Sometimes just getting to a race is a race in and of itself. My elite nationals started with a drive from Boulder, Colorado to Hood River, Oregon to race at Mt. Hood. Mt. Hood ended on a Sunday, and that night I took three separate flights to arrive in Quebec City on Monday morning to race the Tour de Beauce. The Tour de Beauce went well, despite crashing out of a top-5 result 500m from the line on stage 1, and crashing again at the base of Mt Megantic; it was nice just to be back in the pro peloton again, racing at a high level for a week and feeling competitive.
From Beauce, I was up before the sun again, taking a 3-legged trip back to Denver, where my uncle met me with my bike and a fresh supply of the ever-essential Skratch drink mix. After dinner and a quick 5-hour rest, it was back in the germ-tube to Augusta, Georgia.
I wasn’t sure how the TT would go after the TT in Canada. The time trial at Tour de Beauce was a little hillier and 10k shorter than the nationals course, and I got crushed. Well, maybe not crushed, but 18th place was nothing to get excited about and my confidence took a little blow. I had to keep reminding myself that at Beauce I was on a TT bike I had never seen, let alone ridden, until 45-minutes before the start; it didn’t fit, and I’d never ridden the course. At nationals I had plenty of time to ride the course, feel out how the hills would go, and see where I could recover. By the time race day came around, my confidence was solid. With “American Badass” stuck in my head, I knew I’d put in the work, and I stomped out of the gate. The rest is pretty self-explanatory; I caught my minute man at the turn-around, and held on for dear life the last 5km. I had to wait about 10-minutes to confirm my win, and it was agonizing. Luckily, two friends were there at the finish, along with announcer Dave Towle, and they kept me distracted enough to avoid a meltdown. Finally, one of the judges put me out of my misery by informing me that no one else on course could beat my time, that I’d won. Winning TT nationals was the first goal I made when I found out I wouldn’t be racing as a pro in 2012, and to have it accomplished was a massive relief.
After winning the TT, I felt satisfied with my week and knew that no matter what happened in the road race I could call it a success. My phone and email were lighting up constantly with messages of congratulations, and as I got closer and closer to the road race, the messages started to shift more towards something like “hey, good job, you should win the road race too!” The first time I read one of those notes, I kept wondering why the TT wasn’t enough for these people, but I quickly realized the TT wasn’t enough for me, that I wanted to go out on Sunday and empty the tank, to fight until I couldn’t hit anymore.
We got lucky on Sunday’s 168km road race; it was a little overcast at the start, which meant it was only slightly unbearable. I had been hoping for a hot, brutal day where the unrelenting course in full sunlight cracked everybody. I had an aggressive hydration strategy that involved a lot of Skratch mix and a lot of ice socks, and knew that most of the field would break just riding the course, so it was somewhat of a surprise to find myself in a group of 7 or so 5km into the race.
I’d planned on having a conservative race, just following moves until the last few laps, but it was an easy move to get into and I went. A couple of guys didn’t want to work initially, but after politely explaining to them that I would gap them off on every rotation until they either worked or went back to the field, everyone got rolling. We didn’t smash it, we just kept rolling steady and every lap guys would bridge up to us until we had maybe 30 or 40 guys with 2 laps remaining. Stefano Barberi and I had talked about attacking and making it a hard day, so when he hit out with 2 laps to go and no one responded, I went with him. Matt Davis and a Hagens Berman rider bridged up to us (he was dropped shortly thereafter), and without a word we just started ripping up the road, fully committed. I told myself that I had to absolutely destroy myself; if we were caught I should be so wrecked that getting back in the field wouldn’t be an option. In the final 10km, it was clear Stefano was hurting, so I had to hope that Matt wouldn’t be able to climb as well as I, and hit them at the bottom of the last climb. The field was closing in as we had 1km to go, and I hit the bottom of the climb with a teaser acceleration. They responded but didn’t counter, so I countered myself and went full gas to the top of the hill, knowing that as I turned the corner it would be a flat 200m to the finish. By the top I had a cozy gap and was able to enjoy the victory. It was a bonus that Matt and Stefano held off the field to make the podium, as they deserved to be up there.
I thought winning nationals would be a feeling of intense joy, but like the pain of a finishing sprint, the sensation faded immediately. The more constant feeling was that of relief. Relief that I had finally shown what I’m capable of and that the hard work I love so much was worth it. Instead of satisfaction with what I achieved last week, I’m left hungry for more.