After the previous day’s disaster I was hoping Via Italia would go a little better. With a larger field and better organization from the start it looked as though this would be the case. TDVI felt like a well organized American race with plenty of commissaires (friendly ones too) and lead and follow cars on the course. Thankfully there was only one field on the course at a time.
The first lap of the race was neutral, we were lead around the track by an Alfa Romeo sports car of some kind (I only know this because there is a car buff on our team). The organizers claimed this was meant to be a ‘processional lap’ but given the nature of corner one and its proximity to the Start/Finish line I believe it was more of a safety precaution. The first corner narrows from a full road width to a half road and then turns sharply into one lane before opening into a full four lane road. With so many riders bunched together at the start and the typical rapid acceleration of criteriums it would have been a mess trying to squeeze all those riders through the first turn.
When the neutral lap ended the pace quickly ramped up as riders on the front of the pack tried to stay in the draft of the lead car as long as they could. The free speed from drafting the pace car helped bolster the enthusiasm of the pack and the attacks started right away. In the first few laps three riders went up the road. No one was too eager to chase and allowed the teammate of one of the breakaway riders to lead the race at a pedestrian pace. One rider, who I’ve been told is an OCA board member, was eager to chase down the breakaway as quickly as possible and tried to goad the peloton into taking up the chase. Harsh words were spoken but cooler heads prevailed. I was near the front, the teammates blocking on the front were guys I had rode with in the LCW in London and I had no intention of making enemies of them so early on in the race (which worked in my favour later on). I knew the break that early in the race wouldn’t get far and decided to let the breakaway wear itself out a little bit before trying to chase. The OCA fellow shouted some harsh words at me to chase and his frustration turned into some bumping which startled some of the riders blocking on the front. At one point while he was harassing me with words he nudged me from behind and I unleashed maelstrom of profanities and threats (this guy was starting to be pest at the very least and a danger at the worst). I think I startled him because he quickly apologized insisting his bump was an accident. We didn’t hear much more from him after that.
It was at that point, with my adrenaline pumping, I decided to chase down the breakaway. My teammate was on the front already putting in a hard effort to chase with the two teammates on his wheel. I accelerated and called for Logan (my teammate) to follow my wheel and warned him that the two guys behind him were not going to work so we had to do all the work to reel it in. Logan is a consistent and calm rider; knee jerk reaction isn’t in his vocabulary which makes him a great guy to have in a chase or breakaway effort. I put in a hard 3/4 lap dig and let Logan takeover just before the catch. Things were back together for only a short time when the teammate who had been blocking, a rider from the To Wheels team (the To Wheels rider who I was in a break with a Ciociaro was in the break that I had just chased down) launched a solo attack from near the front and established a decent gap fairly quickly. I had race with him at the Tuesday Night World’s in London and knew he was a strong levelheaded rider, another good rider to be in a break with. One of my teammates and another rider (who had shared the back of an ambulance with me the day before while were getting patched up) attacked in an effort to bridge. I went with them. Our coach, Rob Good, never fails to remind us that we should always have two guys in the break. The three of us bridged over to the lone rider. I shouted out to my breakaway companions to let him on when we went by. He had teammates in the pack who could help block for us.
Evidently this group of riders was the perfect mix to make the break work. We averaged 42-45kph and quickly put a huge gap between us and the peloton. With six laps to go we had 60 seconds on the field. We heard that Bayley Simpson was trying to bridge with another rider, he had won his category in this race last year and was looking to repeat. He rides for Jetfuel Coffee but used to ride for my team so we had some insight into his plans for the race (he was sort of a pseudo teammate). I knew that if Bayley was trying to bridge over, this was the break to be in. His bridging companion was dropped and Bayley was soloing his way across. Bayley still being a junior I didn’t mind him coming across, I wouldn’t have to fight him for the win and he was a strong rider to have in the break. My teammate, Chris, who was in the breakaway was also a junior and I didn’t want Bayley to take the win away from him. Chris had been working hard in the break all day and had earned a spot on the podium. Before Bayley caught the group Chris pulled through hard, I’m not sure if he meant to attack–he often pulls through too hard– but instead of staying on his wheel I sat up and let a gap open. The other two riders in the break didn’t chase (probably because he was a junior and they were all E3s like me) so Chris was able to put a big enough gap that Bayley wasn’t able to catch him before the end of the race. I was glad I did that because Bayley decided not to work when he did catch us, which pissed me off a little. I tried to force him to work by instructing my breakaway companions not to pull through. If Bayley wanted to catch Chris we weren’t going to help him. Eventually Bayley got fed up and attacked from the back.
The break was down to just three E3s. The two juniors had gone up the road and were now in their own fight for top spot. We forgot about them and started thinking about who was going to be number one in the E3 race. Being good at math comes in handy when you’re a bike racer. I had been keeping tabs on our speed and the rate at which our gap was increasing. I knew that if we stayed around 40-41kph the gap would stay the same and with 4 laps to go, we could ease up to 38kph and it would be almost mathematically impossible for the peloton to catch us before the end of the race. My breakaway companions were still keen on pushing the pace as hard as they could worried the pack would be on us. I tried once to tell them it couldn’t. When Chris went up the road I started thinking about how I was going to beat my breakaway companions at the end. I started easing up my pulls and feigning fatigue. I dropped my pace between 38-40kph in the last few laps to conserve energy. This only helped to increase the fear of being caught and when the other two pulled they went harder. I was able to save some energy during the final laps.
I thought about attacking my companions in the last lap but for a few reasons I didn’t. I was worried they had more in the tank than they were letting on (just as I did) and that they would catch and counter attack. I also felt a kind of camaraderie had formed between us and didn’t want to spoil the party before we needed to. Finally, my sprint has been surprisingly strong this summer but I hadn’t had a chance to really contest many sprints this year. Just before corner three, where we turned onto the finishing straight, I pulled off the front and went wide. I didn’t drop back behind but rode alongside my two breakaway companions. I took the corner wide and accelerated hard out of the turn. It was a long sprint and a risky move but I was hoping that since I went wide and had surprised them with an unexpected attack they wouldn’t be able to grab onto my wheel. The move worked. I had to dig deep to sprint all the way to the line but when I looked down between my legs and saw no one on my wheel and heard the announcer call my name as the victor well before the line, I knew it was in the bag.
Tour Di Via Italia was definitely the bet race of the summer. There was no way I could have known a break that early in the race would have worked. This is why it’s so important to be near the front of the race. It’s one thing to opt not to go with an attack but it’s another altogether to not have the choice at all when you’re stuck in the middle of the pack watching the winning break go up the road.