putting on a great event with exciting race courses and quality fields, Team Arapahoe Resources and all of our sponsors for allowing us to pursue this crazy dream, and our hosts Bob and Patti for putting us up and all of the hospitality.
Special thank you to Coach Christina Gokey-Smith from Cycle Smith Coaching for the past four years of pushing me in every way on and off the bike.