Dog Days of Summer
During my recent trip back to Stateside to visit family during vacation, I had the opportunity to race on numerous occasions at the now world-famous Driveway series that sees full fields of 100 riders in the PRO 1,2,3 category and a couple of hundred more riders across all the other categories; it is USA’s no.1 fixture for a week-night criterium that features full-on top level racing. Its so good that if you can do well here, you can expect to do well at other races in the country or world-wide. Its quite the experience going to the Driveway where its common to see a rattle-snake slither across the tarmac under the late afternoon intense sun. There are signs up, warning riders to beware of rattlesnake and not to venture far into the surrounding forest.
The race track is purpose built for car racing, but every Thursday night (for the past seven years) it has been a night of pure unadulterated adrenalin pumping action for the racers that show up. Since Andrew Willis, Driveway promoter and owner of Holland Racing, took over at the helm from Barry at Team San Jose Racing – the event has reached new standards never seen before at a week night criterium. Now the Most Aggressive rider has to wear a PINK Mohawk attached to his helmet and this has become a coveted icon by the riders all riding aggressively to stake their claim or right to the Pink Mohawk. There are also countless primes that are given out across all the grades that keep the races pumping and the most anticipated one is the Gamblers Crowd Prime where the winner can expect to take home in excess of $100 USD. What makes the racing also harder and faster is the presence of many professional riders that are basing themselves in Austin and not to mention there is decent prize money for the top 5 in the Pro race. The pro who regularly wins at driveway will appreciate the extra $$ either for putting food on the table or for pocket money. It depends which pro you are – whether its your livelihood or being just an after work leisure pursuit where the prize money is used for rounds of beer and burritos at the local food hangout while recapping the race with your mates.
The fact that many pros show up to race at Driveway has really improved the overall standard of racing and now everyone, cat 3’s included, are going that much faster. It is the perfect training criterium and gives you regular opportunity to measure yourself up against the likes of pro riders. It seems that nowadays, the Driveway seldom ends in a bunch sprint, even on the ‘easier’ Speed Loop course where traditionally it ends in a mass sprint with insane speeds reaching 75km/h! During the time I was there this summer, the Dog Days of Summer, I did not see one bunch gallop in the PRO 1,2,3 race. There has always been enough amazingly strong riders to just blow the race apart and usually a small breakaway forms and rides away with the race, leaving the others to fight for dog scraps to snatch any minor placings that still give series points or just for the honor of winning the bunch sprint! There is a decent crowd turn out that cheer on the racers while enjoying food and drinks while listening to entertaining race commentary. One highlight of the night for families, is the kids racing event. They all do one lap of the course and surely some of these kids will be future champions! The Driveway has produced some top quality riders including Dave Wenger (Super Squadra) who was the 2011 USA Criterium Champion. Wenger credits the Driveway to providing high quality high speed racing that prepared him for racing else where in the US. When you are regularly doing 28-30mph at a local criterium, the step up to national level is not such a big chasm.
When I first arrived, smack in the middle of the summer, I was having trouble adjusting to the summer heat that my heart rates were sky high. I often had heart rates approaching 198bpm at the end of races – which is unheard of for me (normally it maxes at 191-192). Plus, the racing was just so fast that whenever I jumped out of the field to follow promising attacks or do an attack of my own, I was already red-lining it with my tongue sticking out like a beaten up old dog. In short, I just did not have the horse-power to ride away from the pack or to bridge across to elite moves with the heavy hitters including Blackgrove, Hutchinson and Rothe. These three riders (two Kiwis, and one German-American) established a breakaway so fast and with immense strength that they shed three riders from the break that I was attempting to ride across – in the process blowing up spectacularly. No wonder, I could not make it across when coming oh so close.
My best placing this summer was 5th in the Pro 1,2,3 race and this was when those three riders were up the road and it was a bunch sprint. I maneuvered into a very good position and just before the final bend, I was in second position behind Allen Abel (a lean mean powerhouse of a sprinter) and decided against launching my final sprint on the outside as I thought it was getting too crowded – instead I stayed on Abel’s wheel, hoping that he would open up the inside so I could sneak by him. However, he kept that line tight and in the final kick for the line he just kept me out. Hence my 5th placing.
It was not till the final week, in the lead up to the Hotter than Hell weekend that I was feeling at my most comfortable in the heat and the speed of the racing. The HOT dog days of summer with my training taking place sometimes in the heat of the day, had helped me acclimatize. I was able to recover faster from efforts and my max heart rates were considerably lower too, barely hitting 190. I had been starting the 35 plus men, literally seconds after the PRO race finish, so I had no chance for recovery – huffing, puffing and shaking with exertion from the main race of the day. It was bad so that I was just clinging for dear life at the back of the 35 plus men peloton, only coming out near the end. However the last week I was in Austin, I recovered from the PRO race enough so that I was straight into the action from the first lap. In fact I was feeling spritely enough to contest primes in both races.
The races at the Driveway are fast and furious, yet very safe. No body wants to crash and it was good to see good quality safe racing in Austin without risking your life. This was in stark contrast to a race I did in Southern California just prior to reaching Austin. I entered a PRO1,2 race in Ontario and in the final two laps of that race, I was chopped out no less than five times by dangerous riders swarming from behind and diving for gaps that were not there, forcing me to slam on the brakes to avoid collision. I heard from riders in Austin, that races – especially in Southern California, can be super aggressive with some dangerous riding. Thanks to Andrew Willis and co for making the Driveway a well run and safe event that ranks as one of the best training races in the nation.
Note that all photos are click-able for larger sizes! If you use them, please credit Jennifer Carruthers. Thanks!
Holland Racing’s goal is to grow a stronger community and culture of cycling in Texas through events and partnerships. The company was founded in 2008 by husband and wife, Andrew Willis and Holly Ammerman. The name, Holland, is the combination of Andrew and Holly’s first names.
Andrew, a long time elite racer and former U.S. National Champion, and Holly, an engineer and project manager started Holland Racing with the belief that in order for the cycling community in Texas to flourish, there had to be a sustainable foundation of events in which cyclists and sponsors could participate.
To date, Holland Racing has forged over 60 partnerships with central Texas businesses, sponsored a dozen cycling organizations, and hosts approximately 50 events per year, including bicycle races, educational clinics, and parties. In 2009 Holland Racing was recognized by Competitor Magazine for organizing the best bicycling event in Texas with the now legendary Driveway Series. In 2011 Holland Racing was recognized by USA Cycling as “Club of the Year.”