At least I didn’t hit a tree

After messing up on Saturday, the pressure was off for Sunday afternoon’s race. I wasn’t given any special instructions — only to be there and cover any attacks. The goal was to protect Jae Bowen and try to work for him to take the top spot of the podium in the Category 3 race.

Jae had already put in a good amount of work in the Masters 35+ race. He took 3rd place in the state where the POA Cycling Team took the top 4 spots! That means that the team has had the South Carolina Criterium Champion for the last three years.

POA Cycling Team Sweep

John James (4th) Rodney Dender (2nd) Thomas Smith (1st) Jae Bowen (3rd)

I started about mid-pack in a field of over 60 racers. I spent the first lap just getting used to the turns and the racers around me. As we came on the finish straight for the first time, I started moving up closer to the front.

I’m not sure how many laps it took for me to get to the front. It was two or three laps.  My teammates Mark Caskey and Phil Ball were near the front. As we started up my favorite straight, I attacked from about ten riders back. By the time I reached the first turn, I had a 10 second gap or so.

It was early, so I had no expectation of staying out there for long. I just wanted to take some pressure off my teammates and allow them to sit in. The one thing going for me was that I could take the turns much faster. The course was pretty smooth with only one 90 degree turn.

In our race there was a lot of braking. In some turns where you would not expect it riders were checking up before diving in. It made for a lot of slowing and accelerating. Being off the front I didn’t have to worry about any of that. It allowed me to gain some time in the corners.

Getting caught after solo break (Photo CarolinaCyclingNews.com)

Getting caught after a solo break (Photo CarolinaCyclingNews.com)

It didn’t last. I managed to stay off for just a little over one lap before the field pulled me in. As Jae came around me I heard him say, “Jonathan! Get back in and recover!” “Gladly,” I thought to myself. At that point I have to admit I wondered if I would be spit out the back!

I hung in there and after a number of laps I found that not only was I hanging in there, I was starting to easily make my way back up to the front. About 10 riders back I came upon my teammate, Phil Ball. “How are you feeling?” he asked. “Do you have anything left.” “Yes,” I replied. “I’m feeling pretty good.” I actually was. “Then stay right up here,” he instructed. “Cover any moves that go off the front.”

After that, the race gets confusing. I’m certain I covered at least four breaks after that point. My race was made up of seeing an attack, going after it, getting caught by the field, going back to rest for the next attack, and then covering another one.

I do remember one. Eric Cash, who has had some good placings in the Cat. 3 field took off going into the third turn. There were about 8 laps to go. I really didn’t think he could stay out there that long, but at the same time going after him would allow my guys to sit in. He and I worked together when I connected with him. I was pulling him as we crossed the start/finish line. As we went through I heard the announcer say, “Rider 305 wins the prime!” Prime? I didn’t even know there was one! Turns out, neither did Eric.

I was wearing down by this time. This was my fifth time off the front during the race. “Where are you field?” I thought to myself as I was dragging around behind Eric. He dropped me just as riders started coming around me. I looked and waited. Where were the POA kits? Finally, I found several of our guys near the back. I settled in to watch would happen.

By now there were about four laps left. Mentally I was starting to fight with myself. Had I ruined myself to have a chance to help the team when it really mattered? Had it been worth it to work like that just to find myself outside the mix at the end?

As I was fading back to recover, John James was moving to the front. “Come on, get back in!” He said as we rode briefly beside each other. “I feel like I’m about to puke,” I replied. “Then puke that way,” he said pointing away from himself with a tone of voice that said, “Okay, puke, get it over with and get back in.”

Then with two laps to go I started feeling recovered. Maybe I did have one more match to burn! I started to work my way toward the front. As we started around turn one on the bell lap headed quickly to the second turn, I could see Jae to my right. He was caught in a slow moving line. To my left I could see a string of riders starting toward the front. I jumped in the line and quickly found myself in the top 20 or so.

Down the back stretch I tried to find the fastest line. Then right behind me I heard a crash. Even though I didn’t see it, I knew exactly what happened. First I heard the sound of rider bumping rider. Then I heard the sound of a bicycle getting loose. That was followed by a yelp and then the unmistakable sound of palmetto leaves rustling. Mixed in with that was the sound of a bicycle going down. I heard several riders behind me go “Ooooooooo!”

The racers instinct at that moment is to nail it. We went into turn three and I was riding in the middle. I heard Jae behind me, “Go, Jonathan, pull me through!” Hey! Maybe there was a chance I could help after all.

I knew it would be tough. Basically, if you weren’t in the top five when you came out of turn four, you had only an outside chance of making it. But if I turned myself inside out, Jae was someone who could do it. Sadly, just as I was getting ready to enter the turn I got boxed in. I had to slow to avoid riding up the rear of the rider in front of me.

Accelerating out of the final corner, I put the pedals down. Some of the riders who had gotten around me because they had a better line in the corner started to drop back. I was actually making some headway! Then I reached a static point. I wasn’t advancing.

Where was Jae? Now would be when he would need to come around. We were about 300 meters out. Then I realized he wasn’t there. Could I salvage anything? I went to stand and my legs collapsed back down on the pedals. I just “sprinted” in a seated position. Even so I passed one rider who was burned out and then took another with a bike throw at the line.

Turns out each of my teammates got caught in bad lines in that final corner. Jae, because of his earlier efforts, was cramping. I ended up being the highest placed POA rider with 14th place overall and 10th in the state. Hey, at least I didn’t hit a tree!