The Joe Martin Stage Race Adventure – by Chris Wanley

Joe Martin Stage Race – Amateur Category 1-2 

March 30 – April 2, 2017

There I am in the middle of a Devils Den in Arkansas, with my skinsuit half on carrying my bike attached to the trainer. I’ve been having a hard time finding level ground to set up my bike. Every time I think I find a place to set it up, it turns out to be just as uneven as the last spot. After a few minutes of this aimless wandering Wassmann (aka The Chief) finds me. With a smile and a whatcha doing, he helps me find level ground.

It was in this moment I realized that I wasn’t as relaxed and calm as I had thought I had been that morning. During my warmup I was running through all of the turns, when to push harder, how I’m going to handle the switchbacks, and most importantly focusing on what this effort will feel like. Soon my thoughts go to all the cold rides in the winter, and terrible trainer rides without a fan. I find reassurance in those thoughts because here I am in the sun sweating away in a different state with a good friend who only wants to see me have a good experience. My only responsibility is to enjoy the adventure, and to let the body do what I’ve been training it for.  

Our adventure began almost two days earlier in Donnelly’s car. Wassmann was driving us towards Cay Stout’s house in Toledo. We decided to not drive through the night to make it to Arkansas a few hours earlier than if we left Friday morning. Cay was nice enough to open up her home. We got to sleep in comfy beds and enjoy amazing Thai food. Up to this point I had never had Thai food, and I was soon in love with it. Come morning Cay, being such an amazing host, brewed us some coffee, and a hearty breakfast to fuel our long day in the car. Once our adventure started we returned to our audiobook by Phil Gaimon, Pro Cycling on $10 a Day. I still think the audiobook could have been better if a different voice was used for the reading. All the same the book was a good way to pass the time, and every so often the book would spark some conversations. When traveling be sure to remember that time zones will affect your food stops. We had planned a stop for food at some small city in Illinois, but didn’t take in account that we went into a different time zone. When we arrived the restaurant hadn’t even opened yet, which left us waiting around for 30mins to eat.

West of St. Louis is a small town by the name of Cuba. Brian Lucas put together a route for me so I could get some pre-race openers in. This was a town that would have a post office and sheriff department under the same roof. It was still a bit cold, and rain looked possible. The ride needed to be done all the same. With Wassmann behind me we headed west, keeping the highway just to the right of us the whole way. This was such a windy ride, and not without a lot of rollers. My memory goes back to a comment Brian had mentioned to me while sharing this route: So there aren’t any KOMs going east on this road. I laughed because I realized the wind probably never goes in any other direction.  

After a long car ride, we finally arrived in Fayetteville Arkansas. Michigan this time of the year can be a slew of mixed weather, but mostly sky grey, and the trees still bare. There was something revitalizing to see blue skies, green grass, and the leaves blowing on the trees. I think seeing these things mentally prepared me for an awesome weekend, because even if the racing didn’t go well I would still be having better weather than if I were back home. Packet pickup was being held at the Chancellor Hotel in the heart of town. There are many etiquette rules in cycling, and though I have broken a few of them, I wasn’t going to walk into the hotel with unshaven legs. I hurriedly grabbbed my Nike pants and put them on in the valet drop off. I soon realized that in my haste I put my pants on backwards. So there I am in line with all of these other racer with my pants on backwards. Nothing more awkward than trying to put your hands in your pockets only to realize you can’t do it. I totally owned it and left them on backwards for the remainder of the night. This allowed me to not worry about my weekend of racing. Due to my lack of decision making skills in regards to selecting a place to eat, Chief decided on Wood Stone. This ended up being an awesome place to enjoy some amazing pizza. Without much effort we both were able to polish off our own pizza, and I an order of breadsticks. There was certainly a moment that I thought I might have too much for my own good. This would probably have been a good meal to replace all the lost calories at the end of the race, but I find I love pizza far too much to turn it down. Before long it was getting late, and after a grocery store stop we were back at the hotel. It didn’t take to long for me to get unpacked. Before I went to bed I continued to do my TT homework. So I had a moment of “what’s messing with my sleep” that night. Eyes open up quick to hear the toilet making far too much noise. In one quick aggressive motion I was out of bed turning the water off so I can be quiet again.  

There is one meal that I absolutely look forward before every ride. Mash is my usual morning go to meal. Easy to make and loaded with all that I need. With the addition of a Doppio from Starbucks, I felt full and complete the whole car ride to Devils Den. Apparently I was far more nervous than I originally thought that I was, because I was doing a lot of pacing around. The funniest was walking around with the trainer attached to my bike. Warmup went well, which is to say slightly unpleasant and second guessing what I will be able to accomplish in the TT. Regardless of these thoughts I still found my way to the starting blocking with 10mins to spare.  


The start of my time trial

I still find it foreign to be held in place without touching the ground with my foot. Maybe if I had spent more time at the track I would feel more relaxed during this process. Unfortunately I wasn’t very comfortable, and unclipped because I thought I was going to topple over. This happened ONE second before I was sent off. My first pedal stroke was with one foot clipped in, and the other foot trying to get clipped back in. I was so focused and adaptable that this process went smoothly and without too much loss of effort. Right turn, left turn, is my power meter broken, long right turn, I’m sure it isn’t broken, left turn, okay you’re doing too much. As pro as I wish I could be, I can’t hold 600 watts for 9 mins. Taking in a calming breath I was able to find my pace and tempo that was going to get me to the finish. I didn’t get to look at my power meter too much during this effort, but a glance here and there was all I needed to make sure I was staying on target. I passed two riders on the way up the hill, which helped to keep me focused and motivated during the race. I remember cresting that last hill to see a very non dramatic finish line. I was so spent that it actually took me a minute to decide if this was the finish line. It didn’t feel like I was riding for over 9 mins, but hey i guess I see a line. So I hammer it as hard as I can down this descent. Other than feeling confident I did a solid effort I had no clue as to what my time was. It wasn’t until we were inside Subway that I got the results. I remember being conflicted with my reaction. My first thought was I was second in the Time Trial, which isn’t want I wanted. Of course we all think at one point or another that no one could have had a better time. My eyes then traveled to my time and was instantly blown away. My time far exceeded what my coach and I planned for. I had pulled off a 8:06 time on today’s effort. Sitting on the tailgate of the car I realized that was an effort I could be proud of.

Pulling into the parking space for the road race I was instantly blown away seeing all of the pro teams I follow on the web. My excitement came from looking forward to racing with them someday. It wasn’t so much like the David vs Goliath as it was about my body not being strong enough yet. Went through the normal routine of unloading the car, preparing the bike, getting dressed. Warmup wasn’t quite completed as prescribed, but I wanted to roll around and take in all the people. Just so many racers. I’ve never seen a thing like this in Michigan. Finding the wheel car was a bit troublesome, but with Wassmann’s patience and persistence we were able to get the wheels loaded up. Our roll out was running behind, which let me squeeze in an extra bathroom break. At some point I knew I was going to be in a break, so I started to mentally prepare myself for that. I was also looking at who I would want in a break with me, and who I didn’t want with me. The dominant team today was 4D out of New Orleans. They didn’t really have anyone high up on GC, so I knew they were going to try something big in the road race. It didn’t take long to see that was a correct assumption. Within 10 miles they had a guy up the road solo with a 1min plus gap. I think after 15mins everyone started to get a bit worried, because the GC contendors had their teammate on the front pulling the solo rider back. 4D blocked all efforts. Every time someone pulled off the front, 4D would shut down the chase. That solo rider came into sight countless times, and went right back out of sight just as many times. I put a bit of skin in the game to bring him back, put no one was willing to work together to pull him back completely. Getting through the Feed Zone I finally had had enough of this team. I waited till the steepest and longest climb to do my Wanley attack. With about 300 meters from the base of the climb I just roll to the right of the group. Just pushed the pace enough to roll away in a nonthreatening way. I had a small gap before I kicked into an attack up the hill. By the time I made it inside the pro feed zone I had a good gap on the group. Took a small descent before a little riser and right hand turn. During this time I looked back to see if I had anyone that wanted to ride a long break with me. I saw 4 people bridging to me, none of whom were from the 4D team. There was however 2 GC contenders that wanted to join. I weighed the odds on the fly and felt confident that I could still take them, but I needed help to bring back a 2 min lead that the solo rider had on us. We pace lined the remainder of the race, rotating and rotating. We finally caught the solo rider with maybe 8 miles to go.  

Our break had worked very well with each other through this whole race. Everyone was working together, and pulling off into the wind to give the next guy coverage. The second time through the feed zone someone grabbed a coke. After the rider had his sip he passed it around the group so everyone could get a little bit of sugar kick. That was a first experience in a race for me. One rider out of Peru, Brian Babilonia, was super aggressive near the end of the race. I had to chase him down a couple times, and found myself thinking that’s what I should have been doing. I got a couple attacks in to try and keep off the front being so close to the line. Coming into the last Kilometer it looked like it was going to be a sprint. So I picked the wheel I would want to follow to the line, and hoped that I picked the right one. All seemed good until I see two riders, one the each side of me moving up. There was the moment that they both stopped moving forward, and started to fall back. In a moment of “I don’t want to be here.” They went looking for a wheel to hide behind. The wheel that I was on. I was pinched with nowhere to go, and before long I was going over. My front wheel found the rear derailleur of Brian Babilonia, and my left foot started to slide on the tarmac. I almost pulled off this balancing act for a full recovery. Of course I would have missed the sprint, and came in last with this group, but my left foot went out on me. When my left foot slid out my wheel caught an edge sending me sideways back first to the tarmac. I remember wakeboarding as a kid, and one of the worst falls was when you caught your front or back edge in the water. It’s as though your equipment just stops dead in its tracks leaving your body hitting the water like it was concrete, the whiplash leaving you dazed. I experienced that same sensation when the back of my head hit the ground. I knew that something broke, and I was crossing my fingers that it was only my helmet. I was up and trying to get on the bike as quick as I could, not allowing myself to worry about the fall till after I crossed the line. My legs still worked so that was all I needed in that moment. Once my chain was back on the chainrings I was off to the line.  

Aside from just having a small headache I suffered a small amount of road rash to the body. My equipment survived alright with only the wheels needing a good true. I was upset at losing out on the possibility of acquiring GC bonus points, as well as missing out on a possible stage win. The medical personal took care of me and made sure I was alright. Without waiting for results Wassmann and I packed up and went to dinner. At dinner my head was all over the place, and found it to be difficult to focus on one task. Wassmann had to keep me focused on eating my dinner, and if he didn’t I probably would have never finished it because I would have forgotten about it. By the end of dinner I had realized that tacos was exactly what I needed after that day.  

Fixing the wheels ended up being its own experience, one that would never happened if not for Wassmann. Realizing it would be a long shot to wait for Shimano neutral service in the morning we needed to come up with a solution late Saturday night. It wasn’t until we made it back to the hotel that we saw Team Rally Pro Cycling in the parking lot. They had brought their entire trailer with them, and as it was the Mechanics were out there working. Wassmann spit balled the idea of asking for help, and before we knew it we were on our way to see if they could offer some assistance. These two mechanics ended up saving the weekend. As super busy as they were with their own obligations to their team, they let us occupy a spot in the trailer to true our wheels. Wassmann’s new favorite wheels are Enve, because they were difficult to true (who invented internal nipples and why?), and it took over an hour to complete the task. Thank you Rally Pro Cycling for opening your doors to someone in need.   

I went to bed that night accepting that I fell, and that when I woke up the following morning I wasn’t going to worry about the fall anymore. Look to the future and focus on the task that I needed to do in the crit. Make up time!  

That following morning arrived and I was stoked for the race. Wassmann was able to find a parking spot 50 ft from the starting line, which gave my warmup a bit of entertainment. I was happy to realize that all the road rash was in locations that didn’t affect my biking position. I knew it was time to make my way to the line when I heard my name being called, along with the other top GC contenders. Realizing how much of a kicker this last hill was going to be, I knew I could probably force a break here, if not by someone else. I didn’t realize how much of descent was on the backside of this course. Momentum ended up making a break difficult because of this 40 mph descent, but it didn’t make the course any easier. The primes kept everyone smashing up the last climb, and though I didn’t worry about the primes, I wanted to be near the front to either push a break or nab ahold of the wheel that was going for a break. A few times I would make an attempt to be off the front for an attack, but I was always brought back. The last lap was quite a fun one, because on the descent everyone swelled up for positioning. That 90 degree turn at the bottom of the hill was intense with people going almost 3 wide. I was able to hold great positioning through that turn, and held it all the way to the last right hand turn before the finish line. By the time I was on the last climb of the Crit I was fourth. I didn’t have enough runway to bring back the other two riders. I crossed the line in 3rd place resulting in a 9 seconds bonus to my overall time.  

I finished the weekend of racing in 2nd place in the General Classification. I was proud of myself for bring back some time that was lost in a crash, and happy that the crash didn’t keep me from competing. I really want to thank all of my sponsors for allowing me to race so far away from home, and to push me to become a stronger and smarter rider. Without the help of Base Media Racing, I wouldn’t have been able to experience this adventure. Also want to thank Chris Donnelly for helping out with the Lincoln, which allowed us to travel in luxury. Thank you Benny for letting me race on carbon wheels for the first time, and a part of me cried when it came time to return them. Finally I want to thank David “The Chief” Wassmann for believing in my ability all through the winter, and encouraging me to continually push myself further.  

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