The UCI 1.2-rated Thompson Bucks County Classic (formerly the Univest GP) was a goal for us at Elbowz Racing in 2012. Thankfully, the Thompson Organization Auto Dealerships came on board to revive the event by becoming the title sponsor. Being a late confirmation for the team, a few of the Elbowz Racing team opted out as they felt not quite on form, so we looked to guest riders Logan Hutchings from New Zealand and American Michael Sheehan for some help. Heath Blackgrove, Mat Stephens, and I would round out the five rider hit squad that headed east to Pennsylvania for this great event.
The course was a new 102.7 mile long race from New Hope to Doylestown. Not only did the event have a UCI 1.2 ranking, it was also on USA Cycling’s National Racing Calendar, so most of the big domestic hitters were there. The rolling terrain of the course was on a 14.3-mile circuit, which was completed six times with 8,250 feet of climbing, followed by about an eight mile run in to the finish town of Doylestown.
It was action packed from the get go. Our goal was to be represented in the break, ideally with Heath or Logan, and my job was to bide my time and watch as the race unfolded for the heavy hitters. Mat and Michael were to support us and make sure we made the split and were being fed. With the race full throttle up the first KOM, I saw Heath make a split of six or so riders so I drifted back a bit trying to sit in. That’s not so easy on a course like this. With the race lined out the entire first lap, there was another split that saw a front group of 22 riders; all the big names in it. Heath was there, but Logan and I were not completely comfortable with those odds. It was a tall order for Heath since he didn’t have any teammates in the big group, even though he was on form.
A chase group formed in the next few laps, and Logan and I contributed to keeping the momentum of it, being sure to save a bit in case we caught the lead pack. Eventually we did catch the group, at the KOM on the last lap. Just as we did, Heath, being the heads up rider that he is, made the next split of five, which included Alex Candelario (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies), Chris Baldwin (Bissell), Rob Britton (Garneau/Quebecor), and Ben Day (UnitedHealthCare).
As the chase of around 20 came through the narrow twisting decent one last time along the river, there were attacks and counter attacks coming one after the other. Just as Logan handed me a gel, I told him to follow that next move, and sure enough it was the right move. I thought I had been caught out as eight or so riders went up the road, including Rory Sutherland (UnitedHealthCare) and Paddy Bevin (Bissell). A false attack was the perfect launch for me and I was able to get across the 15 second gap solo and that was it. We tackled one last climb which saw Sutherland throw down like only he can. Being a bit back Logan and I thought we were caught out. But somehow, from somewhere, we both found our way to the second chase group of six, just 15-20 seconds off the lead five riders. This group contained Sutherland, Bevin, Bajadali, Diego Milan (ADVOCAR), Logan, and me.
With Heath drilling it and driving the pace up front, he knew he had to get rid of the sprinting prowess of Candelario to have a shot at the win. He did just that, which left Diego and Bajadali with the responsibility to chase that group ahead. Again, it was attack after counter attack. I kept a close eye on Bevin and Sutherland. Each time we would gap off Logan a bit, and as I saw him keeping steady pace to stay with us, I motioned for him to just go and attack for himself. When he did, Bevin made a great move to jump on that wheel.
With Logan and Heath ahead, my job became to watch Sutherland and the others, hoping to get a free ride to the riders up front. A bit of tactics made that impossible, and left me to race for eighth, leaving it up to Heath and Logan up front to get the job done.
Up ahead, with Logan and Paddy making contact, Baldwin started to drive the pace to set his teammate (Paddy Bevin) up for the win. With two cards to play for us, Heath feeling well decided for a long shot, hoping to have the others chase and give Logan a free ride and crack at the win. Baldwin ended up blowing himself up and set up Paddy perfectly for the strong sprint finish as they caught Heath. Logan held on for an amazing second place. Rounding out the podium was Britton.
We were really happy with how the race played out having a couple cracks at the win. We ended up with a second, fifth, and an eighth place finishes on the day, which is a great showing against the caliber of riders and toughness of the event.
On to the next day, Thompson Criterium in Doylestown, PA there was an eight-corner 1.4 mile circuit, done 36 times for a total of 50 miles. Not all riders competing in the road race showed for this day, including our teammates of Heath, Logan, and Michael. That left the job to Mat and me to come away with another result for the team.
During the warmup, I could see that it would be crucial to be near the front of the race as it was a fairly technical course. The length of the course should have made it easier, but due to the downhill speeds of some of the more technical corners, there was literally only room for one rider through the corner. The gun went off and I was sure to be in the top 10-20 riders. The climb out of the last corner was a little over 300 meters and would prove to wear on people with tired legs from the day before.
Surge after surge added up on riders and soon I found myself off the front in a group of six to eight riders. We worked really well together, but it was not to be as the field was not happy with us off the front, and were soon caught at about 25 laps to go. Attack after attack continued, and again the split happened around half way through. Feeling really well, I jumped across to it and helped put pressure on. What was six riders became 10, and eventually 15 at the end of the race.
With under 10 laps to go, the breakaway group was starting to mark each other and sit on. I knew to be ready, so I stayed near the front and kept the pace steady. Around five to six laps to go, I went with a group of six that got clear about 15 seconds. Thinking that this was the move, we all started conserving a bit, and were again caught by the group behind on the last lap.
Bruno Langlois (Garneau/Quebecor) had been riding great all weekend and gave it a go on the bottom of the course. I don’t recall exactly who gave chase, but know that I was sitting third wheel of the chase coming into the final corner. Bruno was on the left side of the road, and others giving chase followed suit. I gave all I had from that point on. I saw Frank Pipp (Bissell) swing out from the left side riders, and we had a drag race to the finish, back and forth. One last dig and I was able to hold him and Alexey Schmidt (Team Type 1).
I’m still so excited to have pulled off a great finish against such great competition, especially in that atmosphere. It was a great venue as the Thompson Auto Organization tied the race into an art festival. As we were in the final laps, the crowds and cheering were awesome. I hope to have given them a great show.
I’m very grateful for these opportunities to compete across the country. Also, thanks go out to the hosts we had there this weekend, Jeff and Ann Moore. It’s great to have a place to stay that is so accommodating and supporting. They really helped us along to accomplish these results.