|By Ryan Barrett
You've probably all read the reports from the First Union week now and have the stories pretty wired. Instead of giving you another boring play-by-play, I'm gonna let you in on a rookie's experience of preparing for and doing the races, with maybe just a little boring play-by-play.
The biggest challenge for me in preparing for this series was time. As one of few pros who work part time while pursuing the dream of "making it" as a real pro bike racer, preparing for such a long event is difficult, to say the
least. I spend about twenty hours a week coordinating a bike safety program for at-risk youth. Twenty hours may not sound like much, but when you couple in 25-30 hours a week on the bike, plus travel to and from races and you end up with a pretty full schedule.
I also thought it could be useful to stay married, so you should factor in some QT with the wife. Luckily, she's about as understanding as they come, and puts up with most of my
antics. Still, I felt that I had prepared almost as well as possible considering the circumstances, and had plenty of miles in my legs.
6/4- First Union Invitational. Lancaster, PA
91 miles, rolling hills, and turns, lots of turns. Arrive about 30 minutes before the start which was less than ideal. Freakin' fast from the gun. We set off like the start of a crit. and I was a little unprepared for this. I need more experience with trying to stay up front in a race like this.
I managed to piss off George Hincapie (USPS) at some point during the race. The guy in front of me hit his brakes in a corner, and I figured it would be better not to hit him, so I did the same. Apparently, it was a little sudden for George and he let me know it. Anyway, I seem to have a knack for doing this in front of big name riders as I had almost the identical experience with Gord Fraser (Mercury) at the
Clarendon Cup the weekend before. Makin' friends.
Back in the race, I closed about a million gaps before being gapped off with three to go. No one from our team made the front group, but I have to give it up to Sweet Pete Knudsen for crashing and then being the last guy to make it on in the gap that took me out. I wish I could do this race over now that I have the experience and know what it's like a little better. Unfortunately, there's no rewind button on the game of life, but hopefully I'll be back next year
because it's a pretty ideal course for me.
David Clinger of USPS dropped Chris Wherry (Mercury) on the last lap for the win.
6/6- First Union Classic. Trenton, NJ
91 miles; shortened to 60 due to a fatal car/pedestrian crash on course. More turns, cobbles, pouring rain, crashes everywhere.
Boss's order were for me to drop out after 45 minutes to save the juice for Sunday. When the rain came, an executive decision was made not to risk crashing since I wasn't planning on finishing anyway. At first, I was glad
to be able to pull out, but I was pretty bummed watching the race, as I really enjoy this kind of stuff and watching races I want to be in is one of my least favorite activities.
My Schroeder Iron teammates led out Hilton Clarke, who encountered some difficulty in the last corner and finished
around 15th, which was okay, but not what we came for.
Gord Fraser (Mercury) won pretty handily.
6/9- First Union USPro Championships.
156 miles. 10 big laps, followed by 3 small finishing circuits. This is the big one. The race that can make a rider's (or team's) whole season. By a shot the longest race I've ever done.
My job was to help the lead out to the infamous "Manayunk Wall" in the early laps. This is pretty much the same as leading out for a sprint, except it's to the base of the
hill so your team leaders can float up the hill and go backwards through the group early on to save their energy for later. We did a damn fine job of getting our guys to the base of the hill for the first seven laps.
Unfortunately, our captain, Jaime Paolinetti, was having problems breathing
and pulled out of the race early, so we switched our plan on the road and worked for Hilton. After seven laps of doing this work, I was pretty wasted and missed the split on the hill on the 8th lap. Unfortunately, Hilton did as well and he wound up in the same group as Jake and I. We rode out the
remaining two big loops, but couldn't ride the finishing circuits because we'd have been lapped by the leaders. I was given the finishing place of 57th, and was happy with how I'd ridden.
Having the experience of doing the race, I know I can go back and do considerably better. I know I'll take some flack for having done so much work early, but our team always rides for the win and I was not in any position to win the race. Unfortunately, on this day, none of our team was. Still, I'm happy with the way we rode and I think we earned some respect with our lead outs for the hill (that or we looked like jackasses for doing all the work early and then having no one to finish- hahahaha).
It would be easy for our team to just let everybody ride in a race like this, but I think the reason our team is more successful than teams with a similar budget is that we always ride to win. This was one of the times where we were unsuccessful, but we gave it an effort and that's the way it goes. Having a few of us finish top 20 or 30 really doesn't do much for our team, so we were better off to try and pull off something big.
Regardless, this was the experience of a lifetime and I'm going to do everything I can to make it back next year.
Thanks to everyone who helped make this trip possible.
Now, the rest of the Schroeder boys are off to Minnesota for the NRC races there, but as for me, it's back to the LBC (Long Beach City, fool), work, and next week it's off to the Nevada City Classic.
Read more about Schroeder Iron heading into Philly Week here.