Polluting the Pond, Tour of Fairbanks Part III (The Good)
So, it's been a couple days since I got home. The back and legs are starting to heal. The sharp sense of personal outrage has dulled a bit. Perspective has started to set in.
My overall impression: I had fun with certain elements of this edition, but was not pleased with others.
That's not to say that it was all bad. There was a lot of good things happening during this stage race.
The biggest positive was the size of the women's field compared to previous years. It was awesome to see the women rival the size of the Men's field, and there were more than a few of them mixing it up day after day. This is a trend the vast majority of male racers would like to see continue. When there's more women racers, the differences between the really strong and less advanced don't seem so huge, because there's always somebody to race against near your level. It makes the whole experience better for everyone. Plus, women naturally look better in lycra than a bunch of overweight old farts. It's science.
The first stage provided a solid start to the race. Just long enough to test the legs and ease you into it, but not so easy that it was essentially pointless. When you're talking about an amateur-level, four day stage race, each stage needs to have some substance to it. You don't want to discourage large parts of the field the first day, but it helps to have a slight sorting. While I completely hosed the first stage with flat legs and an over-reliance on a bad power meter, I can say that stage did exactly what it was supposed to do. It established the GC in a measured way. Maybe it wasn't the best pavement, but at least the rain stopped while we were on course. The ride back was a bit moist, though...
Another high point was the second stage crit course at UAF. It was technical and just selective enough to play a role in how the race played out. There were multiple points to attack and respond. The pavement was good and the corners open enough. The campus police and other course workers did a great job of controlling traffic. As stressful as these events can be to manage sometimes when cars want to intrude into the course, the whole organization pulled it off admirably.
The time trial course was great, especially considering it fell on a dual-stage day. On that course, 30K was about the limit of what most racers had in the tank. I generally don't like long TTs in stage races, because it favors the specialists and those of us that spend far too much money on TT bikes we use far too little. Ten miles usually is about what I consider long enough to create gaps, but short enough to keep the morale up. I shouldn't say that, because every stage race I've ever won was based on making big gains in TTs and then managing the losses in the remainder of the stages. However, I was completely outclassed in this case by superior riders.
Finally, the volunteers and staff were great from beginning to end. The level of coordination and positive atmosphere they provided is really what makes or breaks an event like this. You can't run it without them, and they did a great job. The timing crew worked overtime through the various rule revisions to try to do the best possible job they could under the circumstances, and they deserve nothing but praise for their efforts. Having preliminary results posted as races were still underway was something I rarely see (timing races can be stressful enough without extra tasks), and it was appreciated.
For me, the bar was set pretty high for the event, based on previous years. In some ways, things improved dramatically. For instance, the crit course was vastly superior to the downtown crit of 2012 and much better than the speedway courses of the previous years. While it wasn't all perfect (I'll go into that later), it showed that the organizers were willing to change the invent to better serve their customers.
There's a lot to be said for that.