The team would arrive to the Twin Cities area from all over the country, with some members flying in from either Los Angeles, California or Reston, Virginia, and the rest driving up just after finishing Tulsa Tough down in Oklahoma.
Blake Anton and Willie Myers would continue on from St. Paul directly to Milwaukee to start The Tour of America’s Dairylands, while Matt Chatlaong, Chris Harland-Dunaway, Justin Mauch, Sam Bassetti, Nick Schaffner, and myself stayed to compete at the North Star Gran Prix.
Wednesday, June 14th
STAGE 1: St. Paul TT
The race started with an 8-kilometer out-and-back time trial along the Hidden Falls Park bike path that borders the Mississippi river.
The course would prove fast, with the top-27 finishers completing the course in under 10 minutes. True to form, the wholly non-technical route would prove a pure power test for most on the team, laying advantage to those who either love getting aero or just love putting out watts. Reigning junior world time trial champion, Brandon McNulty, would take the stage honors, beating out 2nd place, his Rally Cycling teammate and two-time stage winner at this year’s Amgen Tour of California, Evan Huffman, by 7 seconds.
Our top finisher, Justin Mauch, would put out a stellar performance, taking 13th, 27 seconds down from McNulty. I would finish the day 3rd in both the Best Amateur and Best Young Rider competitions.
Team Results, out of 146 starters:
13th – Justin Mauch, 0:27 down
16th – Sam Boardman, 0:30 “”
26th – Sam Bassetti, 0:40 “”
77th – Chris H-D, 1:15 “”
89th – Matt Chatlaong, 1:23 “”
143rd – Nick Schaffner, 2:16 “”
STAGE 2: Grand Ave. Criterium
The second stage of the race would follow that evening in Downtown St. Paul, with the Grand Ave. criterium. I’m pretty sure some kind of record must’ve been set that night, with the field neutralized after only one lap following a crash involving a Storck-CCN rider plowing into a guard-barrier on the finishing straight.
The first crash set the tone for what would be a night of carnage, both on the ground and on the bike. Mauch, Bassetti, and Chatlaong were having no trouble staying up front as the crit squads of Cylance Pro Cycling and Elevate-KHS drilled it up front for their sprinters. I, however, still getting accustomed to the intensity and stress of NRC-level crit racing, was having one hell of a time keeping up front and not losing my nerve.
The crit was a non-technical, four corner affair, with a long, slightly-uphill drag to the finish, on wide boulevard roads. If anyone is familiar with American style bicycling racing, this means one of two things, depending on how the peloton is feeling: either the pack is strung out to maybe one or two people abreast as the lead-out teams drill it like their running from the cops, OR everyone sits up and you go through the turns in a pack 10-people wide, all whom are nervous and jittery waiting for the next move to go.
While most of the race would be the former, moments of the latter would prove catastrophic for some. Bunching in the finishing straight would force a lot of people to grab brakes and led to the second field-neutralizing crash, which involved one of the most acrobatic displays of synchronized person-on-their-bike flips I have ever seen.
This crash happened with only 2 laps to go, and while the field lined back up on the starting line, riders were already in conversation (read: heated debate) with the officials on how to conclude the race. They decided that a 2-lap time trial of death with 140+ now-fresh racers wouldn’t be the best idea. Instead, officials concluded we would have 4 laps on the whistle, and what a fast four laps they were.
Since I had filed in towards the back of the pack, at the back of the pack I would remain to the end of the race.
Bassetti and Chat would finish the race in 7th and 8th, respectively, in the bunch sprint, and luckily we would all come away relatively unscathed, H-D having been caught up in one of the minor tumbles throughout the night.
Team Results, out of 146 starters
7th – Matt Chatlaong
8th – Sam Bassetti
41st – Sam Boardman
42nd – Justin Mauch
89th – Chris H-D
145th – Nick Schaffner
After Stage 1b:
Mauch and Boardman sit 13th and 16th in GC, respectively, with Boardman sitting in 3rd
in both the Best Amateur and Best Young Rider Competitions.
Thursday, June 15th
STAGE 3: Cannon Falls Road Race
Though there were some uphills in the rolling route around Cannon Falls, just south of Minneapolis, none of the lumps would prove decisive.
The course took us on a larger counter-clockwise loop, in which we would complete 3 laps of a smaller circuit before exiting and heading back along the larger loop to finally complete 5 laps around an even smaller and punchier circuit in Cannon Falls proper.
The race would prove selective mostly via crashes and crosswinds. Within the first of the two circuits in the larger loop, there was a 90-degree left hand turn. On the first lap, riders took the turn super hot and would maximize their exit in the apex, but consequently force other riders into the gravel shoulder.
Chat ended up being one of the unlucky ones who was caught out on the edge, getting stuck behind a rider who slid out and another who grabbed brake, and ended up plowing into both and careening into the ditch next to the shoulder, cracking his frame and taking him out of the race.
As for the crosswinds, while most of our guys found themselves in the lead group when splits started happening, I found myself in a group caught out in the back of the echelons. Working with about 15 other riders, I rode out of my skin to make contact with the leaders, and by the grace of the higher power, in whatever form you may choose it, I managed to make my way back on, albeit having cashed all my energy chips and resorting to pure survival mode to finish the race.
Luckily, the rest of the race would be pretty benign, save for the stray dog that dashed out into the middle of the peloton, taking out Scott Law of Cylance Cycling in process. You know, the usual.
We entered the smaller circuits in Cannon Falls with a break of about 15, containing Bassetti, about 15 seconds up the road. The break would be caught leading into the final 2 kilometers, with Brad Huff sprinting to take the stage win out of the bunch, and Bassetti finishing as the team’s top placed rider in 15th.
Team Results, out of 146 starters:
15th – Sam Bassetti
38th – Justin Mauch
52nd – Sam Boardman
100th – Chris H-D
DNF – Matt Chatlaong
DNF – Nick Schaffner
After Stage 2:
Mauch moves up to 12th in overall GC, while Boardman remains in 16th, still in
3rd in both Best Amateur and Best Young Rider competitions.
Friday, June 16th
STAGE 4: Uptown Criterium
Uptown Criterium would prove a similar crash-infested affair, as was Grand Ave., with the race once again neutralized fairly early on in the race, with two or three crashes to follow.
Mauch and Bassetti would maintain at the front, attaching onto the leadout trains, while I floundered behind trying to find my footing among the peloton.
This course would prove somewhat more technical than Wednesday, with an L-shaped course weaving through the uptown area of Minneapolis, but would yield much the same style of racing.
Sprinters’ teams, such as Cylance, Elevate-KHS, and Holowesko-Citadel got to the front to nuke the pace in the final last laps, with Justin Williams of Cylance taking the win over Ty Magner of Holowesko. Bassetti would once again prove the team’s top finisher in 9th place, his second top-ten finish of the race.
Team Results, out of 125 starters:
9th – Sam Bassetti
27th – Justin Mauch
54th – Sam Boardman
112 – Chris H-D
After Stage 3:
Mauch remains in 13th in the overall GC, while Boardman moves up to 15th, remaining
in 3rd once again in the Best Young Rider and Best Amateur Jersey.
Saturday, June 17th
STAGE 5: Mankato Road Race
Mankato would be the first decisive stage in the GC following the time trial, with the course covering three larger loops and then four smaller loops of a rolling course, all of which included a steep, two-part, stair-step, 5-minute punch of a hill within the last 2 kilometers of the course.
The race would be conservative up the first reps of the hill, with plenty of the opportunities to recover on the longer loops. I found myself, for the first time all week, operating comfortably in the front of the pack leading into the punches, making my way easily up the hill each time.
The separation, however, came on the second of the four inner loops, each of which was about 5 kilometers long. I was caught out behind people falling behind when the main groups up front, including the man I was marking for the Best Amateur competition, Kevin Girkins of Elbowz racing, went up the road and I was helpless to respond.
Mauch was luckily in the main group, but I, along with H-D and Bassetti, were left to try to pace back onto the group over the next 10 kilometers to no avail. The winner of the race, Colin Joyce, would end up taking the stage after a solo attack leading into the last lap, which gave him a healthy 35-second gap to the next group after he crossed the line. Mauch would make an attack up the punch going into the final kilometers, but would be swallowed up by the pack, finishing in the main group among most of his competitors for the GC.
Team Results, out of 125 starters:
17th – Justin Mauch
31st – Sam Boardman
44th – Chris H-D
100th – Sam Bassetti
After Stage 5:
Mauch moves into 8th overall in the GC, while Boardman drops to 19th, 4th in the Best
Amateur and 6th Best Young Rider.
Sunday, June 18th,
STAGE 6: Stillwater Criterium
People had been talking this stage up all freakin’ week, and it did not disappoint. Many had even gone as far to tout it as the toughest crit-course in America, which may be hyperbole, but sheesh, it’s certainly in the running. The 2.2-kilometer course wound its way around the town of Stillwater, with every figure-8 lap consisting of an ascent of a gnarly 1-minute punch that topped out at around 20 percent at its steepest, followed by a false-flat to a winding and screaming descent into a 90-degree turn.
True to form, the race would see a crash on the very first lap going into that last turn to the finish. At this point, what would a race be at North Star without a crash? The race wouldn’t be neutralized, however, and the suffering would go on!
The hilarious thing about the hill is that, from the top, you can’t even see the whole extent of the road, since it becomes so steep that the mellowed-out top literally eclipses the bottom.
I tried getting a sense of the course by watching the women’s race before ours, which was an absolute treat.
The race had absolutely imploded only 4 laps into their 14-lap race. It seemed like something out of ancient battle scene in a war movie watching the racers appear out of nowhere from behind the crest of the hill, gnashing their teeth and mashing their pedals. They would only be going about 3mph through the finish line, the hill was so dang steep, and would just barely be pedaling through the left hand turn.
“So that’s what I’m in for,” I thought as I warmed up.
I got to the line along with the others, and before I knew it, we were off, and holy crap, that hill was no joke. Our race was set to cover 23 laps of the hellish course, and I knew from lap one that it would be a race I would just be happy to finish.
The beauty about hills that steep, however, is that there is no drafting; there is no pacing; there is only GO GO GO.
The entire town’s population had come out to cheer their heads off for racers, and the best thing I heard all day, by far, was a random spectator screaming at the top of his lungs, “JUST SUFFERRRRRRRRR!!” Indeed I did, spectator, indeed I did.
As I had figured, the race would be one of attrition. Each lap, we shed about 5 riders who couldn’t keep pace, and miraculously, I wasn’t one of them! Truth be told, I was feeling great, and I absolutely love courses like these, where it’s just a matter of putting out power until you just can’t any longer. 8 laps to go, and I was catching onto the lead group and feeling great…
…and then I dropped my chain.
I had a bevy of four-lettered words that I spewed at my bike and the sky in front of a number of Stillwater residents and their children (sorry kids!) as I had to come to a screeching halt trying to re-shift my chain back into the little ring half-way up the hill. But, alas, the pack had already gone ballistic, and there was no hope for me at that point.
Luckily, a spectator asked if I needed help and gave me a push. I should note here that though I seemed frustrated and super-salty when I said, “Yes, I need a push,” to whoever that spectator was, I owe you a large amount of thanks, and I apologize for the attitude.
I worked my way up to the group up the road, but realized quickly these were the stragglers that had popped off right when I had, and though I tried to use what little energy I had left after hammering up the hill to catch on, it was no use. I was out of the race, and sure enough, a lap-and-a-half later, I was pulled and placed accordingly.
And such is how I ended up completely my second NRC race of my cycling career.
BUT ENOUGH ABOUT ME! The team did great! Both Bassetti and Mauch had made it to the front group, and were pedaling out of their skin to stay in contact. Though Dylan Sunderland, of the Australian continental squad, New South Wales-Institute of Sport, had been off the front for 6 laps and soloed in for the win, Bassetti was by no means ready to concede a chance to contest for the podium. Though Mauch had fallen off the front group, Bassetti had charged forward going into the final uphill sprint to take 3rd behind Mankato Road Race stage winner and race-leader, Colin Joyce of Rally Pro Cycling.
Mauch would ride it in to move even further up on GC to secure 6th overall, topping off what ended up being a stellar day for the team.
Team Results, out of 122 starters:
3rd – Sam Bassetti
22nd – Justin Mauch
42nd – Sam Boardman
107 – Chris HD
After Stage 6:
Mauch moves up into 6th overall in the final GC and Bassetti gets a podium finish on the stage!