According to the USA Cycling Race Predictor, I was the favorite to win! A prediction like this brings up two issues: The pressure people put on you because they expect it to happen, and the pressure you put on yourself to make it happen. I have been to multiple National Championships at all levels and everything has to be perfect to win. Everyone that comes to Nationals is here to win either as a team or as an individual. You do not race for money: just pure pride to say, “On this day, I was the best rider in the country.”
On race day, I was ready. We had a Monster Media/MRI team meeting and talked out strategy. It was me, Randall, Coxworth, James Gunn-Wilkinson, and Brian Cook. The plan was for me or Randall to be there for the win. Randall, being a great teammate, told me that he was also here to make sure I did my best. Brian and James were there to waste themselves for the team.
The course was a six-turn, one-kilometer course that had a slight uphill and downhill with some wind. The course had “Stay in the front and do not leave the front” written all over it. It was tight and technical and brought on two threats if you were more than 10 people back from the front; crashes and braking. Neither one of those is a good thing at Nationals.
They called us up to the line and off we went, everyone gunning for the front. Immediately I was on the front for two laps stringing it out and trying to let others know, I was here to play. The first five laps were fast and I could hear the horrible sound of crashing behind me it seemed like every lap we would go by the pit at 29 mph and they were pushing guys back in the race that had crashed.
About 10 laps into the race, I found myself in a five-man breakaway with 25 seconds on the field. Let me note that in that move was Jason Walker (Team Specialized Racing Masters), former National Champion, and Michael Johnson (Breakaway from Cancer), the horsepower from Hell, and won of the most talented riders in SoCal. The other two guys were hanging on and helped when they could. It was a strange break. We were dysfunctional and could not put it together. I thought we were gone and off to the podium, but it did not work. Just when the group was charging up to us, Jason Walker jumped and attacked again. Nobody went. “No problem,” I thought. “One guy along with 80 other guys chasing him that all want to win too. We will bring him back.” That was my major mistake. Never under estimate your competition.
About half way through the race the single attacks started trying to go across to Walker, but they weren’t having much luck. He has holding strong at 25 seconds on us lap after lap. I started to realize that he may hold it. I called all four of my Monster Media/MRI teammates to the front. We all started rotating through and bringing back about two seconds a lap. Lap after lap we were making a dent, but not enough to bring him back without help from other teams. No one else helped. For 10 laps we burned through Brian, Randall, and James to get within 10 seconds of Walker and not a single rider or team would help. Everyone was in the hurt locker, including me. I figured that once we got him in sight that people would jump across and the dots would connect, but it didn’t happen. As soon as I took my last hard dig and pulled off, so did the rest of the field. I yelled at the field to get them motivated but it was no use. The field was trashed and Walker built his lead back up to 20 seconds.
With five laps to go I had to conserve a little for the finish. I had only Randall left; James and Brian had done their jobs for the day and pulled out. I sat about third wheel and protected anyone from running up. With one to go I moved to second wheel and put Randall on my wheel. My thinking was that either he would have the power to go with me and get second, or he would gap me when I jumped and make it harder for others to follow. With half a lap to go into the tight uphill turn three, in the 200 meter segment of the course, I jumped with everything I had. Four things were going through my head: Clean through the turns, do not touch your breaks at all, sprint with as much force as possible out of the top corner and do not look back. I did look back of course and saw a gap. I focused on the last turn, taking it clean. I finished a solid second and immediately went up to Walker and gave him all the respect in the world. He earned those stripes. On this day, Jason Walker was the best rider in the country. I was the first loser but I was pleased with the team and myself. I just love to race my bike.