2016 USAC Elite Road Nationals

The 2016 edition of the USA Cycling Elite Road National Championships took place July 1st – 3rd in Louisville, Kentucky. Louisville is no stranger to hosting primetime bike racing, having hosted previous Road National Championships, the 2013 Cyclocross World Championships, and the annual Derby City Cup cyclocross race. Unfortunately for me, the cyclocross tires were packed away at home and some 25mm slicks were in their stead.

This was my first Elite Road National Championships ever. Having competed in a couple of collegiate national championships years ago, I thought I had an idea of how the race would go. And in the weeks leading up to the event, my preparation was good, my recovery was better, and I did everything that I could do to get ready for the racing ahead.

Elite Road Race

My race weekend got started bright an early on Friday at Cherokee Park. Located just southwest of downtown Louisville, the 7.6 km (4.7 mi) circuit around Cherokee Park was all that you could hope for in a national championship course. There was a long flat drag through the start/finish, fast downhills, sharp turns, and several uphill drags that would soften the peloton over the 23 laps it would take to cover 177 km (110 mi). After a pre-ride on Thursday I was really stoked on the course. The punchy climbs suited my riding style and the race of attrition was in my wheelhouse. Usually. 

photo by Dean Warren

I was up before the sun, but that was not early enough, as I rushed to get ready when I arrived at the course. Fortunately, I have a great teammate in Davis Dombrowski who helped me fill bottles, jam my pockets full of race food, and pin numbers. He even manned the feed zone for me, even though he was racing at noon! A good dude, right there!

Ready to race, I rolled to the line to find some Texas, Oklahoma, and Virginia friends in the sea of carbon and lycra. The mood was calm as some of the best Category 1 cyclists in the country (myself not included) waited for the “festivities” to begin. Everyone was no doubt mentally preparing for the race ahead, but the mellow atmosphere was not representative of the battle about to ensue.

I mentioned that I thought I was ready for my first elite road nationals… well, not exactly. From the gun, the racing was hot and heavy. It was as if the whole peloton scraped the typical road race playbook:

Act I - A break goes.

Act II - The peloton chills. We all joke and hold hands.

Act III - The second half of the race comes and we get down to business.

Instead, everyone was so geared up, so chalk full of adrenaline and caffeine, that it was one attack after the other. And everyone believes that they can be the guy to ride the 100mi break.

Survival mode: Engaged.

The miles ticked off and the group was whittling down every lap. The field was lined out in single file going up every climb, tackling the inclines at +20 mph. I was doing my best as a solo rider to survive this race of attrition while the big teams threw haymakers at the front. Both Elbowz Racing and Team Arapahoe Resources were active throughout the day, and while I do genuinely like those guys, in the moment they were not my friends.

With 8 laps to go, I was pleading with my legs to hang on for a few more laps and move up a few more places. I was riding on grit at this point. While my head was in the game, my legs were ready to find the nearest bar serving of Kentucky bourbon. I clung to the back of the group for two more laps (until 6 laps to go) before the anchor was dropped and the group rode away from me.

In three and a half hours of racing (18 laps completed), I covered 141 km (87 mi), climbed +6,300 feet, burned over 2,000 calories, and averaged +25 mph. It was a hard day at the office. Check out here on Strava!

The strongest riders of the bunch continued on for another 5 laps and Daniel Holloway ended up soloing to victory. Talk about not following the script!

photo by Davis Dombrowski

After the race I had the pleasure of watching the U23 race and supporting my teammates that were in the race. Axeon Hagens Berman brought a full compliment of riders and from the gun they took it to the field. They eventually swept the top 7 spots in the race. Complete domination.

Davis and I grabbed some food and got a bit of R & R. The weather was so nice we decided to head out for an evening spin. It was great checking out the Big Four bridge and heading over to Indiana for a hot second.

Elite Criterium

Puddles. Lots of puddles.

The Category 1 riders had Saturday off to lick their wounds and enjoy some of the local flavor the Louisville has to offer. Rested and ready to go, I woke up Sunday morning to see raindrops on the window. I blinked my eyes a few times in the hope that I was dreaming, but alas, the day was going to be a soggy one.

Sunday’s criterium took us to the west part of town at Shawnee Park. While some may have preferred the original course selection in Norton Commons – scrapped due to safety concerns and to let more people in the race – the wide-open course at Shawnee Park was a better choice, especially for such a wet day.

As the group of +100 riders awaited the call to the line, the mood was notably different from Friday. The calm was replaced by nervousness and pre-race jitters as guys jockeyed for position in the staging paddock. While we waited, the clouds began to spit rain again and the weather forecast was looking grim. Sure enough, not 30 seconds into our 75-minute criterium, a group of riders were on the deck in the first corner. It definitely set the tone for the early part of the race.

Just like the road race, the group rode hard from the gun, firing off attacks and counter attacks. I was doing a much better job of hanging in the bunch and avoiding several more crashes that plagued the field. The rain bucketed down on us and at times it was hard to see more than 20 feet ahead of you.

photo by: Dean Warren

With 10 laps to go, I was starting to position myself for the final laps of the race. Even with the rain, I knew the pace was going to ratchet up in the finale. I wiggled my way closer to the front as smoothly (and safely) as I could. With 5 laps to go, the peloton was ripping along the backside of the course when I saw the group start to balloon in front of me. Yet another crash had happened at the front of the field, this time claiming fellow Texan, Tony Baca (Elbowz Racing), among others. I had just a few seconds to react and veer into the grass off the right side of the road. Even though my cyclocross tires were back home in Texas, my bag of cross skills were still with me, as I rode through the trees and popped out onto the course a few hundred meters down the road.

At that point all my momentum was gone and I did what I could to get back to the group. Thinking more about self-preservation than a top result, I followed wheels for the last few laps and came across the line with my skin intact. Tony had rejoined the group in that time and finished in the top 10! Chapeau Tony for an awesome ride! After drying off at the car, I enjoyed a big cookie and patted myself on the back for surviving the weekend.

All the race deets are on Strava (no snorkel required).

My experience at the 2016 Elite Road Nationals is one that will stay with me for years to come. Though I didn’t pedal away with any results to write home about, I did have a fantastic time in Louisville and I can’t wait to pin up again for the 2017 edition of the USA Cycling Elite Road Nationals!

But until then… #cxishere