So here it is, Saturday, September 8, 2012 and we are warming up to race the last race of the 2012 race season. I’m really excited, pumped up and working on my mind to stay focused and work out the details on how I am going to put together this race so that it works in Team Breakaway from Cancer’s favor, for either Roger Worthington or me to take home the National Championship Jersey back to Southern California. Not for me so much, but more importantly for the hope of all the cancer survivors and fighters that we ride and race for day in and day out.
The warm up is done and we are about to line up for the 50-54 Masters National Criterium Championship. Approximately 80 of the fastest guys in the USA are here to take home the jersey. Bubba Melcher from Team Specialized is last year’s champion. He rode away from the field last year and won the championship. He is a big guy with a big heart and the big smile that everyone loves. We all love Bubba.
We line up a few meters back from the starting line because they are calling up riders to the front of the starting line. The first guy that they call up to the line is Bubba since he is last years champion in this event. The next guy they call up is me; last year’s 45-49 National Criterium Champion. Next, they call up a Safeway Team Rider who placed third in last years 45-49 crit, and the last guy called to the start line before the entire field is called up is my teammate, Roger Worthington.
We get the last few race instructions from the lead official and we are ready to go. The best race announcer in the country, Dave Towle, is the lead announcer and he counts us down to 4, 3, 2, 1, and we are off to race 40 laps on a very tight .65 mile twisty turning loop that is very tight. This race is going to be very fast and you must concentrate and stay focused on every turn and pedal stroke. We are doing approximate one minute 40 second lap times and the laps are counting down very fast. Lots of attacks and counterattacks are happening and my focus is to stay close to the front with limited exposure. My goal is to start a break or get in a break because there are crashes happening every few laps.
A few attacks and counterattacks with small gaps are also happening, however nothing is sticking. As the laps keep counting down I realize that this race is going to come down to a field sprint. Roger attacks with a small gap, Alan Flores (Spy Blue) attacks with a small gap, Larry Nolan (Team Specialized Racing Masters) attacks with a small gap, but nothing is lasting more than a lap. Now it’s nine laps to go which means no more mechanical free laps.
Before long I hear Dave Towel announce, “One to go, one to go, one to go, one to go!” We’re down to the final lap of the season. We are rolling at 35 miles per hour, lots of huffing and puffing. We round the final few turns and strongman Larry Nolan ramps it up with two turns to go. He is rolling at about 38 miles per hour, and he is rocking it. My plan is to get to the last corner ahead of everyone so I am full gas now and I am clear going into the last corner. I fly through the last corner and it’s approximately 150 meters to the finish line. I am clear and clean and I hear Dave Towle yelling at the top of his lungs, “Its Richard Meeker from the Breakaway from Cancer.” Yes! I am so excited, grateful and humbled to be able win back-to-back National Criterium titles in Bend Oregon. What an amazing experience.
Joseph Paulson (Boulder Orthopedics) places second and to round out the top three is Michael O’Rourke (Safeway). Placing fourth was Southern California’s own Alan Flores, who rode a great strong race. Larry Nolan rounded out the top five. We head for a cool down and watch a few other races to cheer on our other SoCal friends and teammates.
The awards ceremony is at 7 PM back at the start/finish line of the crit course. They call up our race category and after they hand out the medals and jersey, the call out the Best All Around (BAR) rider, which I am amazed is me. Wow, what an experience to win the crit, get second in the road race, and win the BAR award as well. I was totally blown away by that unexpected call up.
I want to take this opportunity to thank all the participants that we race with, Breakaway from Cancer, all of the sponsors who support us, my teammates who always deliver, USA Cycling,, the referees, the promoters, and the fans. Thank you for another humbling, amazing season. I am grateful to all of you. I appreciate you, I thank you and most of all, and I love you. Now for a restful off season. Hope to see everyone out on the road.