Anyway, I registered online for the race on Friday night and was very close to just skipping the race altogether come Sunday. My wife and I had some great alone time over the weekend, since our son was at one Grandmother's house and our daughter was at the other's... so we were alone for the first time in a while. Needless to say, bike racing wasn't exactly my main thought. I thoroughly enjoy being with my wife and we don't get to be alone, having two children, very often.
So back to the race that almost wasn't. It was a 30+ race, since there wasn't a 35+ race. I would've preferred a 35+, but I didn't get the choice. The race wasn't until after 4:00, so I had a convenient excuse to miss the Stupid Bore... I mean Super Bowl. I got there around 2:30 so I could take care of registration and get a good warm-up before the race. The course is a favorite of mine since I have only once finished outside the top ten in about 10 races. I won on the course in '96, lapping the field solo. So I obviously have a soft spot for this race. Getting there early also gave me time to be the social butterfly that I am and also kill off the stomach butterflies a bit. I showered and shaved my legs before leaving for the race and by the time I got out of the shower I was nearly having a panic attack because I was so worked up and excited about the race. My hands were shaky and my heart rate was through the roof. I must admit that I am a racing dork. I love racing, but before each race I get so wound up that I nearly barf. I am a dork...
I got the number pinned on to the long sleeve skinsuit and got warmed up. My best friend, and title sponsor for the team I race for, showed up for moral support and to take pictures. I was just glad that I was finally beginning to relax when he got there, otherwise he would have seen me while I was in a clammy cold sweat.
Once the Pro/1/2 race fininshed, we got our one lap of the course and rolled to the line.
(I'm the dork in the red helmet.)
When we got to the line and they gave us our usual instructions, they told us we had 60 old guys in the race. Word to the wise; when 1984 Olympic Pursuit Gold Medal winner Steve Hegg is in your race, the race is going to be fast. Oh yeah, and when a third of the guys who just finished the Pro race slide into your Masters 30+ race, it is going to be fast... really fast.
So this was just a 45 minute race and I had zero expectations for form, but after my trip to Texas a few weeks back, I figured I might have just enough fitness to stay in the pack and not make a total ass of myself.
(And we're off!)
The first few laps were so painful, I had a very, very bad feeling about how things were going to go. The course is effectively on a hillside; the start/ finish is at the top of the rise, then you go around turn one and two on flat ground. Between turn two and three you start going down hill to a sweeping turn to turn four and then you sprint uphill to the false flat back to the start/ finish. All of this in 7/10 of a mile. Doesn't sound too bad does it? Yeah right...
(The view of the uphill sprint.)
After the first few laps, I began to feel less like I was going to barf... but only slightly. I was riding without teammates and in my paranoia over the heavy hitters in the race, I was covering nearly every move that went off the front, thinking each one was "the one" that would get me away from the field and into a break. However, with so many really strong guys in the field, no break stood a chance- not that it stopped me from going after each one. I'm not sure where the strength was coming from, but I found that I was riding very combatively and really being a part of the action. I got into a few breaks that looked good for a lap before getting caught. I took my pulls and I fought to the front each time up the climb. Don't get me wrong, I was still certain I was going to pop a gasket and blow little pieces of old, fat guy all over the road.
(A little blurred, I know, but still a good cornering shot.)
At about the 23 minute mark, with 22 more remaining, I began to get a stomach/ side cramp on my right side and immediately had that, "oh no, not now" feeling. For about two laps I really feared I would have to pull out of the race. After getting past the middle point of the race, I found myself contemplating pulling out. Fortunately, the cramp subsided enough that I gave up on giving up and went back to chasing down Steve Hegg! I've raced with Steve many times and he gets a bit of flack for "being a talker", but I've never had a bad time riding or racing with Steve. In fact, we've always gotten along well, so it was fun to be covering him any time he made a move.
(Turn one and the field has gotten a lot smaller as the race has gone along at White Knuckle speed.)
We finally got to the "5 laps to go" point of the party and I found myself still sitting pretty good and things were still happening with my involvement. At this point, the sprinter in me began to start thinking fondly of a field sprint. My mouth began to water, my focus narrowed and my personality began to shift into "get the hell outta my way" mode. I began to protect my spot in the field a lot more and used my size to make my point- I think I made some poor skinny guy poop his pants coming through turn four with about three laps to go when I shot in under him at a very high rate of speed. Sorry dude...
(Sprinting up the hill and getting ready for the final huckle-buck to the line.)
Just as my salivary glands were getting good and ready, while sitting back in the front group, in the middle of the field and about five bodies from the front, Steve Hegg launched a solo attack with about 2 1/2 laps remaining. I thought to myself, "that's the move right there" and was unable to get out to chase- on top of having no oomph left to chase anyway. A couple of us mustered a half-ass chase, but we couldn't close the gap. Instead, the last 2 1/2 laps were at a speed that is commonly referred to us "holy sh*@" speed. I mean, there's fast and then there's what we were doing. I held my places through the turns and moved closer to what was left of the front. Ring, ding, ding... "ONE LAP TO GO!" I don't know if there are any words that make me break out in a sweat like those little words. Everything was looking good, aside from the fact that Hegg was still ahead of us, and then I made a stupid mistake on the last lap in the last turn and got myself boxed in the middle of the field with no way to the outside! I had played the last few laps perfectly otherwise. Down in my drops. Firm, but relaxed grip on the bars. Shoulders loose. Seated in the saddle and spinning a good gear, never feeling like I couldn't respond a little stronger. My eyes were on the prize and I could smell blood in the water. Basically, I knew I was racing for second, but I felt like second was a formality... until that corner! Oh the agony!
I suddenly went from being in about 5th position to being in about 25th position. I had to come to a near stop, actually hitting my brakes and swerving around the guy in front of me who was fading fast, to get to the outside left of the field and restart my sprint... uphill. The only good news is that once I got the gear rolling again I began to pick off a lot of folks and finally ended up getting 8th place. Not too darned bad for a guy who wasn't sure about racing and who spent far too much time and energy chasing down breaks during the race. Had the finsh line been another 100 meters away, I might have gotten top three instead of top ten. Note to self; don't make stupid mistakes in the last turn on the last lap (and don't let Hegg get away either).
(Immediately after the finish... for 8th place.)
Overall, I was pretty darned happy with my ride for the day. I had such low expectations. Two years is a long time to go without doing a crit and then jump in to a quality field like that. I have to walk away proud.
(With the Team Boss and best friend- Jim Becher.)
I have to give some "shout outs" to other friends in the race; Matt Hoffmann (sales rep extraordinaire and former pro racer who rode in Belgium), Donny Carroll (I went to high school with Donny. He won almost every race there was to win in California as a Junior against the Senior riders. He turned pro with the old Plymouth/ Reebok team and then did time racing pro in Europe- including a few wins. This was first race with Donny since we were both in high school.), John Holderness (I worked with John when I was with NiteRider. John went back to run a few retail operations and now we bump into each other mostly at Interbike. This was the first race I've ever done with him and the skinny boy did a great job!) and of course Shaun Albin (Shaun is a former coworker of mine from when I was with Canari, as well as a former teammate. Shaun is the custom guru at Canari and is one of the best at what he does- hands down.)
Thanks for a great race guys. Let's do that again real soon!