Season Update.

By Ben Rathkamp

Well, Collegiate Racing is practically over, and my road racing season is about half done.  Maybe its time I update my blog.  Sorry to those who had hoped I would actually keep a consistent post rate, but apparently, I’m as bad at blog posting as I am at keeping in touch through more conventional means.

But enough with the peripheral details, lets get to the bread and butter.

My first race of the year was the Boise State University Omnium in the Northwest Collegiate Cycling Conference.  For those who don’t know, I race collegiate as well as trade team races.  When I race collegiate, I wear the blue and white of WWU, and in all other races I race for Fanatik Cycling.  The Collegiate season is 7 weeks in a row, followed by the NCAA National Championships if you are lucky enough to qualify.  Boise was the first race on the calendar.  It was about 10 hours of driving from B-ham to Boise.   Not the optimal way to start the season but it was pretty cool that the fairly small and new BSU team got to host some racing.  I was stoked to see some new courses and a new town.  Apparently the weather out there is a little unpredictable in the early spring.  It was snowing Saturday morning and we were supposed to be racing on our thin little road tires.  We were on the way to the course when we got the call from the race director that both the Road race and the Team time trail that was scheduled for later in the day were canceled.  Downer.  I seriously considered pulling rank as WWU team Pres and making my teammates mount up and put in a hard man’s ride (pardon the gender exclusivity of the term), but that seemed too cruel after a full day of driving the day before.  We went back to bed.  At about noon, the weather in Boise made a twist for the better and the sun was out.  Roads were dry in no time so we called up all the teams we could and put together a group ride.  We went on what the locals call “the dump loop,” because is goes by the dump.  It was beautiful and honestly, looked a lot more fun than the proposed road course we missed out on.  There is some nice riding to be had around Boise.

Sunday was criterium day.  I was both pleasantly and ominously surprised to see a former WWU champion show up to race for UW.  In fact, with Chris Daifuku, Grant Boursaw and about 6 other decent riders, it was obvious that this was UW’s year.  The crit seemed fast.  Probably because it was the first race of the year for me and I didn’t have a lot of speed in my legs.  It didn’t help that there was some pent up energy in the group since yesterday’s cancellations.  I knew that if UW got in the break, there was little chance of the race coming back together.  When they did eventually get someone in a break of four, without me, I knew my only hope was to try to bridge.  It was way to far to close the gap and I ended up riding a few laps in no man’s land in the middle before getting taken back by the peloton.  I waited out till the sprint and finished mid-pack.  Weekend #1, check.

The following weekends went pretty much the same.  Collegiate racing is pretty casual and the racing can be a bit lame at times.  The fields are small so no one wants to work at the front and equally unwilling to allow any breaks to escape.  Through out the season, the WWU team had a fairly limited number of riders.  Some races I was alone, some I was joined by Logan Wetzel, Steve Fisher, Michael Spring and by the end of the season, a strong up and comer, fresh from Lake Placid NY, Ryan Short.

Some highlights to my collegiate regular season are as follows. I will include some pictures, most of which were taken by Amara Boursaw from Pacific Lutheran University.  Amara sells here photos here and I encourage you to help pay her race entry fees by buying a photo or two.

1.  Oregon State U Criterium in Corvalis OR:  It was sunny all day.  Then, with about 5 minutes left in our race, total downpour.  Pretty exciting.  I saved up my guns till the end of this race.  I attacked about 4 times in the last 10 minutes.  As per usual, no one was letting anything get away.  Logan ended up getting fourth and I like to think that I wore the field out a little for him, in those last 10 minutes.  Either way, it was tons of fun.

2. Whitman College Circuit Race, Walla Walla, WA: It is a little unusual to have a circuit race in an omnium weekend.  In this case, it replaced the Criterium.  This race was 9 laps around a 2ish mile course with a short, steep hill; finish at the top.  A break of two got away in the third lap, Chris Daifuku and Colin Gibson, both strong riders.  I was able to grab the wheel of Jake MacArthur as he shot away to bridge.  With about 3 pulls each we closed the gap and made the break away a foursome.  With about 3 to go, a large group of 6 or so riders joined up too.  This group contained the heavy hitters in the conference and to my delight, WWU’s newest A rider, Ryan.  It was his first week at our level and he was racing super strong.  A large pace line was constructed but as per usual, UW was running the show and taking limited pulls.  They had 3 in the break, Whitman 2, U of O 2, Us 2 and WSU 1.  As we were taking our turns, Ryan followed the wheel of a strong U of O rider and they just sort of rolled of the front as UW tried to shirk work.  They saw their chance and took it.  They worked together and built up a lead.  I was stoked because I didn’t have to take any pulls anymore and now UW and Whitman were on the defensive.  Ryan and U of O never looked back.  Ryan barely missed out on winning the race when his chain skipped in the break sprint.  I took a respectable third in the pack sprint.  The hill worked in my favor.  The two guys who beat were the two who fought for conference dominance all season so I’m not beating myself up about losing to them.  A 2nd and 5th for the only WWU riders in the race was a good day.

We also had host housing in a church that had an indoor half pipe that weekend.  Pretty fresh even though skate boards are not my cup of tea.

3.  Willamette Omnium, Salem OR: I was riding so fast I killed this bug with my face during the Team Time Trial.  SPLAT!! I didn’t even know it was there till someone told me.

4.  Conference Championships Criterium.  University of Idaho, Moscow ID: The last race of the season.  My legs have been getting better and better as the season runs.  I spent most of Saturday’s racing in a two man break.  We got caught but my teammates got 2nd, 4th, and 6th.  Pretty damn good race for WWU.  Then, during the TTT, I did a slight majority of the work, which is unusual with Logan and Steve with me.  It seems I’m coming into some form, which is great, because Nationals is next weekend.

During the crit I raced pretty aggressive.  I got off the front a few times with breaks that were not allowed to stick and got a few points in prime laps.  Our team did a good job of controlling the race.  There was very little time when we didn’t have someone off the front.  With 3 to go, I followed Colin Gibson, a racer I knew to be strong and aggressive, to the front, expecting him to attack.  He chose not to so I went ahead and did it for him.  I caught the field looking and got a nice solo gap.  After two laps of push and pain I thought I actually had a chance to take the win if the field kept looking to each other to pull me back.  It almost worked.  Gibson and my homie Ian Crane from Whatcom Community College here in B-ham shot off the front and passed me with about 30 meters to go.  I held on to third, which was sweet.  I’ll take that medal.  It was a great race.

Here’s a shot of my ill-fated move.

It was a fun season.  I’m pretty stoked to not have to drive 12 plus hours for the first weekend in almost two months.  I think our young team had a good time and did a great job.

There was one weekend that I didn’t race collegiate.  I raced in the Tour of Walla Walla.  It was first race with the Pro’s and it was pretty hard stuff.  I was able to finish with lead group in the road race but got popped in the Criterium.  I had a bad start and the pace was balls out the whole time.  I was a dangler on the back with about 3/4’s of the field.  We were all strung out for three blocks.  Gaps started to form and I got pulled from the race with 5 laps to go.  Lesson learned.  Don’t get caught in the back.  The U23 national champion of New Zealand won that race.  I can’t be to disappointed at being beat by someone of that caliber.  I somehow managed to finish 30th in the TT.  Not to bad for a first time category 2 rider in a field of 100+, some of them pro’s and category 1 racers.  I flatted out of the last days road race.  I rode in with the groupetto but smashed them up the finish line climb.  They were not climbers and were no longer concerned with the race so much.  I just wanted to finish the 95 mile stage strong and salvage some pride on the day.  Racing in that large a race with that many strong guys was really fun.  The peloton absolutely cruises.  You can sit in and fly along with the group.  Its the climbs and sudden accelerations that get you worked over.  The last 15k of the first days stage was awesome.  I had made it over the climbs with the group and was stoked to know I was going to make it without any time loses.  There was still a break off the front and the teams with sprinters were working up for the finish so the speed got super fast.  I got to sit on the back, stay out of trouble and enjoy the ride.  It was great.  We were flying.  Ben Chaddock from Whitman College ended up winning that race and finished the tour in 4th.  It was nice to see someone from our collegiate conference represent and stick it to the pro’s.   It was also nice to know that getting beat by Ben week after week is not something to be concerned about.  The guys super strong and he proved it.

Next Stop, NCAA Collegiate Nationals.  Madison WI.  May 7-9.

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