I’m not sure who is responsible for the creation of Tulsa Tough, but they should run for Mayor of Tulsa or some other significant Okie public office. The 7th edition of the race drew strong competition, despite a split NCC schedule. This year, community awareness for the race was notably higher. While deplaning in Tulsa on Saturday afternoon, a man near me was talking on his phone and said this to whomever was on the other end of the line, “Tulsa what? Tulsa Tough. Oh, I’ll go, that sounds like fun.”
Tulsa Tough has a Townie Ride for locals, grand fondos for enthusiasts, races for the racers, of course, and a marketing budget smartly targeted at the citizens of Tulsa to come out and enjoy the city’s kick-off to summer. Everywhere I went, even the package store, folks were aware of the event and my cashier at Whole Foods wondered “If I am in Tulsa to watch the races?” Yes, yes I am. She said that she had met someone from London that was in for Tulsa Tough, too, and couldn’t wait to get off work to come out to the race.
Arriving a day late allowed me to watch the Blue Dome race via live video on VeloNews, where Wikoff had no problem riding in the top 20 the whole night. He finished out with a 15th, and aspirations of a high omnium placing. Also, I could see around 10min of fireworks, crowds looking 15 people deep, and what looked like fast, safe racing.
My adventure to Tulsa started late on Saturday morning, after my most intense week of the year, managing the USA Cycling South Central Development Camp. It was mathematically possible to go through the check out process at St. Edward’s University in Austin and make it by car to Tulsa, but not practical. In fact, in the previous two years of managing the camp, I had to take a pass on Tulsa Tough knowing that I’d be so blown out after trying to keep up with the energy of 25 teenagers for a week that I’d need at least a weekend to cool my heels.
But there are a few races that just can’t be missed this year as a reigning national champion: Tulsa and Athens. Regardless of Performance Manager Chart trajectory, I knew I was flat from a week of guiding a great group of young riders in Austin, but it would be, as the Whole Food cashier put it, “fun to watch” the Tulsa races especially as a participant with my red, white and blue jersey.
Saturday night’s Brady Village race was a blast. Lots of fun. A good portion of the Development Camp made it up for the race, too, so I got to visit with riders after their races and meet their families, leaving my right hand sore after thousands of hand shakes. Pincus and Wikoff were very solid in the race, me not so much. The flat/fast NCC crits are almost another sport different than road cycling, and one I’m sometimes bad at playing. Phil was looking good in the top 15 until a slip up on the 2nd turn on the last lap, a total bummer but no major damage.
Sunday’s River Parks Criterium ends up being the queen race of the Tulsa Tough weekend. There’s more money in this race than the other two. There are more spectators. There is less clothing. There is more booze. There is more noise. There is way, way more suffering. I like this race.
From start to finish of the Sunday race, as well as the whole Tulsa Tough weekend, Eric Marcotte of Elbowz Racing was active, and deadly. It took only 15min of racing before gaps opened up in the field, and Marcotte was already off the front in a two rider move with a Cash Call rider. A large gap opened up where I was riding, in the back quarter of the field, that took me well over a half lap to close down. When that happened, for some reason the field slowed and I went the whole way to the front of the race and followed Jeremy Powers through the home straight and up Cry Baby Hill.
About 1/3 of the way up the hill, just before the 90deg right turn leading us to drunken fans with hoses, water guns, bare chests, bare thighs & more, J-Pow clicked the shifter to go from big to little ring. The chain bobbled and I was caught just behind him, with Tyler Wren attacking hard on the right side. I punched it up the rest of the hill and caught onto the attack by the 3rd turn. Two more riders made the move, including another Cash Call rider. Eventually the group got together and made contact with the Marcotte split, and I was going through my own personal hell.
While I wasn’t feeling bad, I was far from good. Just flat after a week of standing in the sun, and frankly just happy to be in the race. I figured I was going okay if I could make the move, but did very little to contribute to it as Barrajo made it across to the split to make it two Jamis and two Cash Call riders with Marcotte and me. Pretty early on in the move, the Jamis director was calling out for “one hard lap” out of their riders, which never came. Rather, one of the Cash Call guys struck out for a several lap effort that drew Marcotte and Wren into the chase. Barrajo blew out and dropped, then I had to work through. As we caught the leader, the whole race was happening in slow motion. It was hard for riders to get away, but even easier to get dropped.
Both Wren and Marcotte had a few good attacks, which dropped me solidly on Cry Baby Hill but I was able to chase on by the next turn. Due to their attacks, these guys also had the initiative of driving the move as I sat on waiting for their next moves. The break was going slow and the Cash Call guys were just not working through, so Marcotte had to do nearly all the work, me maybe 20%. That was all I could do knowing that the attacks were going to come from the Cash Call guys, as well as Wren. Going into the last five laps, Marcotte drove the move and attacked hard up the hill with three laps go. Again, I clawed my way back on before the descent but now I had to work through more than before to keep our tenuous gap ahead of the Jelly Belly and Optum lead field.
I waited for any of the three riders sitting on the move to attack going into the hill, which never happened. That was the end of the race. I didn’t read that the guys in the break were toasted and fatigued and thought they were playing coy. Turns out I lost out on that game of poker and just should have done the attack past the Start/ Finish line myself. I lost Marcotte’s wheel up the hill, and lumbered to the top of the deafening crest in 3-4th place. I kept going, slowly gaining speed again but the leaders of the field came by with a significant delta in speed just before turn three. I had zero punch out of the turn, where I entered ~10th, but was just getting passed by everyone in the field. My day was done 1/3 of a lap too soon. Can’t wait to come back and give Cry Baby Hill another try!
More great pics from Cry Baby Hill and Tulsa Tough can be found at Cyclingillustrated.com.