Texas A&M Criterium – Report

Race Report by Shane Haga

This past weekend was my first run-in with the Tunis Roubaix.  While the road race could have gone much better, I’m still proud of myself for finishing all six laps of the Hell of the South, despite exploding all over the road on lap 3.  Never has 22 miles felt so lonely.  Oh, and a special thanks goes out to Shimano for their reliable products.  Reliable as in: I can count on the rear derailleur cable to shear after a couple thousand miles, leaving me with a horrible gear combo for the last three hills of an already disheartening race. 

I WANT SRAM! WANT SRAM TO RIDING THE SRAM PLEASE! 

While the only thing I have to write about the Roubaix is that I managed to finish, the crit is a whole different story:

Shane Haga for the win!The day began way too early.  6 am.  Like I said, way too early after the most brutal race I’ve ever encountered.  The night before I’d done what homework I could convince myself to sit down and do, before cleaning my bike and replacing the aforementioned sheared derailleur cable, and slipping into bed at midnight.  It was one of those sleeps where it feels like you no sooner laid down than you had to get up again. Fortunately, the trailer was still loaded from Saturday, so packing up and leaving was fairly quick and easy.  The 5 minute drive to the course was pretty convenient too.  As the sun rose and the racing began, we watched the D’s, C’s, and B’s do their thing.  About the time the B’s were reaching the halfway point, Chad, Herc, Cody, and I decided it was time to get a short warmup ride in.  Off we went around the familiar campus roads to warm up our legs and talk a little strategy.  Today, Chad had come up with the idea to flip our racing strategy  180 degrees.  “Too long” he said in his awe-inspiring presidential voice, “we have raced defensively against MSU.  Where has that gotten us!? No longer shall we put up with their ‘no work’ strategy!  We’re going to attack! And when they sit up, we’ll attack again!  This shall be our plan, as I have decreed.” And we all said, “Oh yes, you are so wise.  We shall do this.”  Okay, so that might be a little bit of embellishment, but you get the idea.  We weren’t going to put up with MSU’s crap any longer—we were going to control the race. 

Now, as we were warming up, I remember thinking about how terrible my legs felt after Tunis.  I felt sluggish, and like I was in for another race off the back after a few attacks.  I remember telling Chad, “I’ll do what I can, but I’m not promising much.”  Fast forward to the starting line.  The race starts off and as always, I had a momentary lapse of memory.  How do you clip into these darn pedals!?  After a few tries, I finally got it, and rushed to get up at the front where I could do work as needed.  As planned, the Aggies were first to strike.  Herc started off our relentless rain of attacks on the first lap.  Danny from MSU, and Joseph from t.u followed.  Soon after, I saw Todd from MSU jump on the left side, and I grabbed his wheel.  I figured, well somebody has to cover it, and since it’s the first move, I should probably let Chad and Cody take it easy.  So off I went, hanging on to Todd’s wheel.  Looking back, I noticed Alexi from MSU, had tacked on to me.  I wasn’t too worried about it.  After a few seconds, the break of 3 had been brought close, and Todd, Alexi, and I had good separation from the rest of the field.  Todd gave a little flick of the elbow for me to pull through, but in accordance with the plan, I decided I should just attack instead.  I jumped up a sprinted towards the break as Todd fell off.  Alexi was slow to follow and left out in the wind to fend for himself as I quickly brought back the break.  We both managed to make the break before reaching the cobble-stoned right hand turn.  The break now included 2 Aggies (though I heard Julie didn’t realize Herc was an Aggie thanks to the white kit) 2 MSU, and 1 lonely t-sip.  As we came through the finishing stretch with a good gap on the first lap, I kept my ears open to hear what MSU would be doing, but alas, no insight yet.  We continued on at a moderate pace, a very dysfunctional break.  No one wanted to cooperate, yet somehow we kept extending the gap.  When Joseph told us all to look at the gap that had formed, I realized something was up.  Suddenly, I knew the break was going to stick.  MSU was content with their riders in the break, and so were we.  All the while, Alexi was just hanging around at the back, staying fresh.  Herc vowed not to do any work while Alexi sucked wheel, while Josheph, Danny and I drove the break.  Joseph, too, eventually got tired of contributing, leaving only Danny and I to do the work.  Each time we looked back, there was more road between us and the pack, until we were given the time split of less than 30 seconds… that is, for us to catch back up to the pack.  A couple laps later, I see the pack riding steady up the road, soon to be lapped.  This race was definitely going to be interesting. 

Greg Hercules helps work over the Men's A field.When we made contact with the pack, we all became slightly panicked.  The new rule states that lapped riders cannot work with the field—what were we supposed to do?  Joseph and I continued on at a faster pace up the road, only to be pulled back by Josh Carter and the rest his team.  I realized that we weren’t going to get away up the road again, so I settled into the pack and waited to see what the officials were going to do.  After a few laps, it seemed they were just going to let it ride.  MSU was content  to set the pace up front, and we were more than happy to let them.  As the remaining time dwindled, I realized that this would be coming down to a sprint.  A quick rundown of the people  I was up against: Danny- Cat 2, but very beatable.  Joseph Tokarski- I was not very familiar with him, and unsure of his capabilities.  Alexi-Cat 1 , most likely to be my biggest problem with a team lead out.  As a Cat 3, I’ve had a lot of success when the race comes down to a sprint, so I was fairly confident that I could handle it.  With two laps to go, big brother comes beside me in the cobblestone corner and simply says, we’re going here next lap.  Got it.  As we pull through the finishing stretch, I hear the clanging on the cow bell, one lap to go.  My adrenaline through the roof, I take a deep breath, say my quick prayer for the strength and instinct I need, and think “this is it.”  On the back side of the course, the pace began to pick up, and I saw Alexi find his position behind Jason.  It was time for me to find that sweet spot right behind him.  Trouble is, people decided to start riding sketchy.  Bars began bumping, people were leaning and nudging, and we weren’t even that close to the finish yet.  Fortunately, we all stayed upright.  Nearing the cobble stone corner I noticed a gap forming behind Alexi.  Knowing that I couldn’t afford to be caught behind any separation, I jumped out of the pack and moved up on the right side to jump in behind Alexi.  In the process of doing so, Fox from MSU, who had just pulled off the front, came over into me as I was passing.  Fortunately, hips trump handlebars, and all was well.  After the third close call, we hit the cobble stones—Chad right next to me.  As we come through the apex of the turn, Chad gets out of the saddle and says “this is it!” I jump in behind him, ready for my lead out.  MSU already had their train going, and drove into the last turn hard.  Chad ended up guttered and incapable of providing a lead out, so I was out to fend for myself.   Coming out of the last turn, with only a few hundred meters to the finish, Josh Carter ramped up the lead out sprint for Alexi.  At this point, I realize that I’m not on Alexi’s wheel anymore, I’m on Joseph’s (AKA not where I wanted to be.)  Even worse, I was overlapped on the left side- the upwind side.  I evaluated my two options: 1) try to drop behind Joseph then sprint up the right side in the draft or 2) sprint it out in the wind.  Neither one were great choices, but I opted for the one that involved less slowing down and speeding back up.  In the wind it was!  My sprint was slow to start, but I’ve always taken a little while to wind up. Putting everything I had into the pedals, I gradually work my way past Joseph, then Alexi, then Jason, and eventually found myself sprinting next to Josh right at the line (note that it was a restrained sprint on his part.)   A small throw for the line, and I had it!  As I crossed the line, I immediately realized that MSU had just lost.  More than anything, I was just excited to turn around and see the shock on their smug faces.  And believe me, it was a great sight.