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Army Classic

Date: 2002-04-20
By: Joe K

Hey guys,long story short:

Saturday, April 20 - Army Road Race (31 starters)

  • 1st - Joe Kopena
    • DNF - Mike Castellan

Sunday, April 21 - Army Crit @ the Stadium (20 starters)

  • 4th - Joe Kopena
  • 7th - Mike Castellan

I also picked up 1st & 3rd in the two team point sprints in the crit (it wasa real crit this year and not a points race). Sort of more importantly, Ialso walked off with the omnium medal in our category for the most pointswon over the weekend. The road race was won by just under 15 seconds over 2ndplace and another 4 over 3rd after an almost 12 mile solo breakaway fromthe main hill. In the crit I actually placed 2nd but the officials penalizedme two places for dangerous riding. They said I was leaning way over and hadmy elbow out into the guy next to me; what they didn't see was the guy'shandlebars pushing all over my hips and bars, I was just trying to stayupright. Oh well. It was still a great weekend.

Long story longer:

(I don't actually expect anyone except maybe the Iceman to read this account, so don't worry, I won't be offended)


We managed to make our way around with only fuss and turnarounds... However, we did spend a lot of time driving around the area looking for food. There's just not much going on around there, especially late at night. No turnarounds on the way up was a definite sign that our luck may have changed a little.

Random notes:

After the road race Mike called up Theresa. She said she was proud of me but not him. I thought that was excellent :)

Everybody should be glad to be on a team filled with more or less socially normal people who might harass you but wouldn't do anything really despicable to you. A perfect counterexample was given while we were waiting for the road race to start. One of the people watching made the mistake of going to the port-a-potty nearby. Instantly 3 or 4 of his buddies ran over and started violently rocking the thing all around. I can only imagine what it must have been like inside. Outside it was damn funny...

Always make sure you bring *all* your gear. I totally failed to bring any cycling socks and had to use two pairs of tennis socks. I think it was actually pretty uncomfortable, although I was a little too busy during the races and didn't really notice until afterwards. However, if it'd been colder or rainier it would have been an issue.

Mike and I have been in the road race twice before along with some of the other guys who were racing with us. We took great delight in telling ghost stories to the guys around us doing it for the first time while we waited for the start. Lots of talk about how scary the climb is, how dangerous the turn at the bottom of the first downhill is, etc. A high point was telling them about the speech the officials would give about how dangerous that first corner is and all about the twelve man pileup they had there in the seventies, only to have the officials give the speech exactly like we said they would.

Most of the guys I've ever gone riding with would say that I tend to run a pretty high cadence and am almost always a good handful of gears higher than the people around me. Before the crit one of the conference directors was harassing me about not having the chain in my big ring for the start, which I scoffed at. After not touching the big ring the whole race I went over to him and just said "Yo, I guess the small ring must not be so useless here after all, huh?" to which he replied "Well, yeah dude, but you were spinning like a fruitcake!"

Typically, following a team tradition set by Mr. Schoutens, we listen to some Limp Bizkit (did I even spell that right?) or something like that before a race. Before the road race we broke with the tradition and rolled with some Radiohead (Kid A) instead. It almost killed the Iceman to listen to it, but I'm firmly convinced being zen is more important in the road races than listening to that other stuff.

Always carry a secret weapon. This time it was my shiny new 12-27 casette. A very nice thing to have on a hill, especially if you rely more on cadence than strength. Those guys didn't even know what hit 'em. However, even for me that casette's damn near useless on a flat course. Very nice for the crit was my almost-as-new 12-25. I think I definitely appreciate the two extra teeth over the 23 I'd been riding on before. Without my 27 I think the road race would have had pretty much the same results, but I might not have made such a long breakaway or might have been a good bit more tired.

I totally buy the argument about how much more aero a set of Rolf wheels are. I'm pretty sure I was rolling faster downhill than the guys around me in the road race. I also appreciated having a set of thin, 20mm treadless tires on the bike. I definitely felt zippy.


For those who don't know the army road course, it's like this: There's a big honking downhill where you can just roll at tremendous speeds, easily way above 50 if you want to. The bad news is you have to make a narrow 180 degree corner at the bottom so you have to bleed speed like crazy. After that you go up this long staircase climb. The first time I saw it I thought it was a monster, but now I think of it much more like how I think of the Wall. The question's not whether or not you can make it up or how bad it'll hurt going up, but rather how fast can you do it and how many times? After that you go on this winding, real fast false downhill for a while. At the end you make another 180 and come back up a longish, gradual hill to the finish line.

The start sort of sucked for a lot of people. Because the first downhill is so dangerous they do a "neutral" rollout to the bottom. However, at the bottom they usually fail to slow down enough to let the group recollect for a real start. From the past two years I knew that was going to happen so I made sure not to be in the rear when we hit the bottom. I probably should have told more people that, because afterwards a lot of guys (Iceman included) were upset because they got left behind from the start when the pace car didn't really wait for them at the bottom. To be honest, I don't think most of the people left behind would have hung with the lead anyway, but I do understand real well how frustrating it can be to have stuff like that happen. Plus, most of them can make a legitimate claim that then they wouldn't have had to work as hard to try and catch up and there probably were people they would have or did beat that got a big jump from that. I tend to think of cycling as a sport were if something happens lose it's pretty much all on you, as opposed to something like soccer where you always have refs making bad calls and screwing you over. But, I think it's really just that such things happen in cycling less often but when they happen they really happen, like with this start or with the pace car taking us off course last year.

Some of the strategy-thinking in the road race was real interesting. Going up the hill on the first lap I put a good bit of effort into just watching and listening, trying to figure out who was important by how much trouble they were having breathing and such. Later on, going up the rear hill, I was doing much the same thing, thinking "Well, we're going real slow here... Who's fakin' it? Let's see... I'm faking and 705's faking... maybe 731 too... who else?" and so on.

Similarly, hitting the top of the main hill I was a little afraid because I thought I'd been a little too anxious. I knew if anyone had been paying attention I must have made myself a marked man because I'd clearly easily covered each gap as people made their way up the hill and ended up with a guy from Penn a little ways ahead of the 8 or 9 other leaders, the rest of the pack out of sight down the curving hill.

Getting up there, the Penn guy starts talking to me "Hey, let's go, let's go, we can make it!" I just sorta stared at him and said "There's no way, it's too far, they'll catch us." and sat up to wait for the lead group to catch up. That was my primary phrase throughout the race.

Afterwards a group of five other guys and I made an abortive attempt to get away from the others. It was real cool to have a couple UVM and UNH guys organizing an actual line to try and stay up, but it kept breaking up on each hill and this guy form PennState kept disrupting the line (not intentionally, I believe). We got reeled in and the same group came back around to the base of the hill for the last lap as had made it up together the first time.

Going up the hill I was real wary of losing any attack so I kept covering each slight gap in the group. After a while I thought that might be a silly waste of effort, they'd never get away for long, so I almost let two guys from UVM and UNH stay up when I saw they were about fifty feet ahead. Fortunately, I think, after a moment I decided I'd better stay with them anyway and made a quick rush to close the gap. After that the UVM guy just crumbled and fell way back, leaving me with the UNH guy. Right away he started saying "Let's go, let's go, we can make it!" I just stared back and said "No way dude, we'll never make it through the downhill and the headwind." I started softpedaling a little, waiting for the group to come up. I figured if they organized at all they would crush us going through the fast downhill and the windy backside.

A couple moments later they hadn't made any real progress in catching us and I was still softpedaling. I quickly decided "Yo dude, I changed my mind, let's roll. Grab my wheel." and sped it up a little. When we crested the main hill we were significantly ahead of the group. Rolling down the backside a little bit we put even more time on them. Then, I looked back for the guy to take his pull and he wasn't there. Thinking there was no way for me to beat a paceline through the backside and the headwind coming up on the finish by myself and thinking the guy had just slowed down for a moment, I sat up a touch to wait for him. Then I looked back again and realized he wasn't pedaling anymore. My hopes sank for a moment as I realized "Oh my god, my support just collapsed..." It took a second to recover and think "Jesus dude, pedal! Go!" and I took off without him.

One of the prominent features on the backside are two traffic circles. Amusingly, on the first lap I'd almost gone off the wrong exit on one of them but a marine stopped me and I didn't lose any time on the group. This time I knew which way to go and went sailing through them, much faster than the Humvee pace car did. Coming out of them I got a real kick out of having to tell the pace car to go faster, go faster and enjoying the draft behind it until they realized I was literally about to pass them because they were going slower than I wanted to through the one section.

I smashed my cyclometer in the Tuesday drives ride, so I don't know how fast I was going, but probably at a good clip. The whole time I kept watching behind me, totally expecting the lead group to catch up. I could never tell how close they were because I couldn't make out whether it was them I saw in the distance or a clump of C riders I'd passed. It was real nerve wracking. The whole time I kept thinking they were going to catch me at the end or something was going to go wrong with my bike. Coming up on the 1k marker with no one in sight behind me I still didn't think I was going to make it as I passed a lonely Army C rider who told me "Come on man, you made it, take it home!" so I cranked out the last little bit of energy I had. Crossing the line, I still wasn't sure I'd made it until they posted the results.

Afterwards I talked to the guy who'd tried to break with me. He'd tired out too much to keep up, got a cramp, and fell way behind. The lead group caught him pretty quickly and spat him back out, so I was glad I hadn't waited for him. Later we were talking to the guy manning the cameras/scoresheets and watched some of the video. It took almost 15 seconds for second place to come by behind me, and even he was way in front of the other leaders. He told me later he had been pretty sure my breakaway wasn't going to work. I told him I'd been pretty sure of the same thing. I was glad I'd made up a lot of ground on the main hill and the backside because they'd clearly taken a lot of it back on the headwindy stretch to the finish.

By the officials I finished the race in an hour and 22 minutes, averaging just over twenty miles an hour (27.4 mile race). Probably not too shabby of a pace on that course and by myself half the time. As far as we could tell it was mostly on pace with the C lead group, and certainly faster than most of the Cs, a good number of which we'd passed at various points.

The crit Army's been using the past couple years is kind of interesting in just how simple it is. It's almost exactly like the Thursday night points training race, except with left turns instead of right. It's pretty flat with 3 more or less 90 degree corners, a winding side instead of a fourth corner, and a small hill up to the finish.

The crit was fun, it was mostly just four guys and I out ahead the whole time. I wasn't real sure how strong my legs would be after Saturday and didn't much like the serious headwind down the backstretch so I was clearly doing less than a third of my share of the pulling. Three UVM guys who were up there with me were clearly not pleased with that after I beat them through the first sprint. They were already the real pushy types who yell "Go faster, go faster!" as they sit in the back of the line but then they started yelling "Yo, red guy, what do you think you're doing?? Take a turn!" Fearing that they would gang up on me and do something to force me to fall behind, I had to start taking more pulls. More strategy I guess, not wanting to make too many enemies. Unfortunately, I miscounted and ended up taking the pull into the second sprint. I got nailed from being out front through the wind. Worse than only grabbing third, I was real drained after the sprint and the one UVM guy and I quickly fell almost a quarter lap back.

Right then I could feel Saturday on my legs, but I remembered I really wanted to walk away with all the wins for the weekend. I told the UVM guy to get on my wheel and worked towards bridging the gap. He thanked me later and said he was sorry for yelling before, which made me feel a little better because it had been a real jerk move to just sit back and then win the sprint. Right on the last lap we finally bridged the gap and came around the last corner right with the other two. I took off down the line, hoping to beat them all up the hill like in the first sprint.

I almost pulled it off too, but right in the last 3 feet or so the one guy caught me and beat me by less than half a wheel. It was a pretty exciting finish, you could hear the crowd screaming and the announcer going nuts trying to call who was in the lead as we came up the hill. It had been pretty funny during the race listening to the announcer as we came around. He's somehow associated with UVM and knows their guys so he knew the three in the break and was calling them out by name as we went by while the UNH guy with us and I just got numbers and schools. After the sprint lap it was neat to hear him calling off my name as we went by and realize that he must have run over to the officials and looked it up.

Anyway, I was real suprised to look at the results later and see me listed in fourth. Seeing the look on my face, right away the cameraman said "Hey man, not my fault, talk to the officials!" Finding the chief official I asked what was up and he said I'd been relegated to fourth for riding dangerously. He said I'd been leaning way over and had my elbows out as if trying to block the one guy from beating me. They hadn't seen the guy's handlebars knocking me off balance as he went by. Sadly, the UNH guy didn't see it either. I went and talked to the two UVM guys (one of them having dropped back at the end) about it and they just said they weren't going to help me protest the decision. That ticked me off a little bit, but there wasn't much to do about it.

As a side note, the chief official who penalized me was the same one who'd taken me on that detour in last year's road race. If I'd realized that at the time I probably would have been a lot madder. However, he handled this relatively well and I could see were he was coming from. He said he didn't think I'd done it on purpose and would have listened if the UNH guy had seen anything or the UVM guys had helped me out.

So, that was the weekend from my perspective. I'm thinking about entering the C races next weekend. I think I can hang, and a lot of people seem to think the same thing so it's worth thinking about. Plus, it'd be nice to say I'd sorta finished the season as a C rider. I've been waiting for a real decisive race before moving up, and this weekend was probably about as close as you can get to decisive without being a real sandbagger.

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