[caption id=”attachment_981″ align=”aligncenter” width=”616″ caption=”Mike Buechel in the Master 1/2 Race at the Great Downer Ave Bike Race”][/caption]
The final weekend of the Tour of America’s Dairyland showcased two shining silver bullets in the arsenal of tortures the series throws at riders. Saturday featured The Great Downer Ave. criterium, a Winchester double-barreled slug of a course. The wide open, long straights, and big crowds both on the course and in the cheering/leering section, make this an unpredictable track. Sunday delivered a precision sniper rifle of a course demanding smooth lines through tight corners. As if to confirm the ballistics, speeds in the Masters 3 -4 averaged 25.5 Saturday and 26+ Sunday.
As could have been predicted, the Masters 3 – 4 field reached near capacity Saturday under cool, clear and near ideal racing conditions. Starting in the second row proved fortuitous as the leaders cleanly picked the toughest corners, including the broken dog-leg of a corner in turn 2. But giddy up from the get go in the massive field led to five and six-wide racing on the straights, with scattershot filling the inside lines, especially (and frighteningly) heading into the turn 3, the fastest turn on the course.
Halfway through, it became apparent that nobody was oing to get tired anytime soon. Lap after lap, slug after slug, the field would stretch out ever so slightly only to be overrun by the turns. Despite the effort, the place in the pack of Corey, me and J’bro yo-yo’d from top ten to 30th in the span of a single straight away making it difficult to launch any team tactics.
[caption id=”attachment_982″ align=”aligncenter” width=”586″ caption=”Corey in Masters 3/4 “][/caption]
In one case, me sitting 10th wheel, J’bro launched a perfectly timed attack on the back straight in the hunt for a prime. In the blink of an eye, and the with pack responding, I could only watch helplessly as 20 riders swarmed, locking me down tight.
In the end, it came down to nerves. As the final two laps ticked by, four-wide became the norm in the turns. I hit the final turn clean…but too far back to do more than eke out a top 30 finish.
Sunday dawned with perfect weather, sore legs..and head – thanks to the Super Prime celebrations the night before. The new untested Tosa East Gran Prix course held the promise of a couple equalizers – a finishing hill and tight turns through 2 and 3. It shaped up to be a true criterium course with single file riding the rule of the day.
Shooting from the start line, the Masters 3 – 4 (and most every other race of the day) quickly spread out, with the leaders sniping the corners and setting a rocket ship pace. Fissures in the pack led to chasing which led to more gaps… and a death spiral for many.
Early on, it became clear that touching the brakes between turns 3 and 4 made the North Ave. hill a mountain. As a “local,” there was an unmistakable thrill to dive bomb Kranky Al’s (home of the world’s best krullers) at 25+ mph then sprint up the hill past cheering neighbors at 30, past Hawaiian music and more cheering before emerging at the top, through fogs of BBQ smoke and revelry.
Corey, J’bro and me kept it up towards the front, trying to reconcile the speeds, softening tar on the asphalt, and feisty activity in the strung out pack. Turn 2 demanded steady nerves and a need to crank it up to 35 on the super fast downhill. Hard efforts on the up hill proved the soft underbelly, and in fact led to a prime win for me (who doesn’t need tires?).
With 2 to go, a quick glance over the shoulder showed the damage to the 100+ large field of the speeds and the hill (~700 feet of total climbing). Only about 40 remained in the main bunch!
Ticking through the last laps, and onto North Ave. for a final time, a head-down sprint up the hill past a boisterous mid-day crowd was a good “welcome” to a Tour of America’s Dairyland stop that will be a staple on the calendar for years to come.
Words Steve Smith