By Paul Skorupskas
Another Cone-Azalia race has come and gone and now the road racing season is officially underway in Michigan. For those who are not familiar with the race course, it takes place in Milan, MI, is a pancake flat 10 mile circuit race course, typically very windy and 40% dirt roads whose conditions vary from year-to-year. Aside from being a very difficult race, the pre-race decisions that go into what kind of bike to use (road or CX) whether or not to use race wheels, what kind of tires to run, etc. add another interesting wrinkle to race that reminds of last fall during CX season. My setup this year was the same as last year, road bike, clincher training wheels with 24mm Vittoria Pave tires with reinforced sidewalls. This is the same setup that I used last year when I won the Cat 4 race so why mess with something works. The rest of the team was on a mix of CX bike with road tires and varying widths. Seems everyone has their favorite setup.
This year is the inaugural year for O2 elite race team and Cone-Azalia brought out most of the racers so that we had good representation in the Cat 3, 35+ and 45+ fields as well as some racers spread out throughout the other categories.
Jerry Gase, Doug Burcicki and myself showed up to the line to race the cat 3 race. With 3 similarly strong racers our plan was simple. Attack! Attack early, counterattack and continue attacking the field. The race really starts strong every year once the field hits the first dirt section about .5 mile into the course. This year was no different. We had a few marked riders on other teams and they did not disappoint driving the pace as soon as we crossed the train tracks and hit the dirt section. The pace was fast, but Jerry and Doug took turns covering the mini-breaks and bringing them back while I waited. This continued for most of the first lap until the pace really slowed on the drag to the start/finish into the headwind when no one wanted to pull the field.
Eventually a rider had a enough and put in a little attack. Our team was content to let him hang out front for a while where we could see him. He looked to be getting a good enough lead that we needed to start thinking about bringing him back even though it was early in the race. However right as we all made the first turn of the second lap, the entire field including the mini break was stopped by a train. A new experience for me in this race. In any case, we now had gruppo compacto right at the beginning of the second time through the first dirt section. Immediately after the gates went up, some teams put in a big attack and got off the front, but Jerry or Doug were able to make their way into this break as well. Within a mile that break was brought back which meant that it was my turn to put in a big attack. I gave it a good jump and quickly found myself off the front with a substantial lead. Getting some rest in the tailwind section and finding that my lead had grown after exiting the second dirt section, I started to think about pacing and staying away for the rest of the race. Little did I know what I was in for.
For the next 6 miles I got my pacing down but also realized in the carnage that is the chattering roads of Cone-Azalia I lost my second water bottle. With little water remaining on a hot day and no reserve I thought better of trying to ride the next 30+ miles solo and decided and slow down and go back to the group, re-group and we’d try again later.
Fast forward to the fourth lap, the eventual winner put in a huge attack that really blew up the field. We had Doug and Jerry following so I stayed back wondering if they were gone for good. However, I could see that he was getting away and so I decided that I should try to bridge up. Coming through the second dirt road section I started picking people off, and found out that the leader was up the road along with a group of two chasing him down. Coming out of the final dirt section on the 4th lap, I found myself solo in 4th and decided I need to work as hard as I can to bridge up to the chase group. After a very difficult 10min effort I was able to bridge up to Clay Monahan (one of the strongest breakaway riders in the field) and Brian Wachlarz. We worked well together sharing the workload to try to catch the leader on the 5th and final lap, but when it became apparent that we wouldn’t be able to catch him, it was time to try to conserve energy for the sprint. Clay put in a really good contest for the sprint and took the 2nd place finish while I had to settle for 3rd thanks to some tired legs.
We certainly achieved our goal or racing well as a team, making our presence well known in the field that day, and putting a racer on the podium. Some big highlights of the day were having racing together for the first time this year with some great teammates, getting a podium, 3 racers in the top 10 of the cat 3 field, no flats by anyone on the team in the most treacherous road race on the calendar, and of course seeing Jim Ignash in the 45+ field soloing by our field at top speed for the win in the 45+ division.
Great day of racing for the team and many thanks to everyone who helped put on the Cone-Azalia road race. Another year of another fantastic event.