I got the chance to race with the entire Panther crew this last weekend at the Tour of the Valley in Youngstown, Ohio. It was a great weekend with Andy Clarke being gracious enough to open up his house to 5 cyclist. The hospitality was great. Thank you Andy!
The race consisted of a 9 mile Time Trial, a 93 mile RR and a 90 minute Criterium. The race started off with the time trial on Friday evening. I wanted to win win this race, but could only manage 3rd behind Paul and Dave Wenger. I covered the 9 mile course in 18:36. I was satisfied with my ride and more importantly the team was in a great place with 1st and 3rd on GC going into Saturday's tough, hilly Road Race.
Photo courtesy of Mike Briggs
We went into the Road Race with the goal of winning the stage, but more importantly of holding onto our lead in the General Classification. The race consisted of a 2k climb with time bonuses available at the top. We put Ryan Knapp into an early move to take the bonuses off of the board and it worked perfectly. Half way into the first lap I found myself in a move with Knapp, Greg, and Ryan A. along with a couple RGF's and Damhoff of ABD among others. The group worked well together, but to my surprise was caught. I think it is because nobody really worked all that hard with 75 miles of racing to go. Once we got caught Kirk escaped with 2 others, including Housley of Chemstar who finished around 10th in the TT and thus became the leader on the road. We could not afford to let him get to far up the road, so Paul attacked the steep rollers after the KOM and all of the other GC guys reacted immediately. Benefiting from this I attacked when everyone sat up. I rolled away from the front of the field and immediately got a decent gap. I was hoping that someone would join me so that I did not have to go across 2 1/2 minutes solo. However, no one came so I put my head down and got to work bridging up to Kirk and Nick Housley. I got them after 15 miles of chasing. It was a big effort and I needed time to recover. Kirk rode like a champion, taking long pulls to maintain the gap while giving me a chance to catch my breath. Unfortunately, this work caught up with him and he lost contact on one of the many steep, leg-killing rollers that follow the KOM climb. I rode the last 15 or so miles with only Housley, knowing that if we could make it to the finish I would be the leader of the GC. I put in a ton of work, and he got me for the stage win. I wanted to the stage but the race lead was a more than suitable consolation prize. Paul managed to escape the rest of the field and he and Kirk came home 3rd and 4th with another gap back to the field. This meant that going into the Sunday's final criterium we had 1,3, and 4 in the general classification.
Sunday's Crit was the easiest race I have ever done thanks to the awesome teamwork by the rest of the guys. I simply sat in and followed Housley to make sure he did not sneak away since my lead was only 23 seconds. The team rode flawlessly with Paul and Ryan A. picking up the mid race time bonuses. Near the end Paul escaped with Tom Burke and won the race with Ryan A. taking home the field sprint (without throwing up his arms ;) ). I crossed in 10th and thus won the General Classification. Thanks to everyone on the team for the awesome support , there is no way I could have done it without you. It was my first victory in a stage race, and it is always a nice view from the top step of the podium. Hopefully we will continue to win bike races.
On a side note we learned a few things this weekend.
1) Ryan Knapp is pretty good at basketball, but only when he is allowed to use the girl's ball.
2)Andy is a hell of a crit racer with a broken hip.
3) Lisa could drive a team car in the pro peloton.
Thanks for reading.