It's a sultry evening in downtown Charlotte, North Carolina and the Presbyterian Hospital Criterium is in full swing. Wandering down to a quieter section of the course away from the grandstands and speakers blasting out the announcer's incessant stream of chatter, I come across Ed Beamon, director of Fly V Australia. He's having a debate over the team radio with fellow DS Henk Vogels regarding the current race situation.
The breakaway speeds past 20 seconds ahead of the field, and it's the Fly V riders in the move that are causing the discussion between Beamon and Vogels.
"They can't jump across a 20 second gap ... we have to wait until it's below 15," Beamon says into the radio. A few long seconds go by. "If we chase we'll just burn the team out. I think we should wait and see what happens."
Aaron Kemps, the Australian crit champion, and Zach Davies represent the team in the breakaway. Both are talented riders, but there is more at stake than just the race win and the lucrative $50,000 prize purse.
The race in Charlotte is part of USA Cycling's National Racing Calendar, and while Fly V hadn't exactly targetted the series at the start of the season, it found itself leading the team standings coming into the race and in order to win the classification Beamon and Vogels must find a way to re-shuffle the race.
The NRC team ranking only takes into account the top 5 riders from each team in the individual rankings, and since Kemps and Davies do not qualify, even if one should win the race, Fly V would likely drop out of the team lead as other teams have highly ranked riders in the move.
Since race radios were banned this year by the UCI at all but the top-ranked events, Beamon and Vogels' jobs have been made a bit more difficult. How exactly the directors have managed to steer the team to more than 50 wins in the US this season without race radios became more apparent after watching Beamon in action.
"It's not as if we're puppeteers," Beamon explains, bemoaning the ban on radios imposed by the UCI. "If there's a legitimate reason [to ban them] why allow radios to still be used in the ProTour, which is the biggest public forum for cyling?
"Without the radios it's difficult to keep the riders on the same page. The guy on the bike always has the last say [on race tactics]. The director's biggest job is to keep all the riders pulling in the same direction - someone has to lead."
The race zips past again with Fly V's ace in the hole, Jonathan Cantwell, still sitting in the main peloton. He's on a hot-streak, with 8 victories including the overall at Elk Grove and Superweek under his belt in the past month, but in order to continue his winning ways he will have to find his way to the front of the race.
Cantwell is with Alessandro Bazzana, Charles Dionne, Ben Kersten and Bernie Sulzberger, and all are still taking a back seat to the work. Beamon shouts out the time gap and yells for them to sit in, the same message he relayed to his two riders in the front group - he wants someone else to do the work to bring the race back together.
With 15 laps to go, it looks as if Beamon's patience is paying off. The Aerocat team has put all of its men on the front to bring back the move they missed.
As the gap comes down, a $1,000 prime is offered and attacks split the break. Kemps is on the wrong end and heads back to the field, while Davies sits on the front group and bides his time knowing the race is about to blow apart.
Sulzberger and Dionne bridge across to join Davies as the peloton splits with 13 laps to go - the elastic is snapping and Beamon becomes a bit less talkative as the stretched-thin peloton still doesn't have his top rider at its head.
Then an attack comes from Luis Amaran (Jamis-Sutter Home), the NRC leader, who is trying to make it to the lead group. "That'll light a fire," Beamon says, and he's right. Bazzana goes off in pursuit. The pace picks up, and with 10 to go the break is in sight of the peloton and the race is, as they say, "full gas".
With perfect instincts for when to stay and when to go, Cantwell decides this is the time to go across. The next time the lead group comes by, Beamon shouts to Davies, telling him that Cantwell is coming. Davies nods.
One lap goes by and the race looks very different: 22 riders in the lead, with Cantwell, Davies, Sulzberger, Dionne and Bazzana all included. It's a good situation, but Beamon still has a look of concern.
"Jonny's across," he says into the radio. "Keep Kemps encouraged - get him back up to the front group. I think there are still points for the field."
Not only do the team directors need to keep track of the constantly changing situation in the race, they need to count the riders in the front group and see how the NRC points, which go down to 25, will affect the team's standings in the overall.
As the laps tick down, Beamon relies more on the riders talking to each other than on trying to shout out directions. "The sprinter needs to be able to direct," he explains. Cantwell is about to show that he is more than competent in driving his team to the line.
Without the radios, the riders have to stay close together in the field, and every time the lead group motors past, at least two Fly V riders are next to each other, and there is a lot of shouting going on from all directions as the laps tick down.
With one lap to go, Beamon is silent. Off in the distance, we can hear the announcer shouting through the PA as Bazzana leads Cantwell into the final corner in fourth position. The crowd is cheering loudly and clanging cow bells in the distance, but on this now dark stretch of city street there's a relative calm.
The announcer's words echo and roar into a mismash of unintelligible babble, and for a moment the race is over but still undecided until Beamon puts the radio to his ear. "Sweet," he says with a smile in response to the information he is given.
Cantwell won, adding to his recent tally with perfect timing to top youngster Jake Keough (UnitedHealthcare) and Patrick Bevin of Bissell.
Beamon stays decidely low-key about the win, although his smile doesn't seem to fade much over the half-mile walk back to the finish line.
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