Winning any bike race is frickin’ hard. I don’t care if it’s El Dorado Park on Tuesday night, it’s frickin’ hard to win. I’ve always said that it’s impossible for one rider to target a specific race, pin their hopes on victory and then pull it off. So, I never do it. The problem is, with the National Championships I don’t really have a choice.
I raced the Cascade Classic many, many times as a pro so going in I knew the crit course was good for me. But, ultimately in any race it’s the rider’s I’m racing, not the course. As soon as I heard announcer Dave Towel count down to our start and the gun went off, the information gathering began.
Watching how the competition is behaving is the key to victory for me, and I had to assess who wanted to do what, but more importantly, who was capable of what. I had two teammates with me, Lance Coburn and Aaron Gadhia, but Aaron’s job was to save it for a field sprint, so that just left Lance and I to actually do the race. There’s a lot of nervous energy at the start of a race like that and Lance did a great job going to the front immediately to keep any early moves in check, and to give me a chance to settle in three or four riders back and not have to hit the wind.
After a number of early moves were reeled right in, Lance slipped back to take a break. Almost immediately Bart Bowen (Bicycle Ruidoso) attacked. I knew Bart was in the race, but I didn’t know what he was wearing and wasn’t sure it was him when he went. As soon as I heard Dave announce his name I went on high alert. I raced with Bart all through the early ‘90s when we were both real pros and I was there when he won the U.S. Pro Road Championships in Philly. Bart’s the real deal, and when he got 20 seconds I started subtly recruiting anyone I thought was a player in the race by talking Bart up. Many of the guys didn’t seem to know who he was, (mind blowing to me, but that’s another story). Anyway, I did some hard turns myself, and I also got some help from SoCal’s Schroeder Iron boys who I thought wanted a field sprint. Those boys are masters at putting together a chase and always willing to lay it all on the line as a team. We got Bart back pretty quick and it was the only real attack he tried all day.
From that point on the race was a series of accelerations and small splits, all of which I covered and none of which had the horsepower to ride away from a chasing field. There seemed to be a number of riders following me, but none of them wanted to work in the splits, or simply couldn’t. There were a couple times when a single rider dangled off the front of the field, but didn’t have the juice to ride away, so I didn’t bother trying to bridge.
Reading races is a constant information gathering and sorting process, and when I saw 10 laps to go I was looking for the winning opportunities I was sure would come. Looking, waiting, positioning, planning, executing… no mistakes. At about five to go I saw Aaron had come up to me and that gave us a couple different cards to play. Sorry, I can’t say what they all were, (it’s a National Championship remember) but, I will say that there were a number of fast guys left in the field and it was never going to come down to me leading out a field sprint.
There’s nothing I’ve found in life that can match the feeing I get at the end of big race. The adrenalin is flooding the system, the mental and visual cues are on high alert and my body’s simply doing what it just seems to know how to do.
Stay calm, asses the situation, plan, execute, and win. It came all the way down to the last lap before a good winning opportunity presented itself. A late race solo is always a card I have in my hand, and the chance came to play it as we crossed the finish line and headed toward turn one. The pack started to swarm to the front, and while most riders are probably thinking, “I need to be up there”, I’m thinking, “Turn one is very tricky. There’s only one line at this speed and I’m going to be first or second through it because what’s going to come next is the chance I need to win.” So, with that in mind, I burnt a big match to be on the front and go through the turn clean. Too many guys tried to sit behind and not use the energy necessary, and when they tried to go through the turn four abreast at that speed, of course there was a crash.
I came out of the turn clean and with great momentum. I let one rider slot in front of me who I trusted and had been riding the front all day and glanced under my arm. Aaron was gone and what was left of the field was now single file with very small little gaps between everyone. When I saw that I knew I’d won. I just knew. We still had the rest of the last lap to do, but I had played out the winning move in my mind many times during the race and now the chance was sitting right in front of me. The important part to understand about this story is that the effort I made to stay on the front with one to go is what gave me the chance to execute the winning move. Without that effort, there would have been no winning move.
The move itself and how it was executed is going to have to stay a secret. Sorry, but like I said earlier, it’s the National Championships, and the older I get the more I need to keep a couple trump cards hidden up my sleeve. If you really want to know how I won ask one of my teammates and maybe they’ll give it up. I doubt it though, because as the first sentence of this race report reads, winning bike races is just so frickin’ hard. Congratulations to all the guys who came home with stars and stripes. There were some seriously impressive rides done in a great weekend of racing.