The River Gorge Omnium is one of my favorite races of the year. It starts off with a fast 6 kilometer time trial around the Raccoon Mountain Reservoir Saturday morning. Saturday night features a deceptively tough flat and fast 4-corner crit in Chattanooga. Then finishes off with a road race on Sunday that is 70 miles with 5600 feet of climbing over 2 major climbs, including the 3.5 mile climb of Raccoon Mountain to the finish line.
After a disappointing TT and crit, I was ready to redeem myself in the road race. Things started off fairly calm, and the early break of 2 riders was established. The race started heating up on the approach to the first major climb – Sand Mountain (2.3 miles, 7% grade). Despite our best efforts, Ben and I were not able to get to the front of the peloton before the climb. I worked my way around some of the slower riders, and halfway up the climb I found myself in a select group of 15 riders behind the 2 riders up the road who took the KOM points. Another 15 riders joined us on the flat section after the climb, but then we went fast enough down the descent that no other stragglers had a chance to rejoin. After the descent, the pace eased for a bit, which gave me a chance to eat a handful of CLIF Bloks. I knew the key to performing well on the final climb would be proper fueling and hydration.
On the last short uphill before the final climb, Brendan Rhim (Holowesko – Citadel) attacked and got away solo, and then a group of 10 riders split off the front of our main group to form a chasing group. At the base of the final climb up Raccoon Mountain (3.3 miles, 6% grade) Brendan had a 45-second lead over the chasing group of 10, and my group of 20 riders was another 20 seconds behind them. The chase group didn’t hit the bottom of the climb too hard, and after about 3 minutes on the climb I had bridged across to them. The steepest section of the climb comes about halfway up the mountain, and is followed by a short, fast, downhill before it kicks back up for one more mile to the finish line. As we approached the steepest part, our group was down to about 7 riders with only Brendan Rhim up the road. Since we were slowing down as the road started to kick up into double-digit slopes, I decided to just let my momentum carry me and throw in a small attack. To my surprise, nobody had followed my wheel so I kept pressing on. Eventually Rueben Companioni (Holowesko – Citadel) bridged up to me and then accelerated hard into the downhill. When we started going up again, I saw his teammate Brendan standing on the side of the road, as he had apparently crashed on the downhill. This left the two of us alone fighting for the win. It didn’t take long for Companioni to drop me, and from there it was just a matter of survival. I was alone in second place with a group of 3 or 4 riders (2 of them from Gateway Harley Davidson) slowly gaining on me. Companioni took the win, Sean Gardner caught me in the last 300 meters for 2nd, and I hung on for the final podium spot, just under 30 seconds behind the winner.
It felt pretty awesome being up on that podium in a field that strong after a couple months of pretty disappointing results. I had told my teammates that I thought a podium was within reach, but I’m not sure I really believed it until the final kilometer of the race. Finally, I want to thank all our sponsors Tyson Foods, Clif Bar, The Bike Route, Shoulder Center of Arkansas, and Creative Awards.