Race Report: Megan Baab Memorial Road Race 2016
Chris Tolley, 27, is a Category 2 racer on the Super Squadra p/b Eliel Cycling team.
The Megan Baab Memorial Road Race marks the start of the 2016 season here in Texas. Having only heard bits and pieces about the race—the jittery preseason riders, the infamous gravel- and pothole-laden sections, the possibility of bitterly cold weather—I was relatively curious about how it would go down. Couple this with the idea of racing in January, something that would be simply impossible in my previous residence of Boston, and you might say I was a bit nervous.
This was, in fact, my first Pro 1,2,3 category road race in Texas. I raced various Pro 1,2,3 crits last season (even winning a race at the Driveway Series), but I had never raced 80+ miles with some of the state’s top cyclists. Would I be dropped as soon as the first attacks started? Am I so far behind in my winter training that I’ll burn up at mile 60 and have a painful slog back to the finish? All these scenarios went through my mind as my teammate Joaquin Najar and I made the trip out to Copperas Cove.
Due to a broken stereo (long story), we spent the entire music-free drive making each other laugh and ridding ourselves of any worries about the race ahead. Once we arrived in Copperas Cove, I overheard quite a few of the riders expressing their desires to test their winter training and overall fitness.
I was more focused on figuring out team tactics with Joaquin and our other teammate Kyle Anderson. After all, this was our debut on Super Squadra pb Eliel, and my first time riding with a team. I had managed to do fairly well as a Cat 3 by simply following a strong wheel to the finish. But going into the race, I knew this would be harder, and I wanted to at least get Kyle on the podium because he was the most experienced road racer in our trio. Whatever he told me to do, I would try my best.
As 8:50 a.m. approached, the riders lined up for the neutral lead out to the 35-mile loop. There were riders from all over Texas and the surrounding states, but Giant South was by far the most well-represented team in the peloton. Kyle told me specifically to watch out for any attacks by Brett Crosby, Justin Stanley, or Davis Dombrowski after mile 40. In years past at Megan Baab, attacks went away and stayed away as early as mile 20. So when the whistle blew, I moved up to the front and waited for the neutral rollout to end.
Two riders quickly went off the front, and minor attacks happened here and there, but it was too early to worry. I was more focused on trying to avoid a collision, as several riders came unclipped in the gravel turns or got jostled around in the pothole sections.
These hazards aside, the group rolled along at a relatively mild pace. It wasn’t until mile 30 that some of the harder attacks went, but nothing stuck and the pack quickly absorbed any riders off the front. Shortly after these attacks ended, we had the pleasure of inhaling the diesel smoke from a “coal roller” that felt the need to do 40 mph in the ditch beside the pack, almost knocking the moto off the road and (I later heard) barreling recklessly through the feed zone.
With my legs feeling fine and the rest of the riders noticeably un-phased by the harder efforts, I started to wonder whether or not it would come down to a field sprint. Considering the finish was downhill, and my skill set includes recklessly stamping on the pedals with no regard for my own safety, I figured I might have a chance. I was secretly hoping to avoid that because my new Trek Emonda hadn’t arrived yet and my self-repaired LOOK carbon frame was on her last legs.
But all my hopes and dreams of starting the year off with a victory quickly came crashing down—literally. At exactly mile 62.5, evidenced by the immediate drop in cadence (thanks, Strava), there was a crash at the crest of one of the hills along Harmon Road. Details from various riders after the race were murky at best, but someone put their bars into Justin Stanley’s front wheel. A smashed Roval carbon clincher, several choice words, and a few tattered panels of spandex later, the surviving peloton ramped up the pace.
I watched this from the comfort of the roadside gravel, as I got tangled up in the aftermath of the crash, taking a minor spill as riders trying to avoid a pile-up swerved over. I quickly got up, remounted my chain, and tried in vain to catch back on. Several other riders involved in the crash also made valiant efforts to catch back on to the main group, but none of us managed to rejoin. For me, the next 23 miles involved burying my head and practicing my individual time-trial skills, passing several battered riders, and grabbing an illustrious 29th place.
But for team Super Squadra, the day could still be salvaged. As the remaining pack surged towards the feed zone, Kyle Anderson and Bret Crosby gradually drifted away from the field, trading hard pulls up and down the rollers into the crosswinds. They managed to get a 30-second gap on the pack over 20-some miles.
With one kilometer to go, Crosby tactfully jumped behind Kyle and said, “Take us home, Kyle!” Kyle remained in front, well aware that Crosby had the upper hand, both in watts and weight for the downhill sprint finish. Crosby surged by Kyle, taking the victory with Kyle close behind for second. The chase group was 30 seconds behind, with Kent Myers taking the field sprint for third, and my teammate Joaquin Najar barreling in for sixth-place, ever so close to the five-deep payout.
When I crossed the line some six minutes later, I was happy to see Kyle holding up two fingers at the finish line, indicating he had secured a podium for the team. While my efforts to help were minimal at best, I was repaid by Kyle with a delicious crispy chicken sandwich at Black Meg 43, where we talked about the final kilometers of the race, how bad our legs hurt, and what else the 2016 season had in store.
Despite my crash, we were all pretty excited for the 2016 season. Hopefully, when we revisit Copperas Cove for the State Road Race in September, we can take that top spot.