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Blog / News

Music City Crits #2

Shannon Williams

sic City Crits #2

Patrick Harkins

Today 1:31 PMYou

A couple of weeks ago we lined up for the second round of the Wednesday Night Crits. We weren't sure we were going to get to race, as there had been thunder and lightning in the area all afternoon. But the skies cleared a few minutes before our race was supposed to start. The course was wet, but I didn't anticipate that being an issue-we've been rotating different iterations of the course at the fairgrounds, and we'd be racing on the "kidney bean", which used mostly the outer oval with two benign turns into and out of the infield.


Every once in a while, it's possible to get a small advantage in a race before it even starts. If you can figure out what everyone is assuming is going to happen, sometimes you can use it to your advantage. I started thinking about it a while back at the old Highland Rim road race. The race as a 55 mile loop with a long climb 12 miles in. After the climb, there were 40 flat miles on the top of the plateau, then a descent to the finish. In the lower categories, there was usually a split on the climb, but on the plateau a motivated chase group would bring back the climbers. So everyone just started to assume that that's how the race would play out...until one year, when several strong guys in the chase group, assuming that the race would come back together, sat in, saving their energy for the inevitable catch and the racing afterwards.


Except the inevitable catch didn't happen. Without the missing horsepower, the chase group never got back and the win came from the smaller front group. After I saw that, I tried to look for similar situations in races: where everyone just assumes that the race will play out a certain way, there's usually opportunity.


The second Wednesday Nighter seemed like such a situation. The IAM racing team, to that point in the season, had been absolutely dominant. This year they've built a team that not only has most of the strongest guys but that also races well together. In the first Wednesday night race, they had taken all three spots on the podium. I heard somebody say that it would be a victory for the rest of us to prevent a podium sweep for the rest of the season; they're that good. certainly made sense that everyone would be watching the guys on that team, particularly Patrick Walle, who is super strong and having a great year. I got to the race late, but as we were warming up I told my teammate Jason Tatum that, especially early in the race, with everyone watching Walle and IAM, we might get a bit of a long leash. When everybody's watching one guy, sometimes there is opportunity for someone else.


We rolled out and on the first lap it looked like there wouldn't be a chance to test my theory-Patrick Walle attacked as soon as we got out of the infield. Everyone was watching him, though, so there was a quick scramble to get to his wheel. He looked back, saw the field lined out behind him and kept the throttle twisted. That first lap was blazing fast. As we came through the start/finish, I was certain that when he swung off one of his teammates would attack.


Luckily for me, I was correct and in the right spot to go with it when it happened. Walle's teammate accelerated at the start of lap two and John Carr and Tim Henry jumped on. I tagged on the back and hung on. When I looked back a few seconds later, we had a big gap.


Good news/bad news. The good news was that this little move looked like it could stick-it was the right combination of jerseys and we got organized quickly. The bad news was that I was in trouble. I had loaned my bike to a customer earlier that day and hadn't had time to measure my saddle height after I got it back; it was way too high. Secondly, even in the benign corners of the course, I was losing my back wheel(and sometimes my front). It was incredibly slick. Carr, who was in front of me in the rotation, wasn't having any troubles, so I just assumed I was doing something wrong(I later found out he was running 75 psi in his tires, which made me feel better). I was wasting energy out of both corners getting back to Carr's wheel; at the speed we were going that was going to add up quickly and get me dropped.


Luckily, after three laps up the road, we came through the start/finish and were told to stop. The course was so slick that there were crashes all over the place. The officials decided to change the course to the oval. And, in order to have the officials on the side of the course where they could see our race numbers, they needed to change the direction of the race as well.


That was weird. I've never seen a situation where the race was stopped and the course and direction were changed before resuming. While the changes were being made we all laughed about how crazy it was-and I let some air out of my tires, found a multitool, and lowered my saddle about an inch. Whatever happened after that, at least I'd be comfortable and safer.


We lined up again, and the officials let the guys that had been in the break start first. It was an odd situation, taking that head start, knowing that the group was just sitting back, ready to start chasing. I figured that on the faster course we wouldn't stand a chance. But we found our rhythm quickly, and after a few laps it was clear that we'd stay away.


Again, good news/bad news. It was great to be in the break, but Jason Chatham and Tim Henry, aside from both being excellent sprinters, are both experienced and smart. My only real chance would be a situation where they both hesitated. I knew Carr would attack early(I've been racing against John for ten years), so I hoped that if John's move didn't work, maybe my counter would. If we were just the right distance from the finish, neither Henry nor Chatham would want to close the gap, knowing it would rob them of energy for the sprint.


No such luck. Carr attacked right as we got the bell for the last lap and didn't quite get the gap he needed(it's hard to accelerate with 75 psi in your tires), and by the time his effort was over, we were setting up for the sprint. Chatham won handily, Henry was second, and I was third.


As we rolled around, cooling down, we all laughed and talked about how weird the night had been. Tim Henry commented that, while Chatham had won, at least his teammates hadn't taken the other spots on the box. It was definitely one to remember.


I'm guessing next week will be a little less crazy, but you never know.