[Photo Biff Stephens]
On Sunday, the Tyson Foods Cycling Team headed over to Tulsa for the Tall Chief Road Race, the second and final race of the #Fullgas omnium. It was the first time for me to race on this course, which had a little bit of everything: some exposed crosswind sections, rolling hills, sectors of awful pavement, and a quarter-mile climb of an 8% grade to the finish. The P/1/2 race featured 3 laps of the 20-mile course.
Early in the race a small break went away that included Tanner Ward (OBP), then a few minutes later a chasing group of about 7 formed and just about every team was represented including us with Kevin Solomon. Everything changed in the peloton halfway through the first lap when Alejandro Padilla (Arapahoe) who had been in the chasing group punctured and was caught by the peloton. Suddenly, Arapahoe was put on the back foot and forced to reel in the breakaway. The rest of the first lap featured attack after attack, and eventually Grant Koontz (Arapahoe) and a few others were able to get off the front and bridge across to the leading group, which had about a 50-second lead by the end of the first lap.
Throughout the early part of the second lap, it appeared that the powers that be weren’t particularly happy with the makeup of the breakaway as the gap continued to close. About halfway through the second lap the race all came back together again. There were a few attacks and some short-lived splits, but nothing stuck and my teammates Ben Gramling and Sean Salazar made sure we had everything covered. Eventually Tanner made it off the front solo. I quickly bridged across and so did Grant. It didn’t seem that any of the three of us were 100% committed to the break. We never had more than 10 or 15 seconds advantage on the main field and after a couple of miles the peloton closed the gap as we neared the end of the first lap. That’s when Janne Hamalainen (Tulsa Wheelmen) and Chris Carlson (RBM/Matrix) flew past me. I hesitated to jump on their wheel at first, but then I looked behind and saw that the peloton had completely sat up so I rode tempo in no man’s land for the next half mile or so and then used the dam climb to bridge up to those two with a lap to go.
At the start of the final lap, the three of us had about 40 seconds on the main field. With two strong teams chasing behind the chances of us staying away were slim, but I knew with the horsepower we had that we could stay away if the chase wasn’t cohesive. Going over the hills at the start of the lap, Chris had slipped of the back. Janne and I both felt we probably needed him with us in order to stay away, but we just couldn’t afford to go any slower. The two of us pressed on, and by the halfway point of the final lap our gap had grown to 50 seconds over a chasing group of 7 guys mostly from OBP and Arapahoe that included Kevin who would’ve had a free ride to the finish until he punctured on the “pavé” a mile from the finish. The gap hovered between 40-50 seconds for the last several miles and as we took the penultimate turn with just over 1k to go we knew we had it won and eased up just a little as we approached the final uphill sprint. We took the final corner side by side. Janne’s initial acceleration on the hill opened up a small gap, but I quickly got back on his wheel and came around in the last 150 meters for the win.
A huge shout-out to my teammates who were riding strong all weekend and gave us plenty of options. Also, a big thank you to our sponsors Tyson Foods, Clif Bar, The Bike Route, Shoulder Center of Arkansas, and Creative. And I want to thank the Tulsa Wheelmen for putting on a great race that will definitely be on my calendar in the coming years.
Distance: 59 miles
Elevation: 2779 ft
Average Speed: 25 mph
Average Watts: 272
Calories: 2063 kj
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