This past weekend, the City Title Cycling Team headed to Chattanooga for the River Gorge Omnium, a fun weekend of racing that includes a short net-downhill time trial, a high speed crit under the lights in downtown Chattanooga, and a hilly road race finishing atop Raccoon Mountain. We had a good-size team as Kevin Solomon, Reid Brown, Jeremy Grigg, and Ben Gramling made the trip along with me. Thanks for reading our River Gorge Omnium Race Recap! [Photo | Snowy Mountain Photography]
First up was the time trial on Saturday morning. The 6.5 kilometer course is mostly downhill or flat with the exception of a short climb of about 90 seconds that comes early in the race. It is one of the most beautiful settings for a time trial that you can find in the US, but there’s not much time to notice that during the race. The winners are usually averaging over 31 mph, and speeds in the low to mid 50s can be reached in the steepest downhill section. After disappointing results in the TT the past 2 years, I adjusted my pacing strategy and it seems to have paid off as I had a much better performance this time, placing 16th, and giving myself a confidence boost for the rest of the weekend after I had doubts about my fitness coming in.
The crit on Saturday night is a flat and fast 4-corner course that typically ends in a bunch sprint. Kevin got off the front in a few short-lived breakaways. I struggled to put myself in a position to do anything, and just when I was finally moving forward, I got a flat tire with 8 laps to go. Free laps had just ended so my race was over. Frank Travieso (EDA) took the win.
The road race on Sunday is always a challenging one. The 70-mile course features two major climbs with some smaller hills along the route as well. Sand Mountain is at the halfway mark and climbs 2.3 miles at 7% grade. The race finishes atop the iconic Raccoon Mountain climb of 3.3 miles at 6%. Our plan was pretty simple, get near the front before the Sand Mountain climb and get as many guys as we can in the first group over the top of the mountain. As we headed toward Sand Mountain a group of about 7 riders got off the front. It was a strong move with a handful of pros, including Michael Hernandez (Aevolo), Andrew Dalheim (Holowesko Citadel), and Bryan Lewis. The Cyclus team was happy to take up chasing duties at the front of the peloton, and they had the gap at 1 minute as we hit the base of Sand Mountain. I was well-positioned and followed wheels up the climb as the peloton thinned and Cyclus continued to push the pace. By the top of the mountain I had comfortably made it into a group of about 15 riders and we swept up the final remnants of the breakaway just shortly after the KOM point. At this point it seemed that I would be isolated in the front group for the rest of the race, but Kevin was able to come across with a few others on the descent.
It wasn’t long before three riders got off the front again – Hernandez, Oliver Flautt (Cyclus), and Paul Martin (First Internet Bank). For a while, the gap hovered around a minute, but then in the final miles before Raccoon Mountain it began to grow quickly. Kevin went to the front in an attempt to lift the pace in our chase, but nobody followed his wheel and he was able to roll off the front solo. Eventually Sean Gardner (Gateway Harley Davidson) went to the front to set the tempo. The three leaders hit the final climb with an insurmountable lead and Flautt went on to win the race. Kevin hit the climb about a minute ahead of the main group and was caught about a third of the way up. Three more riders attacked when we caught him while the rest of us were unable to follow and continued to ride at a steady pace. I lifted the tempo on the hardest part of the climb and saw that I had a small gap just before a short downhill section so I pushed hard to open up a bigger gap. A group of five guys closed that gap pretty quickly, and from that point on I was in survival mode. One after another, riders attacked our group in the final kilometer, and I was unable to respond to any of the accelerations. I had done everything right from a hydration and nutrition standpoint, but the race was just to hard and the fitness wasn’t quite there for me to contend a the top of the climb. I came across in 15th, about a minute slower than the fastest guys up the 15-minute climb. Kevin came in about 45 seconds behind me in 16th. It was disappointing to finish so far down the results after finishing on the podium last year, but I know I did all that I could do and got beaten by guys who were better on that day.
While road race didn’t quite go as planned, I was happy with my time trial and crit (until it got derailed by some bad luck). This weekend of racing is one I look forward to every year, as the courses are awesome and the organization is always excellent. It’s definitely worth the trip, especially if you like riding uphill. As always, we couldn’t do it without our amazing sponsors at City Title & Closing, Smithfield, Shoulder Center of Arkansas, CLIF Bar, Custom Electronics, and The Bike Route.