Race Review: 2015 St. Francis Tulsa Tough

Ahhh Tulsa Tough. Or as it is sometimes called, Crit-mas in June. 2015 marked the 10th anniversary of the most awesomest race in America. For those reading who haven’t been to this staple of the NCC calendar, imagine a downtown crit in your region. Now think of a better version of that. Add thousands of cheering fans and strangers. And now you have a small idea of what Tulsa is.

This was my second year to partake in the race and I was excited to bring a full team of seven riders along with me. While there were a few last minute cancellations, we were confident that our team was fit and ready to put on a show and make the most of tenth year of Tulsa Tough.

Friday Night – Blue Dome

We rocked up to the Blue Dome district a bit late. Thanks to a tire blowout on our trailer our arrival was delayed a bit, but what’s bike racing without a bit of excitement! The opening night of TT offers up an eight-corner, figure-eight course packed near the heart of downtown. With everyone jacked up on adrenaline and months of preparation, the atmosphere is infectious and one can’t help but be excited for the weekend’s festitivites!

Our team assembled on the trainers and discussed the tactics for the night. With some Tulsa-newbies on the squad, our main priority was making it to the finish line unscathed and with all our bits intact. Beyond that, it was ride aggressive and get on the podium or bust. I myself started a bit far back in the dash to the line but within 5 or 6 laps, I had made my way to the top 20 wheels and slotted in comfortably close to the front.

We stuck to our guns and put multiple guys off the front of the race. At one point Rob and Chris went on a two-up attack and were quickly joined by Jeff LaBauve of GS Tenzing and another rider from the Olathe team. “This is it!” I thought and got down to my usual business of riding everyone into the curb and shutting what doors I could. However, all of our good fortune was not to be, and the all-star breakaway move eventually came back.

Photo by Biff Stevens

The lap counter ticked down. At some point, I sprinted for what I thought was a $200 preme, which I won, only to find out it was for the first rider across the line. That was a shame because I rode that lap perfectly too. So shout out to the guy who didn’t ring the bell properly... Things started to get dodgy with 5 to go, including a few more crashes and a power slide to avoid the pile of riders in front of me. Fortunately, the team kept upright but as we got to the last lap, we were left with two or three guys on the front leading Chris out. I couldn’t make it up to help the team and Chris was left to freelance a bit in the finale just narrowly missing the podium in 4th.

We were certainly frustrated to come so close but at the end of the day we finished with our skin in tact, save for our new buddy Ryan Szabo, and we were ready to fight another day.

Saturday Night – Brady Arts

Where da coffee at?

The day began with lots of water and some awesome espresso from Double Shot. Aaand maybe a cookie…. I won’t confirm or deny that last part though. After Friday’s near miss, we were determined to come around and get on the podium on Saturday. The Brady Arts course is, what I would call, an honest course. Though there are some fast corners, the track isn’t overly technical and it requires you to grind out lap after lap, racing as fast as you can up Soundpony Hill.

We had a bit better starting position tonight, which meant we were able to conserve our energy a bit longer at the start of the race. Keeping with the aggressive theme of the weekend, we continued to put guys in attacks and lay down a few digs of our own. In the 2014 edition, a trio eventually broke away and stayed clear of the field half way through the race. The potential was there again, but each dangerous move was eventually pulled back.

The group seemed content to ride together to the finish. Not wanting to hold hands for too long, I set about putting in some attacks going up Soundpony Hill. I gapped the field a few times but no one else was willing to come up and join the fun. So with 7 to go and the field all together, we amassed ourselves to do a leadout for Chris.

Five of the six corners turn left on the Brady District course. We positioned our team on the left side of the bunch to have the cleanest line through the turn and abided by the “At the front, not on the front” mantra, hanging back five wheels to let the other teams burn themselves out. Sure enough, with 5 laps to go, Olathe had just three riders remaining on the front of the pack to our four-man paceline. Sitting second wheel in the Richarson Bike Mart train, I hollered at John to pull off the front so I could take over and he could take my spot. Unfortunately he got gapped and our train was down to three men with three laps to go – my bad John!

Ryan Szabo killing the last lap leadout for Chris

I kept us going, staying in front of the peloton’s churning white water. Two to go. Grinding it out up Soundpony Hill, the fans encroached on the road like a grand tour stage. One strong attack came and the trio looked as though they might stay away. No panic, just ride. Down the hill we came, bombing the inside line. I looked up, teeth gritted and legs starting to fail, doing everything I could to bring the leaders back. One rider, who shall remain unnamed (you know who you are), posted up at the line. I felt bad for a second, but his error caused the other riders to hesitate and the break lost its momentum. With 75m to go to the line, I could do no more and I swung off, pedaling squares for the last lap.

I rounded the turn to Soundpony Hill grabbed a beer and watched the big screen, eyes crossed from the effort and in hope that Ryan would deliver Chris to the line. Ryan took over when I pulled off and drilled it for an entire lap to the last corner, delivering Chris for the sprint and a 3rd place finish.

It felt good to go all out and get on the podium! It was a total team effort and one we could all be proud of! Shout out to Mr. Penultimate for the inadvertent assist!

Sunday – River Parks

The final day of Tulsa. Cry Baby Hill. Much like the race as a whole, CBH is one of those, you have to experience it for yourself kinda ordeals. Words can’t accurately depict the debauchery and awesomeness that goes on in this quiet neighborhood along the Arkansas River. With more coffee and water in our systems, we rocked up alongside the Visit Dallas team to get ready for the race. #sopro. We were still buzzing from our performance on Saturday and we hoped to repeat the feat on Sunday and keep Chris high up in the overall.

The day was hot. Not warm. F*#%ing HOT. Pretty sure my ice sock melted before the race even began. Good thing we brought reinforcements in Ann, Adam and CP, who were set up on the hill to douse us with water if needed. This was definitely going to be a race of attrition. The first corner up CBH was fairly tame. First-timers stared wide-eyed at the costumed fans, many of whom likely knew nothing about bikes. But after a few laps up the hill, the race was on.

It quickly became apparent that the scorching temps would be a big factor as guys started shooting out the back left, right and center. I looked back a few times and could see Chris suffering at the tail end of the bunch, never coming unglued, but almost always looking uncomfortable. Half way through the race, Shawn Small of GS Tenzing was up the road with one other Olathe rider. Judging by the gap and the teams in the bunch, I thought it was a move that could stick. I made quick work of the bridge, bringing Vitor Zucco of Cadence Cyclery along too. Our group of four started rolling along at a good clip and with well-represented teams behind, we had a great shot of making it work. But, again, it was not to be and the bunch reeled us back in.

CBH Splash Zone

Rob then attacked, shooting up the hill and another rider also joined him. But a lap or two later, the break was falling apart on account of the heat. I tried to bridge up, monitoring my effort to not go too far in the red, but instead I stayed in no man’s land for a lap and decided it would be best to sit up and wait for the field.

Seven laps to go. We knew that Chris was the guy for the sprint and the overall. John, Luke, Ryan and I assembled about 20 wheels back and waited for the rest of the guys to join. I looked back, giving Chris the stare through my sunglasses. “Get up here… or else…” is what my eyes would’ve told him had I not had tinted lenses on. I think he just ignored me.

With 5 to go, Ryan, John and I were all together and we made the call to set up the leadout for Ryan. At some point, Ryan was bumped off the train and the chaos was too much for him to navigate back up to us and still be good in the final. John kept us steady and I told him to pull as hard as he could to the second turn on CBH and then let go.

The bell rang. Brant Speed of the Driveway Series was off the front again trying to repeat his feat from Friday night*. John drilled it at the front and I sat two wheels behind him, waiting and waiting. We made the right turn onto the first part of CBH and it was as if the seas parted. As John pulled off, the riders in second and third wheel fanned across the road looking around at who would take over next. In their hesitation, I punched it as hard as I could and kept the throttle down up and over the top of the climb.

Shift up for the downhill.

Brant was in sight and looked to be fading.

Right turn and out of the saddle again.

Just the downhill and final corner remained, keep pushing.

I want it. I want it. I want it.

I set up on the left side of the road and took the corner as fast as I could, testing the limits of my tires. Straightening out for the last 100m, I went as hard as I could, believing that I could catch Brant and take the win right up until the last 10m when the only thing on offer was 2nd place.

Sunday's podium

I couldn’t have been happier with the team’s performance and with John. The guys rode great all weekend and it was the best race we had as a team all year. Fitting that it would come on the biggest stage we would race on as well! Thank you to Richardson Bike Mart, Jim & Rhonda, Bob & Liz, my teammates and the RBM crew for making it another memorable year of Tulsa Tough. Now, time for vacation and sun =]

How many time does Bob Roll come watch you race?!