its been a long time coming...
Its been a tough year- filled with hope, plans, ideas, goals, objectives, despair, ruined plans, failure to meet goals and objectives...you get the point. the leg cramps were like a broken collar bone on my season. For the first time since I was a junior, I had a plan for the season that was yet to begin. I produced a rough plan, some targeted races and was lucky enough to hook up with a great group of people to ride my bike with when the weather absolutely sucked. Most importantly, I had the blessing of my wife to spend the hours on the bike; after work, in the basement, on the weekends, out in the snow and rain for hours. I showed up to the Bananas with high hopes. After a 14th place and a 2nd I thought I was on the path to meeting my goals. After all, a 14th and a 2nd last year would be considered unqualified successes. But, for better or for worse, they seem more like 'almost success' after all the training and planning. I guess that's the dilemma. When you double down and actually train in the off season with the intent of doing well you consciously or unconsciously draw a line that says 'below #1, you fail'. I don't like that. To me, its unhealthy, and it takes away from the sublimity of our sport. But you must be an antihero to ride this way. Its all around you- the vernacular, the news, etc...you are steeped in the ooze.
Monday night was amazing. I showed up, and my legs showed up and maybe best of all, my teammate showed up to race in the same race as me. Cool. The racing was fantastic- the pace was high and consistent, the riding was clean and safe, and there were multiple attacks by strong riders. I followed a two man break on the third lap- a PV rider and a RCB rider. Both strong, and if I'm not mistaken, both have sailed off and won in the same fashion. So this time, I didn't let them get too far before I chased them down. I joined them on the back straight and we pushed hard through the first three turns hoping to establish a gap- but it never grew larger than a hundred meters or so. We were caught by the front straight. I felt so good that I tried to contest the first hot spot lap and was left out of position when we got to within a few hundred meters. So I pulled up and didn't push through to the end. Instead, I made sure that I didn't loose too much ground on the front of the pack. Just as we passed the Start/Finish the bell rang again- another hotspot- back to back. The pace was up again almost immediately. Those who had been left out on the first sprint were thinking about the second. After just trying a break away and pushing for the line, I was pretty gassed. Now, in seasons passed, I would have been in danger of getting gapped and eventually dropped in this kind of scenario. But I was able to suck it up and recover while I was still putting out a pretty high effort. It was miraculous, really. 'so this is what its like...' I thought to myself to be 'strong enough to repeat.' I'd read about that for years and never thought about what it actually meant (I credit my two interval classes w/ Jeff Tedder for this...it felt exactly the same in class as in the race..only the race was easier!). Strange, I know. By the end of the back straight I had caught my breath and was thinking about the next sprint. I had great position right near the front. Within a couple hundred meters of the finish I was picking my way through the wheels for the win. Sometimes it's easy. That was easy. Weird. Its like playing on an eight foot hoop. Does that make me a sandbagger?
Dave tried a couple of times to get off the front with a break. We were positioned together and when he went I blocked...trying to pedal softly while not pedaling too softly is an art. You have to go strong enough that its not clear that you aren't chasing. I figure, try and keep the chasers on your wheel, content to have you 'tow' them up, but in actuality, let the break sneak off. Unfortunately for Dave, nothing stuck and he found himself back in the pack.
The third hotspot didn't go quite as well as the second, but 2nd place is good for points, if not the cash. I think it was a rider from Team Oakland who jumped early and away to the left for the win- I followed, but far too late, and he wasn't slowing. I closed a lot of the gap, but at some point I sat up and began thinking about getting back on the front for the final sprint set up.
On the backside, Dave offered up the lead out, so we coordinated. I didn't know it until later, but Dave's old teammate, Steve (?) helped on the train too. He got up on the front on the last turns and held a high pace, followed by Dave, then me. By the final straight we were basically one, two, three, with another rider out there with us. At five or six hundred, Steve started slowing, Dave paused for a second and the pace slowed a bit. I could see the shadows of Ironclad, and the pack over my right shoulder- the setting sun casting long shadows in front of them. They were gathering there, waiting for their moment. I shouted at Dave to keep going 'Go! Go!..Don't slow down!'. We were a long way out. Too far for Dave to deliver me with less than two hundred to go. 'Go, Dave!', I shouted. Dave put his head down and hammered. I could see him working, dragging out everything he had. At two hundred, the Ironclad posse was on us. I swung hard to the left- hell bent. I kicked as hard as I could- pushing my hips into it, nearly pulling my front wheel off the ground. I looked back to gauge my effort, and saw that I had gapped the group by a bunch- maybe ten lengths or more. A couple of riders had jumped off the front to the right and were closer, but still pretty far back. I dropped down a gear and drilled it home. Open road in front of me. First road win of the year.