Some time ago, a certain idiot called out Nate P. for being a sandbagger at Lotoja and not racing in the 1/2/3 field where he belongs. But in order for Nate to race in that category, he needed to do more races so he could upgrade from Cat. 4 to at least Cat. 3. The idiot who called him out reaped his reward for having such a big mouth this weekend when Nate signed up to race Cat. 4 at Tour of the Depot.
I knew I wasn't going to be a contender in the time trial, so my strategy there was to not overextend myself and save some legs for the circuit race, where I was hoping to place fourth or better and get the last of the points I needed to upgrade to Cat. 3*. Nate, on the other hand, is a TT machine and used it as an opportunity to put nearly a minute into his closest rival. On a 9 mile time trial no less. He started 9 places back from me with 30 second intervals and came just short of passing me at the line.
*I really have no idea why I'm doing this. If I bust my butt, I can often get a top 10 finish in the Cat. 4 races, but I'm by no means the guy everybody is watching. Wanting to upgrade so I can finish in the middle to back of the pack with an even faster group of racers defies reason.
With a substantial lead in the GC, I kind of hoped Nate would just defend it in the circuit race, which was the event I was really targeting. But on the fourth of five laps, he made a move with two others and quickly had a gap on the field. One of the two in the break was 16-year-old Keegan S., who managed to stay with those guys on a fast descent despite running junior gears with 45x12 as his biggest gear.
I was OK racing for fourth and figured I'd let others do the work, and if we didn't catch them, I'd sprint it out at the end. On the last lap, we weren't going to catch them, but two others made a move, so I jumped in with them, as did teammate Scott P. and two more. We got some separation, and it was six of us racing for fourth. I was hoping we'd stay all together and sprint it out, but the moves started coming with 1K to go, and I was forced to sprint longer than I had legs for and finished sixth overall, third in our group. Eric E. from UVU took the win, and Keegan outsprtinted Nate for second despite a downhill finish and junior gears. Scott took fifth.
I wasn't too concerned, as sixth or better in the road race on Sunday would still get me the upgrade points I wanted. As we drove to Tooele Sunday morning, however, it was clear that conditions would be less than ideal for the road race. Winds were blowing 40+ mph, and they shortened all the courses to keep us from spreading across the road where there were cross winds.
My hope was to get in a breakaway, even though I prefer not to race in breakaways, but nothing stuck. We rounded the last corner with about 5K to go. The wind was at our backs for the first time, and it became a drag race with Nate P. setting a blistering pace close to 40mph. With about 3K to go, he unloaded and just shattered the field. I knew I couldn't hold his wheel but fought to keep ahead of others. I was in fifth place as we approached the top of the finishing hill, or so I thought. As we neared the crest, it was the 1K to go sign, not the finish line. I was completely blown, and several racers went by me. I ended up 11th.
Nate P. showed us who was boss in every stage. If he doesn't petition for an upgrade after this weekend, those of us who had to race against him will do so on his behalf. Unfortunately, that means I'll get into the 3s about the same time he does (see note above). As if that weren't enough, Keegan, who weighs all of 115 pounds and makes everybody else look stupid on the climbs will probably be due to make the move right about the time the climbing-focused races start this summer.
Unlike our Sunday race, where we mostly just went easy into the wind, occasionally covering an attack, the Cat. 3s dropped the hammer from the get go, with Peter A. making everyone suffer. Steve and Matt B.* got popped off the back at one point, and when they rounded the corner as they tried to chase back on, the field was nowhere in sight. They kept racing, and as they approached the finish line realized that everyone else had made a wrong turn, and the two of them were alone on the correct course, racing for the win. Steve beat Matt to the line, taking the road race victory. Matt, having beat Steve in the TT, took the GC. The resulting points qualify Matt for a Cat. 2 upgrade and put Steve well on his way. But since they won partly as a result of suffering a beat down, I don't think either one wants to make the move just yet.
*Last I heard, Matt was dating Taylor W., perhaps the best female racer in the state to say nothing of the fact that she's pretty easy on the eyes. I asked someone at the race Sunday if they were still dating and was told they are engaged**. If it's true, then I'd say Matt's achieved the best result in the history of Utah bicycle racing. Congratulations.
**Totally unsubstantiated rumor. Matt or Taylor if you happen to read this and I'm wrong or should have just kept my mouth shut, then I apologize.
In the douchebag move of the weekend*, TJ--another junior racer--was advised by his dad, who for some reason was out on course, of the wrong turn. So before crossing the finish line, TJ backtracked to get on the correct course and was the only other rider credited with finishing the race, netting him 3rd place in the GC. To be clear, I don't fault TJ for going back and doing what he did--it required riding solo into a nasty headwind, so he had to earn it. But his dad is a total douchebag for telling TJ and only TJ and not doing the sporting thing and advising the other racers.
*A close second was the Masters A racer who went into Pat's wheel to "teach him a lesson" about mixing fields even though it was clear Pat wasn't trying to draft behind their group. Pat's now got an expensive carbon race wheel that may be damaged beyond repair.
Neither Steve nor Matt felt good about getting the result the way they did, but rules are rules, and they did nothing wrong. I hope TJ's dad feels awesome about his son's 3rd place in the GC. Because most people like seeing a young guy like TJ do well, but his relationship with many other racers may have been permanently soured.
The Cat. 3 field wasn't the only one that had difficulty staying on course. Turns out many of the Pro/1/2 racers also got sidetracked. About half of them never crossed the finish line but instead rode 103 miles (I think they were in Wendover and rode I-80 back to Tooele) trying to find their way back to the start area. Even in that wind, it took them all of five hours. It's hard to feel bad for people who are that fast*.
*And to think they're not even on the same planet with Fabian Cancellara. Three Sundays in a row now he's put the wood to Tom Boonen and a stacked pro field. As much as I love Tour of Flanders, the Paris-Roubaix victory may have been even more impressive since he just rode away from them on the flats. After what Nate did to us that day, I know exactly how Boonen et al must have felt.
My take after this weekend is that stage racing sucks. Three races in two days is ridiculous, especially when it's an hour's drive each way to get to them. I was absolutely exhausted by the time we were done. I don't know how the pros race like that every day for three weeks. Of course, they have people who take care of everything besides eating, sleeping, and riding, but still. That being said, it was all worth it just for the opportunity to witness the highlight of the weekend: the huge diamond stud earring in chief commissaire Gary B.'s ear. Awesome doesn't even begin to describe it.