After finishing third at the 2011 Master’s Criterium National Championships, I decided then to plan the 2012 season around a single goal; winning the 2012 Master’s Criterium National Championships. Doug Knox at Time Sports USA completely supported the goal, telling me he didn’t care if I won a single race all season, just as long as I won Nationals.
The winning move in the criterium really started on Wednesday as my teammate Rudy Napolitano and I pre-rode the road race course. The team learned very quickly that the road race was perfect for Rudy’s racing style, so we decided that Rudy would force an early break away, I would police the peloton and the chase. The planned worked perfectly, and I had to do very little as Rudy was so strong he convincingly won the road race by not only riding away from the peloton, but his six breakaway companions as well.
How was this the “winning move” for the criterium? Well, with Rudy’s soul crushing display of strength in the road race, and rivalry with Monster Media/MRI, he was the perfect distraction for me to set up a breakaway move for the criterium on Saturday.
On Saturday morning Rudy and I got in a short training ride to get ready for the evening’s criterium. Rudy kept pumping me up and telling me the race was mine, and we developed a simple race strategy during the morning ride. Rudy and I would attack the field early and alternate attacks to put Monster Media on the defense immediately.
In the first three laps of the 50-lap race I knew I was on good legs. It felt easy following wheels and I was super relaxed on the course which had six corners, one chicane leading into a slight riser, and compression bumps in every corner. Rudy and I immediately began trading attacks, but with 80 percent efforts to see who else was on form. It was obvious that Rudy was the hot wheel to follow. Every attack he made was followed by several riders and at least two Monster Media riders who perhaps rode with too much emotion, as they seemed more intent on preventing Rudy from winning than setting themselves up for the race.
Rudy and I continued the alternating attacks for the next 30 or so laps. The field was getting tired, the top ten riders were strung out and the rest of the field looked like they would be happy to just get across the finish line. The danger men were still Charon Smith (Surf City Cyclery), and Kayle Leo Grande (Monster Media), but even they were looking a little ragged from the constant attacks, and the numerous compression bump-filled corners. I felt then it was time to put in a 100 percent attack effort to force the final section, as I had no desire to leave it to a sprint with Charon or even Kayle.
As the field came into 18 laps to go, the top 10 riders where not lined up well, every one was letting gaps open and hoping for the attacks to stop, so I set up to be second wheel through turns one and two. As I set up wide to take attack out of turn three, I heard an experienced Karl Bordine (Monster Media) yell, “He’s going to go…,” and he was right. I put in a 100 percent attack effort out of turn three, buzzing from one side of the chicane to the other and up the riser. I hit the hard right-hander at the top of the course and then gave everything I had down the long straight away to the sweeper corner into the finish straight.
I settled into the effort, thinking a select group would come across, but I was alone, which allowed me to pick the perfect line and pedal through every corner. I soon had a 10 second gap, which on this tight course meant I was out of sight for two-thirds of the lap. Between the final 17 and 10 laps, the gap to the peloton grew to about 17 seconds. As I came through with 10 laps to go I thought to myself, “I am all in now.”
As I counted down the laps; 10, 9, 8, 7, 6…. I allowed my mind to wonder and I lost my focus. I heard as I came across the line with six laps to go a lady yell, “Seven seconds.” I got nervous and I let thoughts of failure, fatigue, and pain fill my head. I came out of turn one and saw Doug Knox and my teammate, Mark Noble (Time Factory Team) watching me suffer. I started to hear people talking, screaming, and knew I had lost focus on the effort. I was slowing down and as I came through turns two and three into the chicane, I stood up for the first time since I had attacked to get my speed back. I saw Chris DeMarchi (Monster Media) at the top of the riser standing in the corner watching the race.
Chris, with his years of racing experience, could tell the focus was gone. I heard him yell, which if you know Chris he has a very loud and distinctive voice, “Sit down and focus!” I got scared and angry to the point of rage coming over me and it gave me a huge adrenaline rush that I very much needed. I sat down and repeated in my head, “focus, focus, focus.” As I came into lap four, the noise of the crowd disappeared, the focus was back.
I don’t remember laps four, three, and two. Calmness came over me and I didn’t hear or see the crowd. The pain in my legs was gone. , These three laps were a blur, I had tunnel vision and I was in “the zone” as they say.
As I came into the final lap I heard the bell ring, which brought me back to the moment. I exited turn one to see Doug and Mark again as they screamed and cheered for me, they knew I had the win. I came through turns two and three and into the chicane and up the riser to see Chris, who had no idea that his encouragement had been the catalyst to re-focus my winning ride. I gave Chris a smile and a nod as I rounded turn five. I relaxed down the long straight away allowing myself for the first time to look back and see where the field was. I slowed for the final corner and soft-pedaled to the finish, enjoying the moment.
And of course I celebrated. I did it. I won a National Championship.