Tour of Franklinton: Mountain Biker turns Roadie

Doug Armstrong and James Knott at the Tour of Franklinton

Doug Armstrong and I were ready bright and early for the day’s events. It was Doug’s first crit and my second.

Several years ago, I signed up for the Garrett Wonders Memorial Criterium in downtown Westerville, Ohio.  I had been racing mountain bikes for several years, but this was my first and only road event.

“How hard could it be?” I wondered beforehand.

I got dropped by the peloton in the Cat 5 race.  Arghh!

That day race strategy was more to blame than fitness – although fitness could have been an issue too.  Despite a poor performance, I had a ton of fun and always wanted to redeem myself in another crit.  Unfortunately, they discontinued the Garrett Wonders Crit (as far as I know), so I gave up my dream of Cat 5 glory.

That was until last year when I hung out at the Tour de Grandview.  It was a really fun event for spectators, but I couldn’t stop thinking, “Man I wish I was racing these guys.”  That would be even more fun.

So, I looked at the local criterium calendar this year and decided that the Tour of Franklinton would fit in nicely with my other mountain bike races.

Franklinton – Joining the Tour!

GPS map of my Cat 5 race at Tour of Franklinton

GPS map of my Cat 5 race at Tour of Franklinton

Elevation chart from the Tour of Franklinton 2015

Elevation chart from the Tour of Franklinton 2015. Not a lot of hills on the course.  Some might call it flat.

Franklinton is a neighborhood near downtown Columbus.  The streets are lined with older brick commercial buildings and there is an urban industrial feel to the area around the race course.  The pavement is mostly smooth but is cracked and gnarly in a few places.  There are older homes but also signs of new life coming to the neighborhood – like the recently-opened Land Grant Brewing Company.

I signed up for the Cat 5 and 40+ races.  I wasn’t sure if doing two races was a good idea, but it was only $10 more, so I just went for it.  Nahum Burt, a teammate from Breakaway Quickdirt, loaned me a bike for the race.  It was a Trek Two Series 2.3 with a light-weight aluminum frame.  This is way lighter and faster than the other bikes in my stable.  I could tell during the warm-up the day before that I could go much faster than I was used to.

Tour of Franklinton Cat 5 race.

Welcome to Franklinton! The Cat 5 race has started.

Franklinton Sign at finish line

I loved the big Franklinton logo by the finish line. It seemed like everywhere I looked there were signs for Franklinton painted on buildings.

Even though I had one other criterium under my belt, I was still nervous about what I was getting myself into.  Some people consider criterium racing to be one of the more dangerous types of bike racing.  The high-speed turns can lead to some serious crashes and I wasn’t eager to pick up a bad case of road rash.  In my limited experience, I have seen some bad wrecks that made going over-the-bars in the woods seem like a Sunday stroll.

On top of those worries, my nemesis, Chris Knapp was driving the car that leads the racers around the course so I felt like my day was cursed.

Cat 5 & Rookie Mistake #1

Tour of Franklinton start line

When they opened up the course before our heat, I figured I would take a warm-up lap or two to get ready.  By the time, I finished the first loop everyone was lined up to race.  Luckily, there was still room on the start line, but less than a minute later we were racing.  I almost missed the start of the race.

On go, I accelerated quickly and was able to get into the top 5 out of 29 racers.  I knew that I didn’t want to be out front and I tried to find my groove behind the lead riders.  After two or three laps a decent peloton formed, and despite having a high heart rate, I was having no problem holding the pace with these guys.  Somewhere around lap three, without giving it much thought, I put a little extra power into the pedals and moved into first place – rookie mistake #2.

I knew I didn’t want to be in first, but I really was not putting a lot of effort into holding the position.  It actually seemed like I was more efficient because I was able to choose my own lines and I wasn’t braking a lot for the other riders.  Despite these advantages I peeled off to the side and let a couple of guys pass me so I could benefit from the draft.  After another lap or two I had settled into 4th place and felt like I was in good position to hit the podium.

James Knott races at Tour of Franklinton

I was feeling really good about my chances of Cat 5 glory …until the big mishap.

That’s when I made rookie mistake #3.

There was a 1″ crack down the center of the road on the COSI side of the course.  This small gap in the pavement would have meant nothing to me on my mountain bike.  I came around the curve and hit the crack at an angle that rolled my tire and caused a pinch flat.  The whole bike started shaking.  I worried that I was about to take several riders down with me if I fell.

“Flat tire!  Stopping!”  I shouted.  I braced the handlebars and tried to coast out of the peloton before braking.  Riders were zipping past me on both sides and amazingly no one got hurt.

James Knott runs with flat tire

I had to run my bike at least a third of a mile back to the pit area. I was impressed with how efficient everyone was at getting me back in the race. I’m not used to that type of support in the mountain bike world.

The race official helped me understand the rules for a situation like this and the guy from Bike Source changed the tube amazingly fast.  Now I just had to catch up to the group.

The race official helped me understand the rules for a situation like this and the guy from Bike Source changed the tube amazingly fast. Now I just had to catch up to the group.

I dismounted and ran my bike a third of a mile to the start line and was directed to the pit area.  The mechanic asked if I had another “wheel” – which I heard as “innertube.”  I told him I had one at the car.  He told me that he thought I was supposed to check it in at their tent before the race.  Check in an innertube?  An official came over and it quickly became clear that a lot of the other riders had extra wheel sets for situations like this.  It never occurred to me that I might need extra wheels.  This doesn’t happen at mountain bike races.  We just change our flats

I should clarify quickly for my mountain bike friends that in a criterium if you have a mechanical you can skip a lap to fix it and then jump back in the race.

Amazingly, the mechanic from BikeSource was able to replace my tube in record time.  He handed me my bike as the peloton flew by and I jumped on and started mashing my pedals to catch up.  It took me a lap, but I had spent so much effort trying to do so that my legs were fried.  I held onto the back of the pack for the remaining laps, but when it came time for the final push to the finish I didn’t have a lot of giddy-up left for a sprint.

I crossed the line in 11th place.  Not too shabby.

James Knott riding in the Tour of Franklinton

Catching the peloton isn’t impossible, but it’s very taxing. I was worn out by the time I caught up to them.

(Thanks to Chrissy Knott, Dan Fausey, Michael Whaley, Doug Armstrong and Chris Knapp for sending me so many great photos.)

Old Dude’s Be Fast

James Knott in the 40+ at Tour of Franklinton

Is this thing on? By the time I reached the line for the 40+ race I was in the last row. This did not help me get a good position at the start of the race.

Two races later I was signed up for the 40+ race.

Rookie Mistake #4 – I once again took a warm up lap when they opened the course.  By the time I got back to the start line there were 3 rows of guys in front of me and this was a much larger heat.  This made it pretty hard to get a good start with all the traffic in front of me.  On go, everyone jockeyed for position and I fell to the back.

These guys may have been older than the first crew I was up against, but that doesn’t mean they were slower.  I was working much harder to stay up with the group.  With my poor start I was getting slowed down in the turns and then having to work hard to catch up when the group straightened out.  It’s called the accordian effect.

I was fatigued from the first race and after two laps I got dropped from the group.  I pedaled my butt off trying to catch up and wasted a ton of energy.  After a couple of laps, I decided that this wasn’t going to be my race.  I let a group of guys catch up to me (or should I say “I fell back to them”?),  I began drafting and focusing on nice smooth turns.  It was amazing how much easier it was and how much extra speed I was getting.  Even though I was no longer in contention I was having a lot of fun zipping around the course.

40+ racers in Tour of Franklinton

I was behind a huge group of riders which made the accordion effect horrible. I’d love a do-over with fresh legs and better starting position. Maybe next year…

40+ racers at Tour of Franklinton

These races can feel really intense when you are in the middle of the peloton. You aren’t just relying on your skills, you are also depending on the skills of those around you to keep you safe. The 40+ guys have more experience on average, but it was also a much larger group that day.

We were 3 laps from finishing and I noticed the GoPro on my handlebars was vibrating a lot – much more than seemed normal.  I thought it was bizarre, but I just kept riding.  Suddenly, the GoPro flew right off my handlebars.

What the…?!?!?

The mount had snapped in half.  I think I might have stressed it in my crash at Mohican the weekend before.  I turned and watched the camera bouncing on the pavement behind me.  “Oh great googley moogley” I cursed – or something to that effect.  I turned my bike around and went back to pick it up.

My race was over.  I started pedaling lightly around the course.  Trying to stay out of the way of the other racers.  When I went by the grandstand and the crowd, I thought it would be funny to wave and smile at the audience like I was royalty on a Sunday ride.  The announcer seemed confused and annoyed.  He couldn’t tell if I was still racing, DNFing, or if I was just some jackass riding on a closed course – rookie mistake #5.

I didn’t even look at the results, but I’m pretty sure I was about 48th of 50.  Epic fail.


The Final Event

Oliver Knott, age 4, Wendel Knott, age 6 and James Knott, age 40, at Tour of Franklinton.

Oliver Knott, age 4, Wendel Knott, age 6 and James Knott, age 40, at Tour of Franklinton.

I had invited my family to come watch because crits are way more spectator friendly than XC mountain bike races and because this was one of the only local events I’ll be doing all summer.  My kids wanted to do the free kid’s lap at 1:30pm.

My wife, Chrissy, had taken the boys to church and was running late.  I was unfamiliar with the neighborhood of Franklinton, so I couldn’t give her good instructions for how to get to the parking lot around the closed streets.  They ended up missing my races and I was worried they would miss the kid’s lap too.  I hated the thought that they might drive all the way down for nothing.

I got there bikes ready and I was overjoyed when Chrissy texted and said they were close.

I knew my son Wendel, age 6, was excited to ride his bike on the course, but my other son, Oliver, age 4, can be a little more shy and unpredictable for events like this.  We watched the Cat 4/5 race together and when it was over the boys both got on their bikes and lined up at the start line.  Wendel looked excited.  Oliver looked nervous.  He glanced back at me and I reassured him that I would be riding my bike behind him the whole time.

The kids lap at Tour of Franklinton

I tried to give some words of encouragement to my boys.

Oliver Knott races at Tour of Franklinton

Oliver was slow and reluctant at first, but warmed up quickly.

When they said go Wendel shot off the line.  I could tell he was feeling confident and fast.  Oliver slowly pedaled away, looking back at me several times to make sure I was coming.  I wanted to watch Wendel’s progress, but I knew that Oliver needed me more at that moment.

Oliver Knott races at Tour of Franklinton

The kids thought the giant shark on the scooter was funny. I just wanted to beat him to the finish line.

I shouted some encouraging words to him and we rode at a good pace for a 4-year-old.  Eventually he started loosening up and we started joking around.  I pointed out the big stuffed shark that was riding around on a scooter and entertaining the kids.  He thought it was hilarious.

We reached the final stretch and I pointed to the finish line.  He started pedaling faster.  Then all of sudden the excitement of the crowd and the announcer made him shy again.  He slowed down and needed encouragement to even cross the finish line.

We pulled to the side and found out that Wendel finished 5th.  It wasn’t actually a race, but you can bet that he was counting his position the whole time.  He was ecstatic.

I looked at little Oliver who still seemed a little sheepish.  “What did you think buddy?”

He stayed silent for a long moment.  I wasn’t sure what he would say.

“Ummm….  That was awesome!  I want to do it again!  Can we do it again Dad?!?”

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My heart melted.  None of the mishaps from my races mattered anymore.  A wave of emotion took over my body and my sunglasses hid the small tears of joy that squeaked out.  I tried to respond, but I couldn’t speak.  I just gave him a fist bump.  This was the highlight of my summer.

As a father it’s been awesome to see my kids get excited about their bikes.  We mostly just wander around the neighborhood, but we always have fun.  I’ve been passionate about riding my bike for years and it’s great to be able to share that with them.  Their joy that day made it all worthwhile.  It completely outweighed the flat tire and my broken GoPro and made my second criterium, the Tour of Franklinton, a complete success.

Breakaway Quickdirt at Tour of Franklinton

Breakaway Quickdirt was leading the Cat 5 peloton for a little bit. Stupid mountain bikers. 🙂 Next time Doug Armstrong and I be a little more strategic. Michael Whaley also led the pack for a while on gravel grinder.  We are the definition of awesome!

Make sure to like Quickdirt on Facebook!  Congrats to all the guys that beat me – especially Jeff Harper and Tony Mellott, two mountain bikers that podiumed in my Cat 5 race.  Also, thanks to Team 614 for hosting the race.  The advice of Mark Farmer and Chris Knapp was really useful.  Peace out!

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