Elite National Road Race 2013

I’ll cut to the chase. I was 5th, just barley making it onto the 5-man podium for fame, glory, and riches beyond my wettest dreams. I was not stoked though. I was only coming here to win god damn it! But considering how “sick and shitty” I’ve been lately, 5th is pretty remarkable, according to Liam. After reflection, I have decided that I agree. It was the deepest national field ever (since there are now only 60 or 70 conti pros left), the course was super challenging, and I was on the tail end of a three-week-long cold. Still though, one of my favorite moments yesterday was talking to Adelaide on my cellular telephone after the race and telling her I got 5th, to which she gloomily replied, “Yeah I saw. Oh well.” She knew I’d only be happy with the win. I laughed about her reaction later, since 5th would warrant excessive congratulations from most people. Adelaide has only known me this year during my reign of success so she’s used to me only having great results or super strong rides.

I’ll get to the report, but first the news: the day before the race (Thursday), Michael and I rode the course for a little over an hour to check it out and open our legs after our day of travel on Wednesday. I personally felt like shit but once I could tell Michael was suffering I upped the pace and dropped him. I think we may have ridden harder during that pre-race recon ride than during the actual race. We got ice cream at the small country convenience store at the bottom of the hill afterwards.

(Note: we went there after the race too and the store owner gave us TWO FREE PIECES OF PIZZA!!!! Simply amazing, Wisconsin! When I become dictator of the world I will refrain from making your state part of my mid-continental sea. Instead, I will make you into an island filled with dairy cows, corn, and free pizza for all)!

Michael and I have been staying here at the Motel 6 in Madison, which doubles as a half-way home for ex-cons and recovering meth addicts. No joke. There’s a parole officer that stays here full time. When I first checked in, I saw the parole officer knock and then enter a room with a hand firmly grasping his still-holstered gun. I’m fairly certain that Michael and I are the only real motel guests. Everyone else is here for the long haul. They crowd the outside parking lot late at night to hang out and smoke cigarettes. Their children roam about the sidewalks during the day. One little girl was standing out there yesterday just yelling nonsense to nobody. Just screaming with her hands over her ears and unleashing what will one day become psychopathic anger into the street. These Motel 6 prisoners are dressed in pajamas all day long and seem to only leave their rooms to gather junk food from the downstairs vending machines. Loud doors slam and arguments boom down the hallways at night. I’ve already been asked by a friendly prostitute (or a really horny, tatted-out woman) if I’d like to come to her room. I declined. So that’s where we’re staying. The Motel 6 itself is in the bad part of town too. Late last night when I was out stealing wifi from Rocky’s Party Pizzeria next door, I saw about a dozen souped-up crappy sedans racing and doing peel outs in the middle of the road. Plus a couple gangs of croch rockets went by multiple times. I think the parking lot at Rocky’s Party Pizzeria is the local meeting spot for street racers.

The course was hilly, with one main climb and one steep wall. That first wall was short and steep and never really felt too bad to me. There’s a downhill after that, followed by a long stretch of flat road, some small bumps, then a fairly steep five minute climb. From there you go left after the top false flat section and barrel downhill for ten minutes and do it all over again for six laps total. Unfortunately, one of the originally planned hills was taken out of our course due to road construction, making our race extremely short at just 80 miles. As you  know, I don’t think any road races should be less than 100 miles.

It was hot and muggy but not too bad actually. I was pretty comfortable. I got in some last minute sauna training last week. Michael and I also had one of his teammates, Finn, handing bottles to us in the feed zone. This turned out to be crucial, as my $100 race fee didn’t go to any neutral bottles in the feed zone. None. Instead, USA Cycling divvied the $20,000 in race entry fees to the fully loaded cash prize list. Wait…

Finn, at 6’3″ 200 pounds, was the most graceful bottle feeder that I’ve ever had the pleasure to grasp a bottle from. Each hand off was a complete motion of fluidity and ease. I didn’t grab them, Finn coaxed the bottles into my hand. Every time I got an ice cold bottle from Finn it felt like a thousand tiny ice feries were having an orgy right in my palm.

Okay, NOW onto the race. But first a few quotables from the week: the first is from John Hornbeck of Hagens. The second time up the main climb I heard this roar of anger and dirty words come from Steve Tillford. “Keep your fucking hands on your fucking bars when you climb. FUCK!! FUCKING FUUUUCK!!!” I think there were a few other words mixed in there but that’s all I heard. I looked over to see him arguing with John, who replied with the most SoCal phrase I can think of: “Bro, chill out.” Followed by, “Dude.” This brought me much laughter. But of course, since I’m staying with Michael, the best quotes of the week came from him.

While we were talking about how amazing it was to get ice-cold bottles out of the cooler in the feed zone, as opposed to luke warm bottles, Michael suddenly became very angry that more people don’t realize that cold water is a performance enhancer in the heat. This little doozy came out of Michael’s angry lips a second later: “It’s fucking science!”

Another one: “I’m a one-woman kinda guy.”

Another while talking about amateurs VS pro tour riders: “They just don’t like to break wind. I guess in the Pro Tour they don’t mind breaking wind as much.”

While eating ice cream on a bench, Michael’s cone started dripping white cream all over his shirt and crotch. “Damnit. It slipped out.” Finn didn’t even need to say it but he did anyways…That’s what she said.

Michael is the master of unintentional humor.

Finally the race: We started out downhill for 10 minutes of brake-melting neutral coasting. Once we started racing I began to drift back into the pack farther and farther, having no interest in following moves or tempting myself with a dumb early attack. It worked and I avoided the early break, which was just one guy. The first time up the climb was hard but not impossible to crest the hill in the top 20. The second time was easier, thought it got hard again near the top during an attack. It slowed down a couple hundred meters before the downhill so I attacked on the left before anyone else got the chance. I knew it was going to hurt just as much following as leading. My move didn’t really go anywhere.

The third time up the climb was the one that counted. Five guys got away just over the top. A CashCall rider set off in pursuit on the descent. Roman Kilun (Mike’s Bike’s) went after him. I was the last to go and made contact with Roman a minute later. The eight of us all joined up part way into the descent and quickly built a good lead, working together and taking even pulls. With most of the major teams represented, I knew it was a solid move to invest my energy with. A lap later we had 1:30 to the field, though suddenly four more bridged to us (I think). After the fifth time up the climb it was down to ten. I’m not sure if we dropped guys on that climb or if it was really only two guys that bridged to us, but the final ten that would contest the finish were:

David Santos and Cole House (CashCall)
Stephen Leece (Cal Giant)
Cameron Cogburn (CCB)
Joe Schmalz (Elbowz)
Colby Ricker (Sonic Boom)
Kevin Mullervye  (Champion System) 
Roman Kilun (Mike’s Bikes)
Andrew Seitz (Panther)
Me

Our gap was holding strong and I thought it was obvious that if we let it come down to the final climb, Cogburn would win. He was lighting the climb up each time with ferocity normally reserved for a Kennett devouring a large hoagie. The final time up the climb (the sixth time), instead of stopping after the feed zone it continued on for another kilometer across the top false flat lumpy section. From there you take a quick downhill turn to the right and go straight back up another steep climb for about one kilometer. The final four hundred meters of this are the hardest, steepest pitch.

House was the first to attack and he did it on the steep wall that I said never hurt that much. This time it did hurt a tiny bit I guess. It was about 10K before the finish and broke our group into three pieces, with me not worried about following the attack and deciding to save my legs in the third group. A minute or two later we all came back together as I assumed we would and I attacked and got away solo on a short downhill. I immediately had a good gap and no one chased. Had I been feeling 100% that day I’d have gone for it and if those guys didn’t organize a good chase I’d have been gone for good. But I wasn’t at full power. I was faking it. I had been feeling pretty weak all day long and knew I’d blow sky high within five minutes so I sat up after a K and let them catch me. We went really slow for a long time after that with only a few weak attacks. I went a final time right before the final climb just to see if I could get some distance before the real fireworks went off. I was joined by Colby but we were both reeled in pretty quickly once the climb began.

At first, our pace was more mellow than I’d thought it would be and was happy about that. Leece attacked pretty early. I set a decent pace on the front. He hovered about 15-20 seconds up the road and nobody made a move until we were most of the way up the steep part of the climb. Cogburn went. I didn’t even try to follow. No one did. Shorty afterwards Schmalz went. For the rest of us, it was now obviously a race for fourth place.

Some hard, hurtful accelerations were made over the top of the climb by the five guys left in our group. We went down the short, 20-second long descent and Kevin and I pulled off the front as Roman came around. The gradient decreased for a minute and we all took the opportunity to attempt to catch our breath and get the acid out of our legs. I personally failed on both accounts. I was at the back now.

With 500 meters to go I was on the verge of giving up. I NEVER give up in races, so it was pretty disheartening for me to even be thinking this. We were all in massive amounts of pain at this point and there were about 2.5 minutes of the worst pain yet to come. Usually I relish this moment. I believe I can push much harder than most in the final minutes of a race, especially when it’s been hard all day long and the final effort involves climbing a steep wall. But the last two weeks had been far below ideal race preparation and the mental and physical toll were wearing on me. I’d only done a handful of rides in the last 20 days and my cough had just subsided on Monday. All of these bad thoughts were going through my head as I began to get dropped from the remainder of the breakaway. I would finish 10th, last of the breakaway. But somewhere I found that last little bit of will power and forced myself up out of the saddle. I passed two guys. Then I passed one more. Than one more. I was closing in on Colby for 4th but ran out of hill. Once we got to the final 100 meter flat section at the top there was nothing more I could do. I crossed the finish line in 5th a few seconds behind him and 24 seconds behind the winner, Leece. I know I shouldn’t be upset about this result but it seems like my whole season has been characterized by near misses and consistent decency. I’ve rarely had a superb race this season (or a superb race by my standards). I want to win. I want to win a stage of an NRC. I have a few more opportunities and hopefully this week of training/racing and the next week of intervals back home will get me up to my normal level so I can take out that Aubrey Butte stage at Cascade. Then there’s a month off in August to fully focus on getting fast before my final two races of the year: Green Mountain and Buck’s County (PS if anyone knows of a team I can guest ride with at Buck’s County, please let me know).

I rode three hours today for some extra volume and have been laying around in my sweaty bed ever since. Tomorrow is the crit. I will be attacking. I need more food. Chipotle is calling again.

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I am all that is disgusting…my arms and chest look huge. Photo by Erika Fulk of Detroit Spoke.

Screen shot 2013-07-06 at 6.33.40 PM

Photo from USA Cycling. Left to right: Colby, Cameron, Stephen, Joe, me.

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