- by Taylor Jung
We always knew stage 2 was going to be a tough one. 110 miles and 5500 feet of vertical. Arkansas has a ton of narrow twisty roads that made the 4.5 hour race taxing mentally and physically. The team went into the race believing that the wisest decision would be to keep ourselves protected til the main climb of the day at the 75 mile mark, then send Will and Lucas on the attack. Tyler would stay in the pack and prepare for a potential uphill sprint on Dickson Street. Historically, this was the most likely outcome. 35 miles of tailwind downhill typically brings back any lingering attacks. I was slated to hang on as best I could on the main climb and hope to make it back to help out in the finale.
The race went mostly to plan. A big group of 8 or 9 guys got away early in the race and built a gap of 2-3 minutes by halfway. Lots of nervousness in the pack and anxiety about being positioned well for the numerous steep climbs, feed zones, and direction changes led to a couple scary situations. Tyler was very nearly crashed out near the midpoint of the race by an overzealous young rider, and Will and I both ended up off the road on an occasion or two. Ultimately, we survived the shenanigans and arrived at Mountainburg, signalling the bottom of the climb.
Will ended up off the front solo at the foot of the 10 mile climb almost by accident. The pack simply let him roll away without any real attack. A couple guys eventually bridged up to him, but the pack shut it down quickly. Lucas waited til an opportune moment later in the climb when the pack took a collective breath. A variety of comings and goings ultimately meant Lucas was back in the pack right at the top of the climb. All was reset for the run into town. I was in a small group a couple minutes back, with the objective of chasing back on. Its not known exactly how or when, but 3 guys got away late in the race and built a 2 minute advantage. This meant the pack was in full flight and my chase would prove futile. For me, the last 25 miles was just about riding hard enough to make sure I came in under the time cut (15% of the winners time). This didnt prove an issue.
The finishing kilometer involved a transition off of a large multi-lane road onto some small side roads with a couple corners thrown in. The finish is 3 blocks of solid incline that takes everything you have left. Unfortunately, a crash at the front of the pack at 1k to go held up all 3 of our guys. Thankfully, any time gaps caused by incidents inside the last 3k are nullified, so Tyler maintained his 10th place position in the General Classification. Lucas and Will both moved up a couple spots and sit 24th and 26th respectively. Even I moved up significantly from 89th to 66th.
Saturday brings us a 86 mile race and more challenges and opportunities. Come back to hear how it goes!