The Jellystone Park Criterium’s unique course design (two loops on each end connected by a single road with a climb and finish at its center) made for an interesting and fun race. The central hill added an interesting dynamic, fatiguing the field some but not enough to cause any major splits. The 4/5 field can have a highly varying level of fitness, so I used the hill as a test to see which riders had legs, and to see if any of them wanted to breakaway. Unfortunately, both times I attacked on the climb I looked back to a disinterested peloton. The strong winds ruled out any chance of a solo move succeeding, so I worked with what the peloton gave me and sat back in for the rest of the race. After a handful of head-scratching “attacks” by some of the less-experienced riders, the final lap was upon us. I made it a priority to stay within the top 15 riders during the entire race, so I was in good position going into it. I found myself, not ideally, at the front of the group going into the last corner before the finishing stretch, but I took the corner fast enough that I created a small gap from the field. For some reason I hesitated even though they didn’t chase immediately, with the final climb in sight I decided to commit to the move, holding back just enough to uncork my sprint at the bottom of the hill. Charging to the line, I was just able to hold off the peloton, while setting a new PR max heart rate.
What would I have done differently?
Not hesitate when I initiated the gap. Although it worked out in the end, those couple of seconds of hesitation made the finish close.
Taking the final turn aggressively while being near the front. Because I took the corner faster than the peloton, I was able to create a small gap without exerting any effort, effort which I needed for the sprint.
Length: ~ 45 min.
Avg. speed: 23 mph
Avg. HR: 172 bpm
Max HR: 206 bpm
Tall Chief Road Race
Taxing climbs, strong winds, cold rain, loose gravel, and a brutal uphill finish made the Tall Chief race truly epic. The European-like conditions made it not only memorable, but exciting and challenging. I was unfamiliar with the course going into the race, but during our neutral roll-out up the finishing climb I realized the finish was going to be a long, grueling effort, unlike the punchy uphill finish the previous day. Due to the (usual) lack of team-dynamics at the 4/5 level, the pace started out at a speed manageable for most fitness levels. And, like the day before, the field obviously wasn’t keen on breakaways, so I decided to use the climbs throughout the course to disrupt the field, pushing the pace so that the strongest riders moved to the front. After the first big climb, we had a split (about 2/3 the field) firmly established. I used the same approach on the second climb and drilled it even more than the first, forming a break of four riders. To be expected, the four of us weren’t exactly a well-oiled machine, allowing another group of four to bridge up to us. But from then on, the group of eight worked well-enough together for the break to stick. Two of the eight skipped pulls during most of the last lap, and I couldn’t decipher whether they were actually hurting or if they were faking it. As we approached the finishing stretch, however, that question was put to rest. One of the wheel-huggers attacked leading into the long gravel section preceding the final turn. I was in the back of the group when he went, so I didn’t even know he made the move until after the race. Fortunately, for me, the rider I had marked tried bridging to him, causing me to chase, as well. But none of us had the legs to stay away, and all three of us were eventually swallowed back up by the group, leaving us only a small amount of time to recover before we approached the finishing climb. Despite the headwind, I made my way to the front leading into the last turn. The climb was long, and I wanted to be at the front when it started. But instead of attacking out of the corner like I did the previous day, I kept a steady pace and waited for someone else to attack. Not long after, the guy I had marked from the beginning attacked hard up the climb. I didn’t try to catch up with him immediately though, and stuck to my own rhythm. Eventually, he tired out and I used whatever energy I had left to pass him at the top of the climb. It was a gamble to ride my own pace at the beginning and hope that he would tire. But blowing up early on that climb would have not ended well.
What would I have done differently?
Been more aware towards the end, because if the guy I had marked didn’t chase the solo attack during the gravel section, I wouldn’t have known someone was up the road and he may have stayed away.
Pushing the pace on the climbs and sticking to my pace on the final effort.
Distance: 42 miles
Elevation gain: 1,760
Avg. speed: 22 mph
Avg. HR: 158 bpm
Max HR: 189 bpm
I’d like to thank our team sponsors for helping me and the rest of my Breakaway teammates do what we love: Custom Electronics Inc., CLIF Bar, Nabholz Construction, The Bike Route, The Walton Family Foundation, Cycling Performance Lab and Ozark Cycling Adventures. I’d also like to give a shout-out to my brother/coach Tanner Ward for helping me make wins like these attainable.