King of the Mountain and Pawn of the Sprint

I’m tired. The good news is that it is a taper week and this 42 year-old body is going to get some rest! One thing for sure is that it didn’t get much on April 10, 2010.

It started early with my alarm going off at 5 AM. Just before 6 AM Bryant Young and I were loading up his car for the drive up to Rock Hill, South Carolina for the Rock Hill Classic Road Race. I would be racing the Category 4 race and Bryant would race in the 4/5 35+ race.

The Garmin got us there on time. We had the opportunity to leisurely get stuff together and to warm-up. Turns out Bryant had even more time as they split his field and put him at a start time more than an hour later than his original time.

My field, which also included the 50+ Masters racers, left right on time at 9:45 AM. Unfortunately, the musketeer who was supposed to fire his black powder gun to start our race misfired… twice. Finally, Chad Andrews, who was calling the race, said “BANG!!” and we rolled off.

My teammates Billy White (Cat. 4) and Randy McCreight (50+) rolled off with the field. From that point until about mid-way through the race, there isn’t much to report. The terrain was rolling and initially there weren’t that many turns we had to make. I was simply sitting in and taking it easy in anticipation of an attack by some of the 50+ Masters guys.

Then we started to approach the King of the Mountain zone. I was about 15 back at that time. When looking at Google Street View, I picked the location. Now that we were out on the road, I wasn’t so sure. Once I thought we had passed it. Ahhh, there was a 1K to go sign.

Two 50+ riders had a slight gap going up to the top. I put it in my “climbing Paris Mountain” gear and settled into a steady pace. Before long, I was at the front. Then I was going off the front. It wasn’t really an acceleration. It was just that no one was coming with me. Then I passed the two riders leading and crossed the KOM with a gap of about 20 yards. It was rather anti-climatic.

Once over the hump, I grew concerned. What if someone launched an attack while I was still recovering? Things did speed up, but not enough to cause much trouble. Before long, I was fully recovered and actually feeling better than before the KOM. Maybe I just needed to get my legs warmed up with a good climb.

We all settled in for a bit, but then Dave LeDuc went off the front and got a pretty good gap. Then Chris Calder went after him. Basically, no one wanted to go after LeDuc and we figured if Chris was man enough to go after him, he would have to be man enough to STAY with him!

I’ll hand it to Chris. The junior racer stayed up there much longer than we anticipated. I was impressed. However, we did reel him in after he dropped back from the elder pro.

I spent some time at and on the front at this time. The idea was to make sure that I was there should any break begin that I wanted to be a part of. I also wanted to be near the front as we made the final turns of the day. It did wear me down a bit and I had to back off to recover some before the final push.

It was then that we entered a section of the course where there were two quick right-left turns relatively close to each other. We had captured LeDuc by this time and field was all together. It was in the final fourth of the race and people were starting to get tired — but also antsy and faster. It is a dangerous combination.

In the first section I made the first right-hand turn and was setting up for the left when I heard people yelling. Looking into the next turn I could see a rider sitting on the asphalt with his bike. Off of the right side of the road was another rider who overshot the turn. Whew! Billy and I made it through that one okay!

Before you knew it we were back into another one. I was right on Billy’s wheel as we made the right turn. I recall thinking how synchronized it all looked as we were leaning to the right. Suddenly, the rider beside Billy got out of shape and bumped my teammate. The way he wobbled, I thought he was going to slide tackle Billy.

That would be bad enough except when Billy slowed, I came on his outside. Billy had to correct which sent him straight and I had to react as well. We straightened out together and then leaned hard right to get back in line for taking the left-hander. My heart was in my throat as we managed to make it through unscathed.

Then it was just a matter of being in the right position for the right-hand turn into the finishing straight. It is about a 2K distance from the turn to the line. I wanted to be in the first ten around that turn. Then the goal was to lead Billy and Randy to the front if possible and get as many of us in the top 10 as possible.

The turn found me about 15 or so back. I was blocked on the right side of the field. The pack was so thick, I knew I wouldn’t be able to work over to the left side for when the yellow line rule was pulled giving us the whole road. The move was going to have to happen down the white line.

Really only one rider was keeping me from making the move. As the field begin to surge to the left of me, I began to have that feeling of panic that things were getting away from me. Finally, I gave up waiting for the perfect hole and muscled my way along the sandy and rutted line to get around the blocking rider. Now, I saw an opening to move toward  front.

Problem is, it turns out I got there a little too soon. Suddenly I was on the front with about 500 meters to go. I knew I wanted to wait until around 200 meters to go. I saw a rider to my right attack and by that time we were just outside the 200 meter line.

I launched with him and we drag raced down toward the finish. Then he started inching ahead. Then he was moving in front of me. I was spinning away, but not gaining… just losing ground slowly. It hit me that I was not going to win… again after coming so close.

I sagged. Then I saw him ease. I picked up the pace, but he reacted and held the gap. Then another rider took advantage of my momentary lapse of fight and moved past me. I tried to hold him off, but it was too late. My disappointment at not getting the win led to me not getting second either. NEVER EVER QUIT ON A SPRINT AGAIN!

Photo by Eddie Helton

Bryant started after we finished our race. He rode strong for the first half of the race and then got caught out after an acceleration from a turn. After that he was left to finish the ride pretty much alone. Then he bonked. It was the first time ever for him. Two and a half hours later he rolled into the finish.

I really try to see Bryant as just a regular guy riding his bike. However, every time he does something like this, I am just amazed. It was fun and inspiring spending the day with him.

Overall, it wasn’t so bad. I won enough money to pay for the registration and some food for Bryant and me. Even the third place – with the it-doesn’t-count-for-anything KOM seems better the farther I get away from it. Besides… now it is time to start planning for the next race!