Congratulations to VeloSports Racing’s Michael Lahm on his win at the Gainesville Gran Prix Road Race. The following is his race report:
I was still rubbing my eyes and hitting the snooze button when I’d usually be making the last checks to my bike before heading to the start line on race day. The 2:40 start for the cat3s offered many more hours of sleep than I usually get the night before a race. Andy and I left for Gainesville, GA at 10:00 Sunday morning for what was described by the race director as an ‘epic road course’. His description did not disappoint!
After a rather enjoyable Italian music free 3 hour trip to Gainesville we arrived to warm weather with no rain but still wet roads. While checking in, the two cyclists in front of us were registering day of and asked to do the p/1/2/3 road race. We immediately dismissed this as an error on their part and grabbed our numbers, got the bikes ready, and headed out for an easy 20 minute warm up. We finished our warm up right at 2:40 and headed to the start line. Interestingly enough, the 3s and p/1/2s were all standing together with no clear organization between fields. It didn’t take us to curse once or twice because it was clear they had decided to combine the fields. There were roughly 25 cat 3s and 45 p/1/2s lined up (300 #s for cat3, double digit for p/1/2). We were informed that the races would be scored separately and then headed off onto the course for the start of the first of seven ~10 mile laps.
Right from the gun it was obvious that the pace was going to be ruthless and the stronger riders decided it was best to make it a race of attrition. I ‘settled’ in at the back of the field, content with the idea that I would scope out the course on the first lap. After a few minutes and with the resounding noise of screeching breaks, we made a hard right turn up the first substantial 1.5 mile climb. This is where the field started to really knock up the effort. I was swerving my way through riders the entire climb as I had the best seat in the house to watch rider after rider crack hard and fly back off the field. At the top of this climb I looked over at Andy and muffled, “This is going to be tough.” He replied with some type of grunt. It was around this time that it began to drizzle and quickly enhance to a torrential downpour that persisted through the first couple hours of the race! Andy and I screamed down the first descent around 50 mph and he moved up closer to the center of the race while I remained content to enjoy the back of the peloton. It wasn’t long before we got a taste of the second climb which was only about 500 meters long but the grade was a leg breaker! Andy and I found ourselves once again near the back of the peloton over the next few rollers before getting a taste of the 2 mile, third and final climb that each lap would offer us. By this point the field seemed content with the damage that was done on the first lap and we ascended this at what I felt like was a hard effort but one within my means. We rolled through lap one with an average speed of 24.9 mph and near 1000 feet of climbing. Ouch! I was having serious doubts if I was going to even finish the race at this point.
It was clear after the first lap that the cat3 race would require almost no tactics. It was all about survival. People were more prepared for the hard turn heading into the first climb on the second lap so my legs were not warned by the screeching of breaks but my mind had been dreading the effort that was going to be required for a few minutes. Andy and I were already part of a very few select cat3s that had survived to this point. The climb started and I had to rip myself inside and out to hang onto the group. This turned out to be a decisive move and split what remained of the peloton into two groups. I fortunately was able to stay attached to the lead group which was now down to less than 30 riders but Andy found himself in a trailing pack. I was able to do a quick count at the top of the climb and there were only three cat 3 races left besides myself. The pace didn’t back off once the entire second lap. Every time we hit a climb, it took everything I had to not get dropped. The rain was epic during this lap and I couldn’t figure out if I was having a great time or hating every minute of the race. The pace had done its damage and we passed the start/finish with 25 riders left in the group that included Fletcher, the other surviving cat3 besides myself. The third lap didn’t do much to the group but I was able to see two global bike riders and a Kenda 5 hour energy rider pop on the first climb from my usual spot of dangling off the back.
Watching riders from very strong teams pop on the third lap, led to my fourth lap beginning with delusions of grandeur. “Could I possibly pull off a top 10 overall in this field?”. This question was answered quickly. We hit the first climb and two Mountain Khaki’s riders decided to attack. Everyone in the field immediately hit it as hard as they could. Unfortunately the absolute hardest I could sustain, wasn’t enough. I never backed off my effort 1% but the lead group slowly inched away. By the top, there was a group of 14 up the road, which very impressively included Fletcher, and a group of 8 stragglers. I saw another first place chance disappearing. We worked well together the next lap and remained at a steady pace but I could only hope that Fletcher came back to us. Based off the climbs over the next lap and a half, I felt like I was one of the strongest in the group. I was doing a fair amount of work because I didn’t want any other groups to join us. Then I saw two riders up the road who had been dropped by the lead group. Fletcher lasted about a lap longer than I did but he and a Team Type One rider were dropped up the first climb on the fifth lap.
We went into the final lap with ten riders in our group and I believe 12 or so up the road. I talked to Fletcher for a little while after he joined us and it was pretty clear that he was spent so he decided to just sit on. I continued to pull for a short while after he joined us but eventually decided to take the calculated risk of not pulling through and take the chance of another group that may possibly contain other cat3 riders rejoin us from behind. I’ve had just enough top 5 finishes in road races this season to be happy and also just enough top 5 finishes to be angry if I got another without a win. So the majority of the last lap had eight p/1/2s rotating on the front with Fletcher and I sitting on the back. They seemed okay with us sitting on because they understood we had a lot more at stake if we used too much energy. Going into the final climb the attacks began. Five of us got a slight gap going into the final kilometer but Fletcher was sitting fifth wheel and I was sitting second. We made the final turn into the last 500 meters and everyone opened it up. I got a couple bike lengths gap on Fletcher and I was able to hold it to the line for the cat3 win and I believe around 16th overall. Andy ending up coming in for a strong 7th place finish with a group that was a solid mix of p/1/2s and what was left of the surviving 3s.
Overall, a very fun race and experience.