Ah! Real Monsters or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love Oklahoma

Starter music (this is going to take a while):

Tulsa Tough Weekend

Today is the Monday after Tulsa Tough, which means I’m going to take the day off. If you don’t know about Tulsa Tough, it’s one of the biggest weekends of racing in America. People travel from all over and the top categories always sell out their maximum entries. Today, my legs feel like utter shit. After 2 weekends of 3 days of racing in Oklahoma, I am really glad to have this next weekend off to go off on a nice, 5 hour ride.

Friday night is the Blue Dome district at Tulsa Tough, kicking off one of the biggest bike parties/weekends of criterium racing in the United States. My friend Jake accurately described it as “A party that just happened to have a bike race also.” The atmosphere on all of the courses have their own flavors, but all equally great. ANYWAY

Friday night is also notoriously fast. There’s not a lot of climbing and the corners are super wide–so it’s easy to go full throttle the whole time. My start wasn’t so great, so I began at the back and knew I needed to work my way up to the front by the end of the race to be in contention for some money.

*SIDE NOTE* Before this race started, the infamously famous Manual for Speed threw down a competition for select criterium races in the United States, calling it the Knife Fight. Basically, it’s a most aggressive rider for the whole weekend and the prize is a silly cool kit with wild animal patterns. Knife Fighters needed to wear these cool socks in order to know who they were throwing down against.
Perfect.
Right up my alley.
Sweet socks and vicious attacks.

So, slowly but surely I worked my way into tight spots on corners, sprinted down straightaways, held tight on people’s wheels and moved from the back of the 93 person field to the top 15 with 5 laps to go. I was feeling really confident! The start finish arch was pretty narrow and going into 4 laps to go, the pack squeezed to the right and I lost about 15 spots. Maybe 10 seconds after that was a corner that people decided to get real tight on and I went up on the sidewalk and lost another 15 spots. Needless to say, I was feeling pretty dejected. Because we were so close to the end, I knew everyone would be fighting for every position they could get, so I knew my race was pretty well over. I knew it would be better to rest up and try again on Saturday and Sunday, so I came in 50th ish on Friday. After crashing all three days last year, I was honestly just stoked to survive one. I felt confident in the corners and comfortable in the big pack. I didn’t show up in the results, which was weird, but whatever, right?

That morning I had a great breakfast at Antionette’s Bakery with a family that I had hosted at my Airbnb in Bentonville. Literally the sweetest family I’ve ever met. The 4 kids are all ultra polite, intelligent and funny. The parents are honest, authentic, wonderful people. I really couldn’t ask for better new friends. They were all really interested in race dynamics and watched a bit of the Master’s racers that morning. Later, they texted and changed around plans to come watch my race. Literally, the best.

My teammate Joel and I decided that morning to spend as much time in the shade rather than staging in the gates for 45 minutes before the race starts. Rather be hydrated than have good position at the start. We tailgunned from the very back to mid pack and then the first 1/3rd of the race. He gave me a wheel to sit on and then towed me along for a lot of first half of the race. By the time that they put 10 laps to go on the board, Joel had floated back and I knew it was going to be important to get my butt up into the top 10 and then the top 5. A couple of laps later and I found myself off the front with four other riders. They all looked to be in good shape and I resolved that even if I got 5th, I would feel pretty stoked about that result. We had one good rotation and it fell right apart. We floated back to the group with 5 to go, I sat in for a lap and rested. I was sitting second wheel and the guy on the front was a talented time trialist out of St Louis. I let him float off the front with a gap of a few seconds and everyone in the pack was comfortable 1) letting Leo go and 2) having me on the front burning energy.

When we got to the bottom of Soundpony Hill, I sprinted to catch up with Leo and as soon I caught him, I yelled some expletives for him to catch my wheel and we would do this thing together. He looked up and just shook his head no. I had zero choice but to put my head down and bury it, hope to hell that nobody wanted to do the work to chase me down. By the time that I came around with 2 laps to go, they said that I had a 9 second gap. When I came around for the bell lap, my legs were screaming. Everything hurt so bad. I could hear my name being shouted by my friends at different points down the straight away. The crowd was a deafening roar. I took the three turns leading into Soundpony Hill as safe & fast as I could and then charged up through another roaring crowd. I knew the pack was coming closer because I could hear the timing between yelling. Took two turns and then headed down the downhill into the headwind. I cursed it while racing, but it might have been the thing that saved my ass. The headwind probably made people shy about getting on the front to work hard and chase me down. I got down into the last corner, going faster than I had taken it the whole race. I was mentally and physically shocked. Mentally, I couldn’t believe they didn’t catch me before the last corner. I stood up and tried to give it everything I got, quickly realizing that my legs were not going to function that way. I sat down, put my head down and buried it popping up to give a victory right hook. Literally as soon as I passed the finish line I got passed by 2nd place. A bit of panic went through my head–I had a flashback to my move at the FullGas Omnium where I got passed at the last second.

But I had won out of 70 racers. Somehow. Didn’t have my Garmin recording, so I don’t have any power numbers, but it would be really interesting data.

(You’ll see me at the very end of this video, they almost had me.)

My dancing music:

There was a huge mess with getting my race winnings and not having me on some sort of registry. It took an hour to sort out and all I could think about was a cold beer and the fountain a half a block away. Those kind of things happen when you’re managing such a huge event, though. It also explained why I wasn’t in the results the day before.

Last year and this year I had so many people tell me “Crybaby Hill is your race to win. Perfect for you.” People assume because I like climbing that I like climbing punchy, 45 second hills. Nope. No way. Hate it. I need more time to make people suffer. Again, I figured, “Hey, if I get out of this race with no missing skin or fucked up bike, I’m gonna be really happy.” I knew the key to Crybaby would be to vibe off of the gigantic party that happens at the top and just have fun. Be goofy, give high fives, do anything but think about how hard that race is going to hurt until the very end. Trickiest part of Crybaby isn’t even the hill, it’s the right-hand off camber corner that people end up sliding out on.

Couple of Crybaby pointers:

  1. Part 1 of the hill going into turn 2 ALWAYS gets clogged. Back off a bit leading into it and then hit the gas hard for 3 seconds and use that momentum to make up some spots and get into good position for the turn. Sometimes the outside is a faster line if it’s super crowded.
  2. Smile and enjoy the vibe. This doesn’t happen everywhere and we are lucky to riding in one of the nation’s biggest criteriums. It’s a legendary party, so just have fun.
  3. The downhill into the shitty right hand corner sucks. Scrub speed early, let off the brakes, stay on the inside line, follow the wheel in front of you and coast it until it’s time to go. People will hammer coming out of that corner, right up to the finish line. So, pay attention because that’s when you should start pedaling, too.
  4. You can move up on the finishing straight, but there’s a good chance the pack will just shuffle again on Crybaby Hill, be patient.

Once again, I started off from the back and worked my way up, bit by bit. Out of 73 riders, only 36 guys ended up finishing with 37 guys getting pulled or dropping out. The first half was definitely super hard and competitive. I was hanging around the top twenty after the first half and looked up and was surprised that much time had already passed. I stayed zen until the posted the 10 to go and knew I needed to start formulating a plan. I’m not a sprinter. I won’t out sprint someone. But, maybe I could make the sprinters work really hard for 6 minutes and not have anything left for the long straightaway. With 4 to go I had really good momentum going up Crybaby and found myself shooting to the front. I wasn’t going to waste energy leading them around the course, so I decided to just put in a dig and go for it.


Image credit: Justin Davis of Team Tom’s

My legs were weak. My arms were heavy. I wish I had just a big bowl of spaghetti and wasn’t racing in the humidity. I expected them to close it down any second. The crowd was just as rowdy as the day before, if not more. They love drama in a bike race. A lot of them may not entirely understand what they are screaming for (or even where in the Universe they are located), but it’s amazing to go through a tunnel of screaming fans while you’re putting out your hardest efforts. I crested Crybaby and my legs were completely gone. I turned the second to last corner and really thought that I might be able to pull off a repeat. As I headed down the downhill I looked back and two racers were right on my wheel. I let them pass into the corner, figured I could at least follow their wheel and then get on the podium. Everything about that plan went to shit because I had zero energy left. Soon I was passed by 5 more and then an extra 2 right at the line. It’s emotional laying it all out there and risking it just to get passed at the end, but that’s just bike racing. There are so many other factors that are out of your control. I ended up getting 9th and still had my bike and skin still intact. I managed to record my ride that day, but nothing really stuck out as particularly enlightening.

Tulsa Tough? Best weekend I’ve had in a while.

Oklahoma City Pro Am Classic

I know. If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably like “Oh no way. Another 3 day weekend and he’s going to write a huge diatribe about every race. HOW EXCELLENT.” Or, something to that effect.

I’ll try to keep it tight.

Basically, Friday we rolled into OKC as a tropical depression was settling in. I wish someone had thought to give OKC it’s medication, because that would’ve made for a better weekend. Joel or I didn’t race Friday night because it looked like it was going to rain at any second and I didn’t want to be risky going into Tulsa Tough. Turns out, it didn’t rain at all and it was the hilliest race of the weekend, making it the one that I could’ve done the best on for the whole weekend. Luckily, Jared got to the last corner in the first position and sprinted for the win. Apparently, he was pretty close to being forced upgraded from category 3 to 2 and got a call in the morning that he was going to have to race category 2 that day. There wasn’t a whole lot of heads up, so Jared ended racing in the 3s.

Saturday was flat, wide, and fast. As soon as we got on the course it started raining, eventually making for some pretty sketchy corners. Joel had decided that it was going to rain and didn’t want to risk it. Correct choice. Jared and I got caught behind two crashes within a minute of each other and we got separated. Eventually, Jared pulled out and my dumbass, with worse positioning, kept going and eventually got pulled. It’s the first race I’ve ever been pulled from, but I wasn’t even mad–I was miserable. Joel ended up leaving to go back to Bentonville and Jared & Crew & I celebrated his mandatory force up.

Sunday was sunshiney and gorgeous (Sorry, Joel. Maybe you brought in the storm clouds). Perfect racing weather. I stayed patient and made my way near the front when they started the lap counter at 10. Held tight for 6 more laps and then launched with three to go after a break had just been brought back. I stayed away for 2.5 laps and they caught me on the slight uphill and I knew I had nothing left to give. Even if I could have gotten on a wheel and hung tight through the last corner, I wouldn’t have any power to do anything.

(I’m homeboy)
(Also, it is ideal to attack when it’s slow. Someone needs to talk to this kid’s coach)
(Same guy who videod the Tulsa race)

I’ve learned a ton about execution these last couple of weeks. Timing is everything, but it’s also nothing when you don’t have much control. The best part about my skillset is that all I can do is execute and hope like hell that it sticks. If it doesn’t I gave it my best and that’s all there is to it.

This morning I applied for my upgrade to category 2 and had it approved in an hour. Really excited to move up to the next stage and improve my skillset.