It was a great weekend! The POA Cycling Team had an okay Saturday, but an incredible Sunday. We got podium finishes in each category race we entered. I’m thankful to say that I was one of them winning the bronze in the South Carolina State Criterium Championships at Hampton Park in Charleston.
Waiting through the afternoon for my race to start at 3:30 PM, I knew that this race would be different from Saturday’s. The feeling of confidence was there and as I warmed up on the trainer before going out, I was getting in the zone. This would not be a 20th place finish.
On the line I felt very calm and was able to joke around with some of the guys I’ve come to get used to having around me in the field. Tebbetts was right there on the front with me and I knew he was ready to turn himself inside out to get me to the front. Billy was also starting a bit behind us, but it was a big help knowing that his experience would be out there to help keep me from doing something too stupid.
We rolled off. Tebbetts and I were on the front and kept an easy pace waiting for someone to come around and take over. They did and it was time to get down to work. As it turned out, there were several attempts at breaks and some actually got out there for a couple of laps. It was hard to hold one though because the course was flat and there were long stretches where you could see the person trying to escape. Each one was brought back.
Early on I went up and picked up the pace just to test the legs and also to take some of the turns at a higher speed. I knew I would need to be comfortable with that at the end of the race. However, after expending a little energy, I went back in the field to recover and wait.
With six laps to go there was a guy out alone with a sizable gap. The pace picked up to catch him I knew that it was time to start planning for the finish. At this point I was riding between 15 to 20 riders from the front. It was time to move up.
A couple of things made me more confident as the race wound down. One was that I was getting the hang of the turns. Rather that braking into the corner and then sprinting out. I looked for a line that would allow me to roll into the corner and in some cases keep my pedals moving so that I was easing out of the turn on the wheel in front of me without having to sprint each time. This saved a lot of energy.
The other was that I was learning to control my space. I concentrated on finding a line through each corner and then holding it so that the riders around me could trust me. However, a moment that sticks out in my mind was a time when I was between two riders and the rider to my right began to squeeze in on me. In the past, that might have made me nervous, but not this time.
Our bars bumped, but neither of us reacted. We simply rode along beside each other leaning on the other. However, I was not going to give up my spot. The reason why that moment stuck out to me was because it felt completely right. I was calm when at points in the past I might have overreacted. My thought was, this is my spot and you are not going to have it. It was fun!
Matt had been on the front for a couple of laps as we neared two to go. He was amazing! We were going at a pretty good clip and he just kept hammering. I moved to the front at that point because I did not want to get caught near the back when things started getting wild at the finish. It was a chance I was willing to take to avoid a crash.
Billy saw me up there and moved around me to get me out of the wind on the front. He laid it out to take the pressure off of me and then moved over once we started into the final lap. At that point, Matt moved up to continue his incredible work on the front.
Matt and I went through turns one and two with the front of the field right with us. However, as we came out of turn three, Matt lit the fuse and the rocket went off. He stretched the field and he and I entered the last turn as the point of the spear. Tebbetts was on the point and I was sitting right on his wheel enjoying to pull.
My emotions at that point were sky high! It wasn’t just that I was starting to believe I could win it, it was also because the way the team had worked together during the race was just awesome. To be here with Matt this was the most fun I’ve had in a long time. My only regret is that I could not have better rewarded him for his effort.
As we came out of the turn it crossed my mind just to stay on Matt’s wheel and we could just finish 1-2 for the race. However, I knew that the idea was for Matt to lead me out. I knew at some point he would expect me to come around him. It seemed to me that he was slowing just a bit and that perhaps it was time for me to go. So, I started to come around.
When I did, Matt also picked up the pace and it we were actually sprinting each other. However, at about this time, Benjamin Branton and Clark Gallivan (both of whom have beat me earlier in the season) started to move up. It was a drag race for the line between the four of us. I can say that this time I gave everything I had.
The result ended up the same: 3rd place. Branton finished first with Gallivan right there along with myself. Matt finished as he rode all race — strong — and came in fourth. Really, I honestly feel that it came out about how things really are — Benjamin is clearly the best sprinter among the Category 4 racers and Clark has come on really strong with some wins. Then there is me — “always a podium, but never a win.”
Now, I’m no Mark Cavendish, but I have an inkling of how he must have felt when he expressed his frustrations those times when he didn’t win a sprint after the Columbia-HTC train brought him up to the finish. They did their jobs perfectly, but he didn’t close the deal. My emotions where so mixed.
It was incredible to make the podium — my first literal podium, but it was eating me up inside that I had let the guys down. Over and over in my head I thought about what I could have done differently that would have given me the 5 feet I needed to close the deal — not for me, but for US. Thankfully, I have awesome teammates not just on the bike, but off the bike as well.