Hold onto your pants, ladies and gentlemen, cause this is going to be a long one.
After exhibiting incredible dominance in the first four days of the Tour of Shenandoah, the Priority Health boys found themselves in a slight jam going into Saturday’s 15 mile time trial. Our big hitter, Tom “I Eat Time Trials For Breakfast” Zirbel was out of the race due to an unfortunate incident with an uncoordinated triathlete, so it was up to the rest of the team to step up to the plate. Brent Bookwalter, who sat in second place overall, threw down a blistering sub-30 minute time, thereby catapulting himself into first place with just a criterium left in the tour. Again, Priority Health rode a stellar race in the final stage and led Brent to the overall victory – in addition to the yop U-23 title he earned.
Meanwhile, the criterium team found ourselves touring the southeast, jumping from Georgia on Saturday and Sunday (April 29 & 30), to South Carolina from Wednesday through Friday, and then off to Alabama for the following Saturday and Sunday. As previously mentioned, we were shorthanded for the first two races with just five racers and no staff, and as a result, I found myself logging enormous numbers of miles driving the team van. Thankfully we added Tom Zirbel (racer), Brian Sheedy (racer/manager/do-it-all-guy), and Ben Oliver (mechanic) on Tuesday night for the four consecutive races.
Wednesday’s Walterboro Criterium was once again characterized by a surprising lack of successful breakaways, as seen in the previous two days of racing. Toyota-United has the strongest team in this series and looked as though they could control anything and everything, but even when there was a combination of riders from the best teams in a breakaway up the road, there were repeated attacks from the main field that brought the breakaway right back. So Walterboro went the same as the others, with Priority Health being represented in repeated attacks on this gnarly course (pot holes, crummy roads, and a super narrow final straight away), but nothing ever materialized. At the end of it, there were a few teams trying ther hardest to do a lead out train, but inevitably Toyota got to the front and lead out Ivan or JJ. My best news is that I felt like He-Man in this race! I covered what felt like a dozen moves and found myself in a handful of breakaways. Yet, as to be expected, Toyota ended the day with a victory. Phooey.
We packed up Thursday morning and drove to Greenwood, SC about 2 hours away. We stayed in this great place called the Jameson Inn. I think we were the only people staying in the place and we reaped the benefits by being fed dozens of freshly baked cookies that night, post-race. The race itself wasn’t terribly interesting – it was pretty much the same as the previous three days of racing with futile attacks, 60-70% attrition rate, and the race coming down to a bunch sprint – although Tom Zirbel did puncture his elbow pretty impressively. The poor guy was crashed out of Shenandoah just a few days before and then he was caught in a crash here in Greenwood. So for the elbow, we were checking out his wounds at the hotel that night and it looked as though he had a half-centimeter diameter hole in his elbow! It was gross, although in a position so that it was virtually impossible for him to see, so he couldn’t be terribly grossed out (it’s like that trick: try to lick your own elbow). After freshening up, we went on my first ever trip to Ruby Tuesday’s around 10pm and were treated to some awesome burgers, a huge salad bar, and some wicked good chocolate milk… which we were told had free refills, but that turned out to be false.
Friday morning saw us driving to Spartanburg, SC for the fifth of the series of six races. We’ve had awesome weather throughout the week, but our luck ran out when the sky opened up and it poured buckets for hours! I would rate the road for this crit a 2 out of 10; it was uneven, featured a long, wide, deep crevice up the middle of the final straight away, metal barriers directly on the course to direct us around the metal drainage grate, and had numerous man-hole covers around the corners. It was like a mine field! This of course was made even more dangerous with sopping wet roads. Zirbel bravely started (and finished strongly!) this race, which wowed me, considering his punctured elbow. Additionally, we gained the always mighty Brent Bookwalter who was in town from college just 2 hours away. After racing the first half of the race towards the back of the very strung out field, I finally catapulted myself directly to the front and soon thereafter off the front in a three man breakaway. It was rather short lived, so after 3 laps we were reeled back in, but I stayed much closer to the front of the field after this stint so that felt good. Brent and Rich both finished in the top-10 and the rest of us finished safely, which was a hefty accomplishment considering the weather.
I had noticed prior to the race on a warm up spin that about a quarter mile out of town there was a very old building with an authentically antique, neon “Krispy Kreme” sign out front. I continued warming up and waited until after the hectic race to tell the rest of the team about our soon-to-be-post-race-recovery-food. Immediately after the race, a group of fans came up and started asking all sorts of questions and having us sign stuff and take their pictures with us. I asked them what they knew about that Krispy Kreme and they told me that it was the original store. As in, the original, first ever Krispy Kreme. They were very believable and seemed to be convinced that they were right, but I just checked out the official KK website and discovered that the first every Krispy Kreme began in Winston-Salem, NC in 1937 – not Spartanburg, SC. Regardless, this building looked to be at least 70 years old and it looked reminiscent of the old pictures you often see inside modern Krispy Kreme.
Cutting to the chase, Ben, Glen, Tommy, and I thoroughly enjoyed a box around 10:30pm on our way to a chaotic night of host housing. That night ended up allowing Tommy and me not enough sleep. See, our accommodations were wonderful and we each had our own beds, but we were up late talking to our kind hosts, and then awake entirely too early so that we could meet their daughter and son-in-law for what felt like a sun-rise-breakfast. (Un)fortunately, they had a full carafe of (decaf) coffee for us in the morning, so we could (not) fully wake up. Dang. In all honestly, it was a good stay.
Saturday morning required that we drive about 5 hours from South Carolina to Alabama for the last of the criteriums. Here’s a shot of Glen entertaining us at an exit immediately off the highway.
Apparently pro bi
ke racing doesn’t always pay terribly well, so he’s been hired by Hardee’s burger joint to do some outdoor advertising to passing by motorists.
That and a $180 speeding ticket were the highlights of the drive. We rolled up to lovely Anniston, AL mid-afternoon and were escorted from the highway by our host Bill to his neighborhood. You can see the golf course in the background of this shot.
He was very proud to be driving his motorcycle and we learned that he just bought it the previous year and had hardly ever used it. The team again split into three different houses, but thankfully we were all next to each other rather than dispersed throughout the town. When Rich, Tom, and I were being shown around our house, I walked right by the room that I ended up sleeping in, thinking that it was the master bedroom. Nope, turned out that I was the lucky guy to get the enormous guest room with King sized bed, walk in closet, and tv. Furthermore, I wasn’t going to have to suffer any problems with decaf coffee; my bathroom came equipped with its own coffee bar!
Sunny King was the name of the race in downtown Anniston, and it was an incredibly popular event. There were something like 26 restaurants that set up tents and had meals for sale, there were climbing walls, concerts all day, and tons of other stuff. Rich instigated a ton of attacks and managed to be in one breakaway or another for most of the day. Victor Rapinski really blew everyone away and was solo off the front for 36 of the 70 laps, just racking up prime after prime. Tommy ended up capping off his week with his best yet in the series 7th place finish. Yet again, Toyota-United won and there were about 40 finishers of 120+ starters.
That night after returning to our host house Rich, Tom, and I were lounging around waiting for our hosts to get back from the post-race festivities. They came home far later than we expected and were ceaseless in offering us beverages.
“Do you want beer?”
“No, we really have beer. Do you want beer?”
“Seriously, no thank you. We’re all set.”
“Okay, well we have beer and vodka and bourbon. Do you want bourbon. Do you want beer?”
“Please, seriously, we don’t want anything to drink. We’re fine.”
“Well, we also have coffee. Yup, coffee with half-and-half. Do you want that in the morning?
“Yes, coffee will be good, although we’re pretty beat, so I think we’ll go to bed soon.”
“Before you go, make sure you take a few beers upstairs with you.”
…if you repeat that conversation about 15 times, that’s the gist of our night. It was a kick. The whole time I was thinking: Wow, now that’s southern hospitality.
The next night, our three host houses and a few other host houses in a nearby neighborhood teamed up and we had a very tasty fish fry! The gentlemen frying the fish were very proud of their “spotted trout from the Gulf of Mexico” and made sure that we admitted we’d never had spotted trout before. The dinner was incredibly tasty and capped off a great trip to Alabama.
Yesterday (Monday May 8), we packed up the van, trailer, and car and departed only 90 minutes after scheduled to Fayetteville, AR. It was an epic 12 hour driving day, made possible by mechanic Ben’s stellar driving skills (he drove the van the entire way). The drive was relatively uneventful, but we’re now at a lake house where I think the highlight is the king-size waterbed that Robbie and I share… here’s a picture of that.