THF Realty Gateway Cup. Four days of full gas criterium racing. I've somehow managed to avoid the Gateway Cup for my entire career as bike racer. But last fall when we were in town Jay and Matt drove me around the Giro della Montagna course and with my love of all things Italian I had to ink it in on the calendar for the next year.
I was a little bummed to miss the Dakota 5-O but you can't always do the same thing year after year, ya gotta mix it up a little bit. To get into the spirit of racing on The Hill, I had to pull off my belgian tri colore finishing tape on the handlebars and install the Italian tri colore. I needed all the karma and crowd favoritism I could get.
Day one was pretty uneventful. It was up early to make the 7 hour drive to STL for our 5pm start time at Lafayette Square. The masters race was pretty hard. I'd had a massage the day before to work on my ailing neck and shoulders and I could really fell the tightness in my chest. I still managed to throw in a couple attacks and eventually sprinted across the line in 18th. Mercy Cycling/KCCX racer Shadd Smith took an impressive win from the breakaway and pulled on the leaders jersey.
Day two we moved to Francis Park. Course had a few small rollers so it was a little better than the pan flat course at Lafayette. The day ended in minor disappointment when I made the final break but didn't have the legs to stay in it as I got blown clean out the back. 38th place, nothing to write home about.
Day three was going to be the day. I've always been a decent stage racer. I'm never too fast, but I'm never too slow, I can just go, day after day. And finally we had some terrain that would be a little selective on The Hill. Of all 4 days I wanted this one the most, it was Giro della Montagna time. We arrived early and got the Midwest Trek Stores tent set up at the third corner right at the top of the climb. When I say climb it's more of a rise, probably only 3-5% but that kind of climb fits nicely into my power band.
Jay and I have a really good unspoken work relationship in these races and we both knew what to do. One of us was going to get on the podium today. The race started off relatively chill, I could tell guys legs were starting to get tired. The less than full on pace allowed Mike Gibson to get off the front, and he was off for at least a good six laps. Soon enough, Jay made a move and tried to go across the gap. He stayed away for a couple laps, long enough so that I knew if we caught him that I needed to go immediately.
We made the catch just before the line and as I jumped they rang the bell for a prime lap. I thought, perfect timing. I bridged up to Gibson and another rider joined us. My plan was simple, let them battle for the prime while I sat on to got my heart rate down and then jump them after the line when they sit up. The plan worked perfect, the pace dropped after the prime and I charged hard up the climb, stomping on pedals. Gibson stuck it out on my wheel and we were also joined by David Stone. For two laps I drilled it up that climb to stabilize the break with Jay working to slow the field behind.
David and I went about driving the pace as we both felt Gibson was tired. 14...18...21...25...26...the gap was growing. And then....it started to come back down. I had the whole travel squad cheering me on at the top of climb and I wasn't going to let the break fail even if it did mean I'd only get 3rd. With 4 to go I put two more hard efforts up the climb as the gap was again down to 14 seconds. I gave myself one lap of recovery then on the last lap gave it everything up the climb. It hurt the two behind but it wasn't enough to shake them and I was only good for third in the sprint, but on the podium. Gibson had us fooled and took the win. An amazing effort as he spent probably 80% of the race off the front.
Day four was a fiasco. Cars on the course meant we started 2 hours late and the race was reduced to just 7 laps. Again Jay and I played it well with a couple attacks and then with 2 laps to go Jay went for it. He forced the others to chase stringing out the field. The effort set up the final lap for me perfect as the fast past allowed me to hold my position. Came out the final corner in 5th wheel and held it to the finish. A full on 28 minute sprint.
The weekend has upped the confidence level going into CX season. We'll be back in STL in two weeks for the Gateway Cross Cup and then it's off to Madison for the USGP. Then it's really go time!