Smoketown Airport Criterium 05/11/2013 - By Brett Houser

Houser Smoketown '13

Prior to the race weekend Alan had gotten in touch with myself and Pedro regarding who to look out for during the race on Saturday, noting the results of a couple accomplished racers in the field.  We were told to look out for Matt Randolph (Shirk's Racing, previously unattached), Dakota Schaeffer (Young Medalists), and Chris Meacham (D3DEVO/AIRGAS).  Exchanging a brief correspondence about the course and the aforementioned individuals, most of what I relied on going into the race was information and experience from racing at Smoketown two years ago.  That year the surface had been left slick from a light rain earlier in the morning and I had my first experience with high speeds and slick asphalt.  I stayed upright throughout my time in the field, but cautiously taking the low-end turn allowed for a large gap to grow ahead me each time around until I was eventually pulled.  That being my first poor performance due to wet conditions, and the forecast for Saturday's race calling for rainfall beginning midway through our race, I was definitely nervous.  

The neutral lap saw both of the AIRGAS racers following the bumper of the pace car closer than I'd ever seen before, comfortably talking with one another and the Young Medalists juniors that were riding in tow just behind them.  A slightly uncomfortable feeling at first, it was still nice to see a pace car not be bullied into upping the neutral pace because of their proximity to racers tailing their bumper.  Coming down the long straight on lap 1, Sam Cowans' (Breakaway) had followed a line that was going far too wide to finish on-course, with me on his wheel.  We started the left-hand turn when we should have already apexed around the bulk of it.  Braking heavily at the end of our line, Sam went slightly into the grass and I went even further, barely managing to put down a strong pedal to regroup on the road.  Wider yet was Mike Black (Breakaway), who was behind me and went so wide he ran into the large rocks lining the drainage area to the side of the runway.  I don't know what happened after that -- whether it was a flat or something more substantial -- but that was the end of his race.  Shortly afterward the two AIRGAS riders began riding away from the front of the group, using the field's poor approach and exit of the 180° turn to their advantage and establishing an early 5-second gap.  I attempted to warn everyone that in years past this course has had established breaks start from the gun or within the first few laps.  
Most everyone disregarded my cautions and that 5-second gap was the establishing move that AIRGAS seemingly wanted, slowly growing along the finishing straight.  At this point I moved to the front of the field.  I thought to attack but figured otherwise; maybe the field was right and this attack on the first lap wouldn't stick.  When the gap grew to 15 seconds by the third lap I began chasing, leading the group around with me rather than attacking.  If both AIRGAS riders -- the entirety of their team -- were up the road then there was a likely chance no one would disrupt an effort to reel them back.  The idea was solid but my execution was not.  It was difficult to establish a solid rotation of riders and reliable efforts at the front.  What began as me choosing to chase rather than attack became me leading the field around for some amount of time.  (I don't remember how much pulling I had done and I'll refer to Pedro for any input on that, but I'm confident it was me doing the lion's share of the field's work.)  I realized that their move was what I wanted to be part of and had missed it.  After that all I could do was wait for a second one to go and hopefully latch onto it.  The people Alan had familiarized me with were still in the field, Matt (Shirk's) and Dakota (Young Medalists).

Teams like Shirk's would roll someone out off the front and then block across the front of the field, but no one really seemed intent on doing more than taking the 180° turn on their own line and creating a gap of maybe 10 meters on the riders behind them before getting caught. Whether that was intentional or not, I don't know, but it made some of the unsupported riders, like Byron Horgash (Kelly Benefit Strategies), antsy.  He clearly wanted to be there to capitalize on any team moves and convert on any blocking attempts.  Similarly, I was doing my own thing at the front.  Unlike Horgash, rather than attacking for 5 seconds to catch someone rolling off the front, I would just motor within my comfort level from the outside and pass anything at the front of the field near the road's edge.  My thought was that nothing would get up the road without me, and if they did just roll away via the "Hunter" style of attacking, then I would have accomplished the same thing and been there to ride alongside or behind them.  Or, if all else failed, I'd just pull the field up with me.  After one solid effort of doing just that I was passed on my right while riding along the left-hand side of the road.  And that's when Dakota jumped.  Solo.  And yeah, he bridged up to the break.  That was the second thing I missed and there was nothing I could do about it.  The saving grace was that -- I assume -- when Dakota attached to the two-man break one of the AIRGAS riders had been unable to keep the new pace and dropped all the way back to the field, which was nearly 30 seconds down on them at this point.  With only 2 up the road again my missed attempts to "be there" may not have entirely evaporated, since there was still a chance for one last break to go.  Still liking my approach to settle in and motor as best I could at the front and "be there", I continued.  This is when Matt (Shirk's) said, "Go for it, Brett."  I looked back and earnestly thought about it, wondering if I could.  But right then, at that moment, I thought I couldn't have mustered much, and definitely not enough to have made it work by my lonesome.  In retrospect, I really should have gone for it.  He wasn't going to let me ride away solo and go win the race, or something like that.  This should have been obvious to me, but he probably wanted me to initiate and then just catch up on his own to have us ride together.  Maybe, maybe not.  I'll never know.  But after another of Horgash's failed attempts to get away, and bringing some fodder/traffic along with him for when he blew up, Matt jumped real big.  I reacted as quickly as I could, jumping through the whole front-end of the pack and yelling at everyone to watch out, like it was their fault I was coming through.  I came in behind Mike Borda (Heart House), who was pushing up towards Matt's wheel as well.  Before the attack Mike was directly behind Matt, but Mike couldn't answer the initial jump.  With Matt up the road and the two-man break ahead of him, Mike and I began to work together, pulling through as necessary until we had a solid 10 seconds on the field.  Looking back, it was Matt's decision and timing of the jump that was really impressive, and from which I learned quite a bit.  He used slowing riders as obstacles, treating them like moving traffic cones, and putting them between himself and everyone else in the field.  It was something I noticed right away, realizing it even as I was passing by those riders who were already fading back.  

As I passed the final two riders I thought, "You guys are like canon fodder!"  In retrospect, I've been used as a moving pylon to the exact same end in the past, causing the field to yield to me as an attacking rider slipped away.  I realized that and get it now.  It works.  And as moves go, I kind of like it.  A lot!  I should add that at this point during the race I don't know how far along we were exactly.  All I do know is that there were 14 laps to go when I finally looked at the lap cards while riding the break/chase with Mike.  After we got away our gap grew, little by little, as Matt's solo break stayed at a constant time ahead of us.  The only thing that changed over the next 10 laps was the gap between the first break and Matt, which rubber-banded a bit before settling in at about 35 seconds.  This is also when I first noticed the rain coming down.  Which was awesome!  My only goal was to get away from the field before the rainfall and slippery conditions began and put time into every effort by taking the main turns faster than the field.  Mind you, I hadn't planned on getting away before the rain, I only made it my goal and hoped that it wouldn't rain at all.  After the torrential portion of the rain I should have known that we would stay away for the remainder of the race, but I've never stuck a break before.  So I had my doubts.  A lot of them.  I would come out of the 180° second-wheel and pull through from the bottom, drilling it up 3/4 of the finishing straight.  Then Mike would pull through some distance after the finish line and take care of the remaining 65% of the course as I got my breath and legs back.  He's a nice guy.  Riding a break with him was also a great opportunity to apologize for hitting his wheel the previous Thursday at Greentree.  (By itself, the incident was nothing; just a tap with no braking or loss of balance.  But the guy next to me freaked!  Admittedly, he was a skittish little thing and his reaction was wildly disproportionate to the bumping.  But because of that rather loud reaction I felt obliged to apologize to the Heart House rider whose wheel I tapped.  Well, anyway.  Fast-forward two days and now I'm riding in a break with the Heart House guy, Mike!)  With roughly 5 or 6 laps to go he pulled through the first turn a little stronger than usual, shortly after the end of my pull along the finishing straight.  I told him that if he made sure not to drop me then I would not contest the sprint, secretly knowing I couldn't contest it at that point anyway.  I went on to add that this would also constitute an apology for hitting his wheel earlier that week.  He hadn't recognized me.  I was wearing the TSV kit at the time and had my Drexel kit on while at Greentree.  We shared a laugh, he promised to not drop me along the top of the course and along the downhill, and we continued to ride together until about half a lap to go.  

We saw the field sprint happen about 1 or 2 laps prior to the leaders' finish.  At the time I didn't know Pedro had won the sprint.  He'll have to tell that story.  It's pretty good.  Along those finals laps I posed for some rainy pictures and Mike almost spilled going into the final corner.  I also waved to Matt across the airfield as he finished his final lap, still riding solo.  In the end, I crossed the line with hand-guns drawn, firing my finger-bullets into the air.  It was great and I felt even greater!  Sadly, I couldn't share in the other finishers' excitement and sportsmanlike conversations post-race.  I had a boner the moment I got off of the bike.  Seriously.  All that blood just rushed around and there was nothing I could do.  However, it didn't really stop me from trying to talk to everyone.  It just made everyone else uncomfortable and caused them to eventually walk away.  Even Pedro was caught a little off-guard, though he was nice enough to stick around and talk to me longer than everyone else had.  I had no shame though because I was really excited!  Yeah, getting 5th place, $55, and 1 upgrade point is cool, but I rode a break and stuck it!  That's something I've wanted to do for a really long time now.  And I mean, a really long time!  And now I've done it!  

...And all because Alan wasn't there!  

Because Alan is Kryptonite.