Cox 6th in a Stacked Field - 2017 USA Cycling National Criterium Championship

by: Scott Cox

We started out the day with a leisurely morning and a 45 minute spin on the bike path near our perfect cottage that teammate Dana Williams lined up for us.  I started to get pretty fired up thinking about the race that would start later in the evening in downtown Augusta and reminded myself to pace that energy as I knew I would need every ounce of it later.  Great teammates make relaxing easy as we shared a lot of laughs, but we were also pretty bummed for reigning National Criterium Champion, Matt Adams.  Being the stand up guy he is, he made a bee line for home when he was needed there and would miss the opportunity to defend his jersey.   Matt leaving led to teammate’s Rob "Robo' Amatelli, Josh Pizzica and Dana designating me as the protected rider for the crit and the pressure I started to put on myself was motivating for me.  I did not have race result expectations as there are many things that need to go right.  I knew I had put in the necessary work leading to nationals and was only expecting to be in a position to contest at the end if it came to a sprint or not miss an obvious move.  

It was a long day waiting for the race and we passed the time watching a Back to the Future marathon and relaxing while pinning up our sweet Capo Custom skin suits for the big show.  We all took care of pre-race nutrition and hydration thanks to the tasty Gu Energy products.  Robo got the party started by kitting up and being the hype man and the four of us rolled to the crit course in style on our Specialized bikes.  Rain drops started falling as we arrived at the course.  We found some shelter in a parking garage and went over our race plan and were thankful for the Specialized Turbo traction with the potential for wet conditions.  

The course was flat and fast and we thought an early break was unlikely to make it, but a late move could work and we would race defensively for the first 45 minutes and be attentive for the last 30 minutes of the 75 minute race.  We had our hands full with the talent in the field: Emile Abraham (North Georgia Cycling Association - won the RR 2 days earlier), Michael Olheiser (won the TT 3 days earlier and 2nd in RR), Jeromy Cottell (Team Specialized/Touchstone Racing - always a threat), Chad Moston (Santa Monica BMW Helen’s Cycles - reigning SoCal crit champ), Phil Tinstman (Monster Media Racing), Charon Smith (Team Surf City), and Ken Vida (FloridaVelo) were the notables and there are always many other strong racers that are under the radar in championship races.  So we were faced with high caliber sprinters, TT diesels and hard men, but I liked our odds with the strength of our team.

The rain passed and the roads were dry as we staged for the race.  Aaron Patterson (Peet’s Coffee) shared the nationals NorCal love and handed my pump and saddlebag off to his family and the atmosphere was friendly with Charon and Dana making a real estate deal.  We rolled to the line and the “neutral” lap was exciting with pushing and jostling as everyone wanted that front spot.  I love these big races!   The whistle blew and the jitters disappeared.  There were many attacks and counter attacks early in the race and I could relax seeing Josh, Rob and Dana  covering moves.  I made sure to stay up front and marked other known strong riders as needed.  I did not want to work too much, but also knew I needed to take charge of my own destiny and read the race.  A large break formed with Rob and about 8 other riders around the 30 minute mark.  I made a move and got a gap so bridged to the break.  I heard the announcer, Frankie Andreu, say something about Olheiser not having it and we were all back together.  At that point, I sensed there would be 15-30 minutes before a break might go and I had not seen Charon or Emile yet.  I went back to find them and get some recovery from being active early and also thought it would be smart to follow Emile since he has so much experience racing in the pro ranks.  They were having a relaxed conversation, so I figured they were gambling on a bunch sprint and riding easy getting sucked along by the large field.  

A two man break made it off the front and I did not think they had a chance and stayed in the back.  Sure enough, a crash happened near the back of the pack coming out of the final turn with maybe 10 laps to go.  All of the main sprinters and myself managed to avoid the crash with some evasive maneuvering and I chased back on for 20 seconds or so.  The race was neutralized and we restarted after a few minutes with the break having 10 seconds and they hit the gas and the field was looking at each other.

 I knew it was time to race up front and figured I would see Emile and the gang later, so best not to get too focused on any one rider.  This part of the race is fuzzy for me, but I believe we caught all but one rider and then Jeromy Cottell attacked through the start finish with 6 laps to go.  Check out this video from Dana’s on-bike camera (it is pretty sweet to have one of the best amateur racers in the country at any age/level WORKING for you - thanks, Dana!):

Many players were there and I was expecting them to chase Jeromy down, but we all looked at each other and then he was gone.  Nice move, Jeromy!  He quickly bridged to the other rider and I thought there was no way the break would make it with the horsepower in the field, so focused on holding position.  

Justin Little (Simple Racing) made a move to get to the break and he was also let go and I still thought the break would not make it and was 100% in for a sprint - gotta commit to something at this point in the race I believe.  Dana was keeping the pace high and a few other guys were helping and I was waiting for Olheiser, Tinstman and other teams to get involved since they are not known as sprinters and other teams had some numbers.  Simple Racing interfered with the chase by accelerating to get on the front and then slowing abruptly.  A successful tactic, but not one that made many friends in the peloton and probably not the classiest racing, but it is what it is.   The end result was the break was gone and the race for 4th was on and Mike’s Bikes was all in for a leadout.  Championship races often play out like this when no one wants to do the work (understandable) and there are not large teams.  That’s racing and part of what makes it so fun.  

Rob made his way to the front and took a big pull and then Dana took over with one to go.   Dana went into beast mode staying on the front at a blistering pace all the way to about 50 meters from the second to last turn - whoa.  I was second wheel and knew I had some great sprinters on my wheel.  When Dana finally started to slow after making about 500 meters longer than I thought possible, I felt it was a touch too early to start my sprint, but Chad Moston had other plans and jumped us on the inside hard and had a nice gap.  I hesitated for a moment, knowing who was on my wheel and no one came around, so it was go time.  Goal one was to get to the final turn first with something left for a second sprint to the line.  I heard guys coming on the inside fast, but was first to the corner and they had to brake.  We made it through the turn and sprinted again.  Moston held on for 4th, Emile was able to come by me and I held on for 6th.  Jeromy attacked his 3 man break and rode to an impressive victory with clean wheels.  We bugged out before a storm rolled in and capped off the trip with the obligatory trip to Waffle House - another nationals smothered and covered.  
A special thank you to my teammates that gave all they had to help me in the crit and for all of the laughs and good times.