Our very own Emerson Oronte recently finished 4th at the Joe Martin Stage Race in Fayetteville, AR. Emerson has been a FinKraft client for several years now and it’s nice to see his hard work pay off. If you wish to learn more about Emerson and his team, Team Horizon Organic p/b Einstein Brothers Bagels, then you can follow their website, here.
Joe Martin Stage Race
If you’ve never been to Arkansas in April, I have to say it’s surprisingly nice. It reminded me of the landscape in Vermont with lots of rolling green hills and farms. Personally speaking, I love that sort of terrain–short steep climbs that go for days. While many people often use the term “climbing” generically (regardless of whether it’s a mountain or a short hill), I am a firm believer that there exist two types of climbs and climbers. The first (and my personal favorite) are climbs like those we see in the northeast–short steep kickers that go on seemingly forever and just slowly wear you down over the course of a ride; and the second are mountain climbs, like those in Boulder or the climbs we would see here in GIla, that just flat out suck for 45min and then you coast for a long time. While it’s possible to be good at both, being good at one doesn’t mean you will excel at the other. Long story short, given the terrain and relative long distances of the road races (stages 2&3 were both 110miles) Joe Martin was definitely going to be a strong-mans race with a good chance for small group finishes. Given that we have a lot of guys who could get over the climbs AND sprint (Josh Yeaton, Fabio Calabria, and Chris Winn) we were confident in our ability to pull out not only strong stage results but also individual and team GC placings as well.
Starting out Joe Martin was a short 4km uphill prologue. Despite being uphill though, the climb was relatively tame in gradient with only a few steep kickers in the middle and end. Pacing would turn out to be a huge factor (just as a side note, no matter how long an effort is–whether it be 2min or 20min–pacing is always important) since your ability to gain time on steep sections of road is greater than your ability to do so on the flatter sections. To illustrate this, think about how much time you would gain on someone riding 300watts downhill as opposed to 300watts uphill; assuming they are only riding 200watts. In the end, you’ll get more separation on the uphill. So, my goal was to keep it steady but put a bit more stick into it on the steeper sections of the climb. In the end, I managed to finish 8th on the stage–16seconds down on the winner and 6 seconds off of third. Making things even better though was that we put 3 guys in the top 20 and finished 3rd on team GC–ahead of several pro teams like Optum and 5hr-Energy. Not bad for a small team from Colorado!
Stage 2 was a long one–110miles of rolling terrain with one longer climb of ~15min-20min around 25miles from the finish. Historically, this race usually finishes in a bunch sprint but unlike most sprints it tends to have time gaps given the technical run in (around 2km to go there are a series of sharp turns with several STEEP kickers before another sharp right to the slightly uphill finish). For the most part, the position you hit that first corner at 2km to go in is usually the position you will finish and if a gap forms…well, you’re out of luck. Making matters even MORE complicated, prior to the first turn to 2 to go, the peloton is flying along a four lane highway before funneling into a one lane street. Essentially, what this means is that the whole group was going to go BANANAS sprinting to that corner so as to get a good position and not lose time. Fortunately, we have two really strong guys on our team who could help on such a run-in. One is Clayton Feldman and the other is Jake Duerhing–a member of the US National Track team and 12th ranked track rider in the world. Needless to say, we had the horsepower to sprint to the corner–it was just a matter of timing it right so we didn’t get there too soon and get swarmed. When the time came, the team executed perfectly and I got to the corner in the top 15. It was actually pretty funny how, once the turn was done, the field slowed substantially–probably since everyone was so gassed from sprinting to that point. In the end, I just floated to the finish while Fabio landed a very respectable 9th place on the stage. In the end, one time gap between the yellow jersey and 4th place and another further back in the group. While I did lose 2sec to yellow, I gained time another rider and move to 7th place overall.
Stage 3: another long day in the saddle at 109miles–this time on a circuit with a fair bit of climbing each lap. In addition to gravity, the riders also had to content with a pretty gnarly crosswind once on the rollers at the top of the days major climb. So, if you managed to blow your legs staying with the leaders on the hill, you would find yourself out the back pretty fast if you couldn’t position properly at the top. The first two laps of the race were pretty tame as an early break went up the road with Clayton in it (he made the break on both road races and spent nearly 180miles off the front in two days). On the third lap however, fireworks went off as Team SmartStop hit it pretty hard on the steep section of the climb forcing a separation and then attacked again once in the crosswinds. Eventually two of the guys got up the road and joined with Clayton’s break to form a group of 8 off the front. At this point, I was pretty nervous since the lead break had the horsepower to stay away–even with Clayton sitting on–and many of the guys were threats to my GC position. In response, I told Mac Cassin and Chris Winn to help Jamis chase since they were down to only a few haggard domestiques and the yellow jersey. Fortunately, the bleeding was kept to a minimum and by the time we hit the base of the climb for the final time, the gap was only 1:15. Given that this was a bridgeable gap however, the last time up the climb was pretty damn fast as guys tried to jump away. Ill spare any details about who attacked when and where (honestly, i was so pegged I don’t even remember) and just say that in a span of 3km we pulled back a minute on the break. Once in the crosswind section, the “field” consisted of only about 10 guys–including myself and Chris Winn (I think we were the only amateurs to make the split). Despite the blitzkrieg on the climb, it took us a while to close the final 10sec gap to the break as everyone in our group was either sufficiently tired from riding so hard or dogging pulls in the hope that we would eventually catch the break without their help. Eventually, the two groups merged and we proceeded to attack the hell out of each other for the next 15km with a group of two riders getting off the front and building a solid gap. On the downhill, another few groups caught us for a lead pack of about 40 riders and the teams with any sprinters left in the race started to chase–catching the leaders at 5km to go. Once again, Fabio pulled out a decent ride for 7th on the day but, honestly, i was a bit disappointed in how I didn’t give him enough support positioning for the sprint as I felt like he could have pulled ahead a few more places. When all the dust settled, I had managed to move up to 5th overall given two guys in front of me fell off the pace the final time up the climb.
Capping off the race was the stage 4 criterium in downtown Fayetteville. Technically speaking, this course is pretty tough with a steep kicker to the finish and eight turns (several of which come on fast downhills) in the course of roughly 2km. In the past, this crit has seen it’s fare share of crashes given the changing pavement (some corners go from asphalt to concrete or brick) at inopportune times. Making things a bit more ominous, the race was held under a tornado warning for the area and intermittent rain showers. Fun stuff.
Given the potential for time gaps, the goal was to stay near the front, out of trouble, and then try to help Chris or Fabio for the finish. Unfortunately, with about an hour to race I managed to go down pretty hard one of the corners–landing on my hand, elbow, and hip pretty hard. Initially, I didn’t think I would be able to continue but after all the work the team had put in that week and all the personal results they sacrificed to keep me near the front, I just couldn’t justify quitting. So, I rolled to the pit and hopped back in the race despite being covered in blood and, in general, pretty beat up. Without being too dramatic, Ill just say the last hour of the race sucked pretty hard. For the most part, I couldn’t move my left hand and my hip & knee were pretty sore from the impact–making pedaling hard. As the saying goes though, “in the end, everything is OK” and it just so happened I managed to finish far enough up on the stage that I moved up one more place on GC to 4th.
In the end, this was a huge result for me personally and the team (which, BTW, finished 3rd overall on team GC). It just goes to show that, despite being a small amateur program, we can compete (and beat) the best teams around–even without the budget or a mechanic or someone giving us massages every night. Often lost in all the talk about watts/kg and power and hours trained is the idea that cycling is, in many ways, a battle of heart and will. Ive seen a lot of guys win bike races against much stronger competition simply because they wanted it more or because they were mentally unbreakable. For me, coming from a pro team, I can say with absolute certainty that this team rides with more grit and determination that most “pros” and it shows with our results. Personally, I think this is just the start of what’s going to be a great year and will serve as a major stepping stone in this programs development in the seasons to come.
And that’s a wrap. Hope you enjoyed the read…sorry it turned into such a book. If you managed to make it to this point, congrats, your medal is in the mail!