Race Report: Tour de Frankenmuth 2012

This season has started well for our Cat 4 team: victories for Colin and Will at the AAVC Spring Training Series were followed by Winston’s win at Cone-Azalia, which made him leader of the Cat 4 MI Challenge standings. With this solid foundation we were looking forward to more success at the Tour de Frankenmuth, the first paved road race of the MI Challenge Series.

Our intentions were made clear by the strong group of Cat 4 riders who we brought to the race: Winston Benedict, Anthony Byram, Will Cawthorn, Jeff Fletcher, Colin Hebert, Joe Miessner, David Palan, Kyle Schroeder and Tim Schutt arrived in Frankenmuth on Saturday morning under grey skies and rainfall. Perfect cycling weather this was not... it’s never a good thing when you’re shivering during your pre-race warm-up! But the rain didn’t dampen our enthusiasm, and so we lined up at the start line full of adrenaline and ready for war. More importantly, we had a plan: toward the end of the first lap, Winston, Will and Colin would move to the front and hammer, trying to force a gap as the pack moved through the final few corners before the finish. If a few other riders came with us then there was a chance we could overcome the pancake-flatness of the course and manage to stay away. If not then we’d aim to win the bunch sprint with Tim, our best sprinter who had previously placed 3rd in this race.

As the rain fell and the whistle blew, our 70-strong pack set off with the strong surge that often accompanies the beginning of a Cat 4 race. Things soon cooled down and the pack settled into a pace of 25-26 mph, the first lap largely uneventful. However, with such a large group racing over narrow, slick roads, corners had to be negotiated with care and moving up in the pack was tricky. Several AAVC riders including Colin, Will, Winston and Anthony made sure that they were near the front as the final few corners loomed. Taking the hard right turn from S Block onto E Tuscola Street, Winston, Colin and Will got onto the front and put our plan into action: Winston hammered down the hill, Will pulled up it and then Colin moved to the front as we led the peloton along the downhill straight toward the start/finish line. It was satisfying to hear the announcer scream “and it’s the Ann Arbor Velo Club driving the pace on the front!”, but things had only just begun. As the road turned slightly upward and through a few more corners, Winston again was on the front, powering along; then Will, Colin, and Anthony were there trying to force the pace to see if we could break things up. A few non-AAVC riders also made it to the front, but seemed unwilling to work. For the next 20 minutes or so we took it in turns to jump off the front, trying to get other teams to chase and possibly help with our efforts to break away, but it was all in vain. The combination of a flat course, little wind and straight roads conspired against us, and so toward the end of the 2nd lap it seemed clear that things would end in a bunch sprint. David and Colin gave one final effort to coax others into some type of a break along S Block, generating a rotating paceline with a few riders from Leadout Racing, a couple from CMS, and a few other individual riders. A small crack formed, but the big right-hander onto E Tuscola brought it all back together again.

Crossing the line yet again for the final lap, we focused on staying near the front so that we would be well positioned to set up Tim for the finale. Winston took this tactic to an extreme by essentially pulling at the front for the entire final lap, setting such a furious pace that no other riders were able to jump off the front. But would he still have anything left to help lead-out Tim? By this stage we had most of our other riders near the front, including Colin, Tim, Will, David, Kyle, Jeff and Anthony, so even if Winston had tired we still had a solid group to put our plan into action.

Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, everyone else had the same plan. As the S Block/E Tuscola corner loomed closer, scrapping to get near the front intensified, breaking up our pack of AAVC riders. Just before this corner Will jumped up a gap that appeared on the inside, sitting on 3rd wheel as the peloton turned onto E Tuscola Street; Winston, Tim and Colin were not far behind. The speed surged on the ensuing downhill and we hammered on the short uphill before the final turn onto Main Street, riders everywhere shouting for others to hold their lines. Sure enough, there was a crash on the final corner (which David nicely caught on video. It wouldn’t be a Cat 4 race without a crash though, right?).

Luckily Tim, Will, Colin, Anthony and Jeff were ahead of the chaos. At the top of the finishing straight, Tim and Will were near the front as others around them began sprinting in earnest. But those familiar with this finish knew that it was foolish to sprint too early; instead, get on someone else’s wheel and let them tow you along the downhill, then start sprinting as the road flattens out. Adopting this tactic, Tim flew down the righthand side while Will found a wheel on the left. The road flattened and they both began to sprint, the speed hitting 43 mph as they surged toward the line. The path on the right was crowded, but despite being blocked off Tim managed to cross the line in 6th place. In contrast, a gap on the left parted like the Red Sea, allowing Will to sprint across to take 4th. Colin took 15th, only 1 second behind the winner, followed by Anthony (23rd) and Jeff (32nd). Although Kyle, Winston and David were caught behind the crash on the final corner, Winston managed to skillfully dodge the mayhem and get back on line and up to speed for the finish. Kyle also showed an impressive kick to sprint for home, and David finished just behind.

Overall it was a solid day for our Cat 4 team: we at least managed to attempt our plan of forcing a break on the 2nd lap, and even if this didn’t succeed it’s good to know that we can work together as a team amidst the chaos of the Cat 4 peloton. Just as importantly, we now sit in joint-1st place in the team standings for the MI Challenge, and with such a strong core of Cat 4 riders the rest of the season looks very promising indeed.

Other notable AAVC results from Frankenmuth:
  • Dave Fanslow took 3rd and Ray Barbehenn 14th in the Men’s Masters 45-54 race. Dave now sits in 4th in this MI Challenge category
  • Peter Sotherland took 2nd in the Cat 5 U37 race, an impressive result for Peter’s first ever road race. Peter: move up to Cat 4 soon! 
  • Lucas Wall (9th) and Rodger Bowser (31st) in the 35+ Masters 
  • Larry Bohnsack (10th) in 55+ Masters 
  • Ryan Aridi took 5th in the Junior Men 13-14.