Monday, May 26, 2008

The Oh in Mid-Ohio

Long, long ago -- back in 2007 -- the Mid-Ohio Grand Prix was a heck of a race.
It's held on a wide, fast, sweeping sports-car/open-wheel race track with no 90-degree corners but lots of really fun S-turns that put a premium on apex-hitting. The 2.5-mile track is also quite windswept, adding another tough element to the long, gradual climb that is more than a false flat but not really a hill, per se. That makes it unlike any other race around.
For me, it was a solid top-10 finish in a solid Cat 4-5 field back in the day -- aught-sev'n. The field was respectable -- especially for an early-season race. Yes, the best 4s were racing in the 3-4 race. Still, there were a lot of up-and-coming racers from Columbus (many of whom are now Cat 3) and all the strong guys from Summit, Stark and Snake Bite. I was unattached, and just a 5. So I was pleased that I worked hard and finished 8th, I think.
Last year's other races drew fairly well, too, and yes, a good time was had by all.
All these years later (oh ... only one, plus two months), much has changed.
Some sort of civil war between race promoter Tym Tyler and the Ohio Cycling Association (USA Cycling's state affiliate) led to Tyler's races losing, or surrendering, USAC accreditation. That means no upgrade points from Tym's races, which naturally slashes the 4/5 and 3/4 fields. So the turnout for Tyler races has shrunk even below the mediocre level of the previous couple years. (It's a shame. I'm sure there are good reasons for hard feelings on all sides. But the dude works hard. Without him, there would be fewer than 10 races north of Greater Cincy each year.)
Turnout was thin again on Saturday. Maybe it was because Mid-Ohio is usually a March race that, this year, got snowed into May and onto a holiday weekend -- with starting times at 5:30 and 6:30 p.m., to boot. Maybe it was the purses: about $50 or $75, total, for the 1/2/3 and 3/4 races and nothing but merchandise for the 4/5, women and 5/citizens.
Whatever the reason, the turnout was disappointing for a day that was just about perfect for racing at a unique and exciting venue.
The promoter combined the 4/5, women's and 5/open fields, so the decent-sized pack of 25 or so at the start line was pretty deceptive: Most of them were unattached Cat 5s. One Stark racer, no one from Summit or Spin, and three of us from SBR against a bunch of Columbus racers and three strong women.
Given that, it wasn't surprising that the race quickly blew to smithereens. And it also would be unsurprising to anyone who has followed my regression this year that I was among the blow-ees.
This time, though, it wasn't for naught. Or at least that's the story I'm sticking to.
Teammate MattO jumped on the front and stomped on it from the outset, dragging everyone up the hill and then through the thick headwind leading into the backside. No one was letting him get away, so we were up in the 30- to 36-mph range quickly when we hit the down grade. When things came back together, I was going much faster than the folks ahead of me and found myself deciding between braking and rolling out of the slipstream to slow down in the wind. I elected not to brake and just pulled to the left, figuring the field would drift up and swallow me.
Instead, it was like everyone but me hit the brakes while I was flowing downhill: In a few heartbeats, I inadvertently had gotten a big-ass gap.
So I figured, maybe I can draw somebody out into a chase and wear out some of the competition for teammates Gary and MattO. Through the S turns, I cut the apexes perfectly and my gap was growing, and I still wasn't really trying to get away. Next thing I knew, I had 100 meters or so between me and the pack.
Yet my strategy wasn't working as planned: No one was chasing hard. So as I passed the S/F, I decided to just drill it and see what might happen. If they all kept parking it back there, I might have been able to put half a lap into them and then just settle in at LT for as long as possible. Who knows what would happen then?
Well, when I stood up and hammered, two things happened: One, some folks behind me decided to take my escape seriously; and two, I zoomed past LT and way over my redline on the way back up the crosswind-pounded hill. I looked back and saw people drilling it on the front, and my gap was shrinking as I was cresting the hill and heading into the headwind-swept chicane. And here came Gary, barrelling out of the pack, completely effortlessly.
We were 75 yards up, so I tried to make a 2-up break with him. That wasn't working. "I'm dying!" I shouted. By the time we came out of the chicane and entered the back stretch, things were coming back together, and I thought maybe I could catch my breath.
BANG! Gary attacked into the wind. (Two laps, three strong SBR attacks.) Two guys went with Gary, so Matt and I pulled up to the front, set a firm tempo and dragged things down just a bit through the back-side turns. But I was still out there in the wind, and had never recovered from my break. So I could stick on the front only for 3/4 lap before I had to drop back into the pack and gasp for awhile.
By then, there were only about five laps left in a race shortened by time constraints. The chase was spirited. I dropped halfway back in the pack only to discover that I had forgotten to open the eyes in the back of my head. Had I done so, I would have known that the "other half of the pack" behind me had actually been blown into pieces that were scattered all over the track by now.
Sheet. I wasn't halfway back. I was on the back. Then I was off the back. Then I was gone. There was no one behind me to help.
I tried drilling a hard TT pace to catch back on, on the back side. But I wasn't gaining at all. So I tried to convince myself that everyone else might blow up or flat out or get swallowed by a sinkhole and if only I kept going, I could still do fine. That lasted 2/3 of the way through the long, windblown grind toward the S/F, which is when I called it a race and started doing intervals. During recovery a couple intervals later, I got lapped by a field that had come back together.
I pulled over at the bell to watch the bunch sprint. Looked like Gary got caught behind a bad sprinter just long enough to get passed by the eventual winner, who outsprinted Gary by a wheel. Meanwhile, MattO was in the sprint of his life and came from behind to beat another guy by maybe -- maybe -- a foot. So we got 2nd and 3rd.
Was it fun? Yes, to a point. But was it a real race race? Naw -- a shadow of last year, which other guys said was a letdown compared to prior years. It was more like Westlake. With chintzier prizes. (For Gary: Luna bars! For Matt: chamois cream!)

- JN

1 comment:

ds said...

If there is a civil war among a regional promotor and the cycling establishment, who gets to wear the Robert E. Lee costume when the civil war re-enactment happpens?