Tilles Park Criterium

Tilles Park Criterium Race Report – Matt Maher

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We had riders racing both MTB and road events this weekend. Tony Sherman raced God’s Country CX MTB on the Kansas side while Mark DeBoer and Matt Maher drove to Saint Louis to race the Tilles Park Criterium. Tony’s RACE REPORT.

The weather in Saint Louis was great. It was around 80 degrees; the warmest day we have had yet this year. There was a bit of a wind out of the south creating a headwind approach to the final turn to the finish and a crosswind in the finishing straight.

Mark was first up in the category 3 race with about 30 riders entering the event and I followed him up in the Pro/1/2 race with about 40 riders. Mark raced well, working hard on the front for the first part of the race then placing himself well for the duration of the race. The cat 3 race was fast, almost as fast as the 1/2 race. Mark ended up 10th in the final placings.

After two weeks off the bike, suffering through food poisoning and a head cold, I almost skipped the weekend’s race. I wasn’t feeling very confident in my fitness and the previous week back on the back trashed my legs after going from the too much time on the couch, to hammering during the first week back on the bike.

Mark and I warmed up before our races and my legs definitely didn’t hurt as they had on Saturday, but the quads were just not wanting to fire at much more than 70 percent. Add to that the extremely strong field, the strongest field I had ridden with in years, I figured holding onto the group through the end of the race would be an accomplishment at this point.

It was a great course, a very slightly rolling and flat .8 mile loop through the park. There were not any corners to speak of, just some s-curves and long flowing curves for the most part. The final turn was as close as we got to a 90-degree turn. Elevation gain was minimal as well.

The race started out fast, very fast. Somewhere on lap 2 or 3 a group of 5-10 riders took off and gapped the field. I was a bit too far back to jump in with them; honestly thought that with the number of strong riders and teams in the field, they wouldn’t have much chance of staying away for the entire 60 minutes.

They started to pull away though and another group jumped to chase them. I covered that and spent part of a lap pulling them back in while pulling the peloton along with me. I was gassed after that effort and tried to recover over the next few laps. However, relief wouldn’t come for a while as the next few laps were all-out. Every time I looked down at my computer we were doing 35, 36, even 37mph along the course.

A second group jumped and managed to get off the front as well as I was recovering in the peloton. Both groups had strong representation and some of their team members started to pull to the front of our group and slow the pace down to allow them to get a good gap.
Once the two breaks were established they gained a lot of ground fast. The final composition of the break consisted of some combination of 12 riders who managed to catch back onto the back and reintegrate into the main field.

Aside from not being able to put down max power and push my big gear, I actually ended up feeling really good throughout the race. Hard efforts required me to shift into easier gears than I am used to using; pushing the big gear just felt like I was rolling through sand. It actually worked pretty well and once I found my rhythm in the smaller gears I was able to spin up pretty fast and close gaps as needed.

The course was just a bit narrow as it is a one-lane, one-way road through the park. I think this added to a bit of sketchiness that was going on in the group. Riders were diving into areas to pass when there just wasn’t enough room, causing several near-misses, some guys jumping off the course into the grass, and at least one crash that I saw. I narrowly missed going down on the backside when a rider ran into, or was forced into, the curb. Luckily, I was placed well and was able to roll into a space between riders and get around the slow-down.

As mentioned before, the race was fast, we had an average speed of 27mph for the entire 60 minutes. There were constant attacks to get off the front, to try and chase down riders, and plenty of fighting for position. The narrow road made it tough to make huge moves from the back to the front so more incremental moves were necessary in the sections where the roadway opened up a bit.

I had placed myself pretty well for the first half of the race when, with about 14 laps to go, I noticed I was on the back. I spent the next few laps moving forward when I could and by 9 laps to go I knew I was going to need to stay closer to the front as the speed would be picking up as we approached the final few laps.

When we crossed the line with 4 laps to go I knew the next lap would pick up and position would be crucial. I moved up into around 10th place to try to hold that as we approached 3 to go. Just as I suspected, with 3 to go everyone jumped and the guys on the front tried to string it out. With 2 to go I was positioned ok, but not in the top 5, which is where I would have liked to have been; with such a narrow roadway and high speeds making any huge moves in the final lap was not going to be likely.

As the bell rang, announcing the final lap, we were full-bore. I was sitting somewhere around 10th into the penultimate turn right before the s-curves. As I came out of the turn on the right the rider in front of my just sat up, he didn’t let up, he sat up completely and flew backwards through the group. I had to avoid him, going around the right but he had caused a gap to open. I kept my momentum and sprinted across the gap as we came out of the s-turns. I closed it before the final corner and dove to the inside on the left hand turn before the finish. The rider I came up on let up and I was forced to maneuver around him as well and to try and close another gap to the riders in front of him.

In the end, made it to the line in about 10th place as I worked to pass a rider or two right before the finish but didn’t push myself as hard as I should have to keep the one or two riders who had come up behind me from passing. The 10th place finish in the sprint translated to 17th place overall with the breakaway.

A top-ten finish would have been great but it was honestly a good race for me all things considered and probably one of my best finishes in a long time considering the field strength.