by Al Kline
Fayetteville is a small town, smaller than most. When you drive in on 159 or 955, you cross a railroad track and boom, you take a right then a left and you’re in the town square. Bed and Breakfast cubbies littered every street corner. The day we arrived, all the streets were quiet and it almost seemed ghostly in its presence. I was soon to realize the cycling ghosts of past continue to circle the town year round’.
It’s a peaceful place, until one weekend in March when cyclists from all over Texas converge on a most interesting stage race. Just past the square, is an old-timey dance hall that is instantly converted into race headquarters, toilet-stop and breakfast/lunch corner. Surrounded by big oak trees right next to a baseball field, the folks at SWCC certainly know how to put on a quality race.
The 2010 Fayetteville stage race will be remembered for its inclement weather. We knew the storm was coming, but we all hoped it would suddenly pass, or only sink its teeth into that “other” race category. Every rider was hoping to dodge the bullet that would inevitably single out everyone in this most epic race weekend. No one escaped mother natures’ fury on Saturday.
This was my first stage race and I was eager to throw my racing legs over the saddle and get in a little training ride before the big race on Saturday. The stage race is broken down into a road race in the morning, time trial in the afternoon followed by another stage race the following day. We arrived on Friday to get a good look at the time trial course. Luckily, I had a race veteran with me on the trip, so he showered his race wisdom on me and gave me tips from how the course rides on race day to how to pick out little rocks from my tires between each stage. Like an old episode of Kung Fu, I was the grasshopper and he the master. It also kind of reminded me when I took a trip to Europe once with my parents, and they showed me all the hot spots in town that would put a trip organizer to shame. But this was much more.
First we drove the course by car then jumped on our bikes and headed down the 6.6 mile course as a warm up. Here a right, look for that one at the end of the white picket fence. Here comes the toughest hill on the TT course. Then another right, just over that hill. Then the winding road, a right, a left another right, then a sprint to the finish. Should we do it again, yes. The sun was out, we were all smiles. We began to see some other riders. The town was coming alive. This day the wind was into us going out and behind us coming home. The conditions would be frustratingly opposite on race day as a wet cold front would wreck havoc on the entire racing field the following day. It would soon drop temperatures from a cool 60 degrees to low, wet 40’s. Winter had certainly not left Texas yet.
The morning we arrived at the stage race the weather was just starting to turn south. The winds kicked up to Corpus-like gusts of up to 30 and 40 miles per hour. Those poor cat ones, we thought. Hell, they can tough it out. I entered the 35+ cat 4/5 race and was ready on the line. I would ride for Team ALS and was happy to see another team mate as we worked our way to the front line. I was told by the cycling gods how imperative it was to get to the front of the starting line in this road race. The center line rule was in place, and sometimes where you start in the pack can be where you finish. As we began our race, a two loop course with rolling hills, the winds and rain only worsened. I lost the first break-away on what I called “heart break hill”, then kicked it into gear and soloed until I got caught by a second group. The rain pelted my face and it began to get cold. I removed my racing glasses because the rain came down so hard, I couldn’t see. It was like riding in your car with the wind shield wipers going so fast, you still can’t see. All you can do is slow down. I began to see stragglers out on the side of the road, waiting for wheels. The number of people flattening was epic in itself. I must have seen 10 riders huddled on the side of the road, shivering into a stupor. Luckily, I didn’t stop riding or flat, so I finished in a bunch and quickly looked for my chaperon and went back to the hotel for a hot shower. That was the best hot shower I had experienced in quite some time. My team mate finished in the top 3, and we were thrilled. I finished in the top 20 and was happy with my first attempt at a stage race. I knew that afternoon, if I could put the hammer down in the time trial, I would move up some spots.
We arrived to the time trial gate on time to find out there was a 30 minute delay. The weather was dryer that afternoon, but was getting colder by the minute. It was now in the 30’s and shivering came into play. I warmed up really good and my time had come. I was tired after the road race that morning, but an extra shot of adrenaline kept me excited. The roads were now drying and I felt good. The count down . . . 5. .4. . 3. . 2. . 1, and I’m off. The first section of the course was downhill and wind behind. I glanced at my speed, 30, 35, 38, wow, I’m flying, not much effort. However, the winds were so gusty, I kept control of the bike in an effort not to blow over. I see a rider in the distance, I’m gaining, gaining, then pass him. I know that’s got to be humiliating. Then came the first right turn and the hill. The winds are straight across, I’m going to work. I climb, I jump out of the saddle to keep up my speed. I crest the hill and gain speed. 20 . . . 25 . . . 30 , I see another rider, I’m gaining, I pass another rider half way to the next turn. I know this is the turn to the finish. Only a few miles to go, but this section is dead into the wind. I think: If I can maintain 18 MPH into this stiff headwind, I may do some damage. I give it a go. It gets harder, the legs get a little heavy, then my first hill into the wind. I slow, damn, but I’m still in my tuck , so I get out and kick it up a gear to try and maintain my 18. It gusts to 30, then 40 MPH. My bike shakes. I see another rider on the side of the road. I’ve passed 3 people, just keep it rolling. I get to the first few turns and the hills are now gone. I give it my all and finish. I find out later, I finished 10th, only a few seconds off the winning times. My team mate also finished strong and was leading at the end of day one. We survived. An epic stage race is two-thirds done. I’m pumped. I move up to 13th place overall.
That evening I wined down and we eat at the Bistro 108 in La Grange. What a place! Dining doesn’t get much finer. The steak was medium rare and just melted as I consumed bread, steak and then more bread. I figured I would replenish the 4000 plus calories I burned out on the road today. The weather is now behind us. If I can ride and finish these last two stage races, I can probably ride in just about any condition a race can throw at me. A sense of accomplishment ran right through my bones. I finished off my meal with coffee and cake to celebrate.
The next day was gorgeous. The skies had cleared, it was sunny and cool 41 degrees when we woke. I arrived at the race about an hour before and began my warm up. I set up the trainer because it just felt too cold to ride at that moment. Unfortunately, my rear wheel began to shred on the trainer, so I frantically changed the tire on my back wheel with 15 minutes to spare before the start. I was unable to sign in while I was changing the tire, so I was docked a 15 second penalty before the start. We made it to the starting line and realized both me and my team mate were penalized 15 seconds. However, even the 15 second penalty wouldn’t change the outcome of the day. We had our sites set for an epic GC win for our team. My team mate and I talked a little before the race and my goals were clear: keep up the pressure and never let the pack take control. This stage would see three laps around the course. In the first lap, we had some wind help, so I decided to throw in my first break, and it was a good one. Reaching speeds up to 40 MPH, I broke the pack apart. My team mate latched on to a group of four or five riders to finally catch our break away. I had three to four riders in my break away, so we tried to keep the pressure up. It was a bold move, but we held true to our goal, we controlled the race. Unfortunately, when we reached the winds and the stiff headwind, the group failed to continue a rotation and a pack of twenty of so riders caught our group of ten. I continued to place some pressure on the group and provide some needed wind break for my team mate. The finish was in our sites and we finished in a pack sprint. The results, team ALS won our category race and I made a few more friends that day. Despite the adversity and foul weather on the first day, it was the perfect ending to my first stage race. Fayetteville is more than just a small town in my mind. On one weekend in March, Fayetteville is the Capitol of Texas and the center of cycling.