Monday, January 9, 2012

#CXnats Elite Podiums Won in the Pits

Everyday I'm Pamperin'
While you may have watched the live streaming video or followed #cxnats on Twitter, you missed a few things at the Elite Cyclocross National Championship Races in Madison, WI on Sunday.  For one, you missed this dude in the diaper with a cooler full of cold ones and a RoadID on his wrist.  You also missed the details that made the difference for Antonneau and Powers.

The CX Nats pit was small, crowded, inadequately spaced and tough on entry/exit.  While pits are usually crowded during top level races, the pit at CX Nats was one tough mooglie for riders and mechanics.  For wrenches, it was hard to get to the race lane.  Many places were 3 people/bikes deep as mechanics tried to get out to the race lane. Coming from a background setting up pits for UCI events in Cincinnati, they needed more width and more depth.  For riders, the entrances, exits, and race lanes were bumpy and rutted.  Add in the technical turn preceeding Pit #1 and it was a mix that rewarded perfection from crew and rider and spelled disaster for those that bobbled.  

Women's Race-Antonneau's Recovery
Antonneau running her bike after early mishap
While Meredith Miller took the hole shot, Compton stomped on the pedals and built a gap of almost 5 seconds within 4 turns of the start. With the sketchy descents and rutted mud that was still half frozen, you could see on her face that she wasn't willing to take any risks today and simply wanted to run in clean air.  Game over.  The race was on for 2nd.  While the cameras followed Compton, there was a huge battle behind. Antonneau, Duke, Miller, Butler, Stetson-Lee, Bruno Roy, and Rivera were all in place and chasing each other down back and forth the whole day. By now we all know that Antonneau was 2nd on the day for the Elites after winning the U23 race.  What you don't know is the pits played a pivotal role in her podium.

On the second time through the technical turn immediately preceding Pit 1, Antonneau was in 3rd place behind Duke and Compton. She was looking pretty comfy, but navigating the tight technical turn she slipped and fell. The crowd heard a very distinct SNAP!  The sound that makes your heart sink.  She snapped a spoke on her Zipp.

Kaitie got up, tried to remount and quickly realized the damage.  She immediately ran the few steps into the pits and retrieved a new bike. If the spoke had snapped a bit later, as happens a lot, it would have been day over for Antonneau. Running after the pits back around to the pits again would have been disaster, a feat Olympian Usain Bolt couldn't pull off.  Luck was on her side and a good crew always at the ready with a fresh ride.  

Dylan McNicholas drills the hole shot
Men's Race-Powers Attack
Watching the men's race was edge of your pit-bucket excitement for the whole hour.  From the coverage you didn't see that it was Pit 1 that made the difference in the men's elite race as well. It played out like this.  Page would pit every time through Pit 1 and take a clean bike. Powers and/or Trebon would punch it past the pits, choosing to not take a clean bike and put some distance on Page.  Page would power out of the pits and catch back on before the stairs.  Powers attacks here proved to be the difference.  

Page on the bumpy exit from Pit 2
If you remember from the Women's race, the technical turn preceding Pit 1was incredibly difficult.  There was almost always a shuffling of racers in this particular spot.  Even Tim Johnson choose to run this section several times due to the difficult ruts and awkward lines into and out of this section. If you missed the line exiting this technical turn, getting to the pit lane to change bikes was really hard.
Nearly every lap we'd see Page attack heading into the technical corner, clean the corner and head straight for the pits. He'd swap bikes and by the time he exited the pits he would be almost right on Powers' or Trebon's wheel. 

Leaders hit the climb on Lap 1
The difference came on the next to last lap. Powers knew this was occurring every single lap.  He pushed the pace heading into the technical corner which forced Page to navigate the corner in traffic with Trebon and McDonald. Exiting from the technical corner, Page and McDonald bumped each other, then bumped each other again. Page was stuck on the left side of McDonald (Powers' Rapha-Focus teammate) and the pit entrance was on the right side. Page had to nearly ride through McDonald to get to the pit lane to swap bikes.

Obviously Page was hell bent on getting a fresh bike.  Doing so he was forced to bump and rub McDonald twice, slow down, ride across the rough ruts in front of McDonald and get into the pits. Right there, Powers smelled blood and put 8 seconds on Page as he exited the pits.  

Powers driving the pace with Page following
Whether this was planned team tactics or luck, it worked to perfection for Powers. Once Page was chasing he didn't take a clean bike on the last lap trying to catch back on, but the gap created at the entrance to Pit 1 never changed through the end of the race.  The rest is history.  

Had that exit from the technical turn and the entrance to Pit 1 been less bumpy and more roomy the final two laps of the race might have gone down differently. Kudos to Powers for knowing where and when to attack the race - whether it was his spidey senses or just plain luck, it worked.

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