June 15, 2016
by Jake Kauffmann

So, as much as I enjoy the therapy of sitting and putting thoughts into words, it has been a little over two years since I have found the time to sit and write about cycling and everything that surrounds it. So much has happened during that time in my racing career that it would be impossible to tell it all, so let me summarize: lots of training, plenty of racing, several long and short haul flights, a few wins, lots of team success, and also some disappointing moments. Generic I know, but that’s the basics of what being a bike racer entails.

Since I last wrote, I have returned home from living + racing in Nth America, returned to my much loved Budget Forklifts pro cycling team for 2015, contemplated retirement when Budget folded at the end of that year, and subsequently landed on my feet at the Subaru NSWIS & MS team in 2016. As my much as I look back fondly on the budget forklifts days, as it truly was a special team environment, I am hugely pleased with my new team, and we are building something equally as special with this exceptional group of young talent at NSWIS.

This brings me to current day. I find myself back in Nth America to race with the NSWIS guys. This time with a bunch of new (to me) races, and cities I have never visited before. First stop, Tulsa, Oklahoma. After a little over 24hrs of planes and airports, and dealing with the debacle that is LAX, we arrived in Oklahoma’s second largest city, and the excitement amongst the team was palpable. To our surprise, we were greeted at the arrivals gate by a reporter and cameraman from a local news network, amazed that we had traveled so far for a bike race. In the subsequent days we were visited by three other news outlets. Apparently they don’t get many Aussies coming through Tulsa, as we seem to be quite a novelty with our accents and larrikin sayings.

I wasn’t sure what to expect of Tulsa, and Oklahoma as a whole, having not spent any time in “middle America” previously. I must say I was pleasantly surprised. Tulsa is a city of vibrance that belies its relative small size. The local people are amazingly friendly and welcoming, and the support that the Tulsa Tough race receives is unreal. The people here are genuinely happy to have a cycling event in their town, (often the main missing ingredient with events back home), and seemingly even happier that we have traveled across the globe to come to their city to participate.

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For many of the guys, this was their first experience with home stay, and I can safely say, they have hit the jackpot first go! Our home-stay hosts, Amanda + Jim McGeady, as well as their son Corbin, opened their home to us completely, making us feel totally welcome and comfortable. They even joined us on a few of our pre-race training rides, showing us some of the more popular local training routes and ensuring we made it home safely without getting lost. They went above and beyond what we expected with their hospitality which made things really easy for us all, and in turn I’m proud to say that the boys were really good house guests, not that I expected any less. I really think Amanda and Jim loved having us around.

Now to what we are all here for… The racing!

Tulsa Tough was a three day Criterium series, comprising of 2 down town flat crits on Friday and Saturday nights, then a short hop across to the outskirts of town, to the infamous “cry baby hill” circuit by the river on Sunday afternoon. As I stated earlier, I had never before raced before in Tulsa, but I had definitely heard a lot about the event, and its reputation definitely precedes it. Especially Sunday’s course.

Scott Law opened our account for the trip with a great second place on night one. Finishing off some brilliant work by the boys on the lead out. I was unfortunately missing from the final lead out after getting squeezed and losing a lot of places with 3 to go, and not being able to get back to the front, as our boys took the front and increased the pace. Unfortunately Daniel Holloway snuck around the outside with a big surge on the second last corner, and despite the best effort of Jackson Law and Scott, managed to hold a narrow margin for the win.

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Spurred on by the result from the night before, and encouraged by the knowledge we could tweak a few small things to be even better, night two was nothing short of a dominant performance from everyone. Liam managed to put himself into a dangerous breakaway about 20 mins into the race, and took the pressure to chase completely off our shoulders. Once Liam Magennis’s move was brought back by a series of attacks by many riders trying to go across, we knew it was our race to lose. Although we were down to 5 men, it was as if we all grew an extra leg. Boosted by the knowledge that we had the quickest sprinter in the race if it came to a head to head drag-race, we set about our work to bring this to fruition. Scotty and Jacko were delivered first to the final corner, and from there it was a mere formality, crossing the stripe 1st and 2nd, lengths in front of third!

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With his second in race one, and a win in race two, the official posted results showed Scott holding a 6 point lead in the overall omnium, over the always threatening Daniel Holloway, going into Sundays final and deciding race.

The cry baby hill circuit on Sunday is well known as a brutally hard race of attrition, and it was no different this year. Knowing we held a six point lead, we calculated that, as long as Scott finished within two places of Holloway on the stage, he would win the overall. This became priority one, with the stage win as a secondary objective, if it was on offer without jeopardising the overall. Approximately 1/3 of the way into the race a move including most of the top overall contenders, as well as Scotty and Jacko slipped up the road. This was the ideal situation for us as we had our two strongest finishers present and accounted for, with Holloway and most of the others on their own and isolated from help. This gave the rest of us the job of patrolling the front of the ever dwindling peloton and ensuring no one dangerous made it across without one of us in tow, or ideally not at all. Everything was playing out perfectly…. For now!

With around 10 laps remaining, disaster struck, and when Nathan Bradshaw, Ayden Toovey, Liam and I came down the descent into the bottom corner, to see Scotty lying on the road just off the racing line. With no time to stop safely, and no opportunity to communicate, all we could do was go around for another lap and hope Scott could get himself back into the race. Fortunately with little more than a few scratches, he managed to dust himself off and re-join his breakaway companions at the front of the race. Crisis averted! Or so we thought.

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Two laps later Jacko was caught up in a pile up on the finish straight. Although he was able to re-join the front group. Mechanical repairs saw him released a bit late and forced him to chase the whole length of the straight. Just making contact at the base of cry baby hill, a savage acceleration by one of the breakaway riders up the hill saw the lights go out for Jacko, and spelled the end of his race.

This made the job a little harder for Scotty up front, as it was now a man on man battle with arguably the best crit racer in the US, but we were still confident he could get the job done, and the rest of us were flat out blocking the front of the peloton at this point to ensure Scott’s group stayed away. A daring and impressive move by a rider from the Cylance team the second to last time up the hill saw him stay away for the remaining lap and a half to take the win. Scott was 4th across the line, 2 places behind Holloway in 2nd place. Job done, we had successfully defended the overall victory and the announcer declared Scotty the winner by the slenderest of margins, a single point. Signed, sealed and delivered, we were taking home the chocolates in the teams first ever international race. Let the celebrations begin!

The whole team was present at the podium to cheer on our boy, and needless to say were totally surprised when he was called up to receive the second prize. With total confusion amongst everyone, including Holloway, he was called up to receive the winner’s prize, with still no explanation as to why.

It turns out that the OFFICIAL RESULTS communique stating the overall standings from the night before contained an error, and in fact Holloway was only 5 points behind coming into the stage, and his second place in fact brought him equal on points with Scott. This information only came to light AFTER the final stage was run and won it took two count backs to separate them, as they both had 1 stage victory a piece, and the final factor being placings on the final stage.

An official protest was lodged, with our standpoint being that it was Holloway and his teams’ responsibility to protest the error in the previous night’s results BEFORE commencement of the stage, and the field should have been notified prior to commencement of racing. As this had not occurred, we felt that the official posted results should stand! The chief comm was sympathetic to our case, and felt we had a valid point, but the final decision would lie with the race organiser. Off we went to await the outcome of their conversation. In the end, the organiser decided to leave the results as they were presented at the podium, as it would reflect badly on the event to change after the official presentation. In my opinion, you need to stand up and admit when you have made a mistake.

Needless to say we were gutted, and feeling like we had been treated very unfairly. We received many kind words of support from all corners, with almost every other team in the race, believing that we were indeed in the right, and the overnight results should have been reinstated, and solidarity with our position, that the window for changing them closed once racing commenced on the final day.

An extreme disappointment for us all, and I feel especially sorry for the young guys, as this was the first big result they had been a part of, and to have it ripped out from under them like that is a big hit to take. After a bit of time to digest all that happened, and a big feed put on by our fabulous Host’s, the mood was soon lifting, albeit it slowly.

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To add insult to injury, our flight from Tulsa to St Louis was diverted due to a storm on Monday and we missed our connection to Minneapolis. With the next available flight with enough seats for all 7 of us being lunchtime on Wednesday, (North star GP TT starts at 9 30 am Wednesday), and no rooms available in St Louis due to the other missed flights etc., we were left no other option but to hire vans and embark on an impromptu road trip, driving through the night to make it to our next race on time!

Despite all the obstacles and emotional ups and downs of the last few days, the boys and I are here safe in Minnesota, ready and motivated to tear into North Star GP!

Thanks for reading.

 

Jake.