They call it the Greenville Spring “Training” Series — six races starting in the coolness of February that run into the growing warmth of March. I think they call it a “training” series so people can find it easier to make excuses. However, it is definitely a race! This year was my best one ever.
As my coach, Jim Cunningham, and I discussed the series we set some goals. We set some goals for all six races. Actually, I wasn’t sure I would be able to compete in two of them. So, our goals were to with four races from the series:
- Stay safe
- Podium at River Falls
- Finish top 5 in the omnium
Race One: This one was at Donaldson Center. I remember distinctly wondering what the day would hold. Jim had me prepared to try an early break on the final lap. Unfortunately, I didn’t execute it well. Rather than going extra hard to build a gap, I simply tried to ride the field off my wheel.
The result was that by the time I was swallowed up and the field sprint began, I was too tired. Though I hung with the field until about 500 meters to go, I blew up and went out the back like an anchor off a boat. I started the series with a 36th place finish.
Mentally, it was tough because it seemed to be a repeat of every other race I’ve done at Donaldson Center. I wondered if the training was going to payoff. To make matters worse, the following race was to be a Criterium style race and I typically stink at those.
Race Two: BMW Performance Center Test Track. Jim brushed off the Donaldson Center finish. “So, that didn’t work. I know you have the fitness. Just stay near the front and watch for breaks.” Frankly, I didn’t go into the race with much confidence or expectations.
However, the key turn around for my entire series happened in that race. First, I found that I was holding my own with the field. Second, I recognized a winning break. Third, held my own in a sprint – even though it was with very bad form!
I was ecstatic with a fifth place finish! I knew the next weekend would be more my style of race with the road course at Fork Shoals and a chance to try a different approach at the second Donaldson Center race. Besides, I had my first points toward the omnium goal and I was currently in 12th.
Race Three: Redemption at Fork Shoals. I was most nervous at the beginning of this race. It was on this course back in September that my cycling world was turned upside down with a hard crash. To this day, I am still living with hip pain from that wreck.
This race was about more than just a good finish. It was about exorcising the demons of the past. I felt that if I could make it through this one in one piece, I would be ready for the season. In my mind, the 2010 season started right here.
I used experience gleaned from past races on this course to know exactly what to do. It worked exactly as I thought it would and with 10 meters to go, I would have thought I had my first win of the year. Unfortunately, the 2009 Cat. 4 Road Race Champion beat me in the sprint for the line by half a wheel.
However, the demon was gone. I had a solid 2nd place finish – the best ever for me on the course and I was moving up in the omnium! Best of all, my confidence was beginning to grow.
Race Four: Back to Donaldson Center. Okay, this was the race where I figured I would learn whether I had learned anything from the last attempt. No late race heroics! It was time to sit in for the race and see if I really do have sprinting legs.
Everything seemed to be working perfectly until we got neutralized on the final lap with a lone rider off the front. It ended up that the field was racing for second. Turns out, I think that helped me. With no need to over think things attempting a win, I just threw caution to the wind and went with all I had for the line. I won the field spring handily.
Hmmmm, who is this guy riding my bike? Things began to change in my mind. I wasn’t sure how to deal with it. I’m so used to writing about my struggles and wondering if I would ever be competitive. After that finish I was in 1st for the omnium (by 1 point), and I knew that I was going to be in contention for any remaining races.
Race Five: My favorite — River Falls. Jim and I had set a goal to podium at this race. I never said this to anyone, but I fully expected to win after experiencing my Fork Shoals finish. There was only one thing that was playing with my mind.
I had the omnium lead going into the race. People kept telling me to protect the lead. I realized that it was important for the team… and me. As I finished each climb of Gap Creek Road I was thinking of protecting that lead. It wasn’t until the final 200 meters of that final lap that it registered that I was going to leave with the series points and it was time to go for the win.
Once again, a tactical error really messed me up. A wrong gear got me out of rhythm and a racer not in contention for the overall beat me to the line. It was the most disappointing finish of the series. Of course, that disappointment was tempered by the realization that I had not only protected the points lead, I had secured the omnium victory.
Race Six: The victory lap at Donaldson Center. Here we were again and I felt as though I was finally figuring this place out! It was time to see if I could turn that second place into a win.
It was during this race that I truly felt the advantage of the Taper. Midway through the race I felt as though I could go anywhere and do anything on my bike. In my mind, there was nothing that could keep me from winning — other than another tactical error.
I believe I was a little too smug about how good I felt. I was so confident about how I was feeling that I tried to be smart and time things rather than just put my head down and give 110%. This is to take nothing away from the guys who out sprinted me to the line, but I left that race knowing that I beat myself.
Final Tally: 36th, 5th, 2nd, 2nd, 2nd, 3rd. I realize that I finished 1st in the omnium and that is an accomplishment. However, part of me comes out of the series feeling like the perpetual 1st loser. You know, that might just be what I need for the remainder of the year. That will be my motivation to pour it all out on the line and not settle for anything less.
I’m tired of having the front row seat to other racers’ victories. Thankfully, I have a full season ahead of me. Hey, this was just a “training” series anyway, right?
Photos by Eddie Helton. http://picasaweb.google.com/Eddie.Helton