When I woke up Saturday morning, I didn’t really have any feelings about the race. The morning blog post pointed out that I was feeling confident – quietly confident. That all changed when I pulled up at Fork Shoals.
Suddenly I started feeling nervous. I won’t belabor it, but the last time I was on this course I was wrecked with 500 meters to go. It wasn’t that I was scared that I might get wrecked again. What I was nervous about was that because of my issues last year, I realized that I really, really wanted to do well.
As you are prone to do, I looked around at all the guys surrounding me. Some had an amount of bravado and other quietly waited for our time to pull up to the line. Everyone looks fast. It is easy to start thinking… “Wow, these guys look like they are ready to go! Wonder if I’ll be able to handle them?”
That is where experience gives confidence. No matter how fast these guys looked, I know that past finishes prove that the majority of them would finish behind me.
We rolled off for three laps. My teammate, Billy, and I started out near the rear. This would be a 40+ mile race and it wouldn’t be won from the start line.
The course is rolling with a few pretty tough climbs. Each time I might find myself too far back, I would move my way toward the front. I also practiced making my way up through the center of the pack. I was having some success with my attempts, I might add.
At one point a couple of riders got off the front. The field began to stretch out to bring them back and a large pace line started up. I reached the front and backed up. Then I found myself up there again. I could see that the break wouldn’t last. They were riding with no organization.
I stayed on the front for a bit as we were going downhill. However, when we started to climb again, I slowed. I was not going to pull the whole field up to those guys! I just eased up and rode at a reasonable wattage. Still, no one came around. I glanced back and there was no movement. Finally, I slowed to the point where some guys had to come around.
That was right as we were starting our second lap. However, what happened was that one of the Charleston riders had bridged up to the break. His buddies were sitting on the front for a Sunday evening stroll. This could be bad.
In the past, I would have taken matters into my own hands and started moving around them. This time I looked over at the rider beside me. Obviously, he knew I had been on the front for sometime. It was time for someone else to do the work. I said to him, “These two guys have a rider up in the break.” He shifted and went around after them. The field started moving again and I blended in.
We caught them on the back side of the course. When we did, David Curran counterattacked and I went with him. We got a few seconds gap, but it was obvious we would fail. So, we allowed the field to bring us back. That was the last time I was on the front.
From that point forward I tried to stay near the front and exert as little power as possible to maintain that position. I was encouraged looking around to see a lot of riders climbing the hills in bigger rings. Often they were standing pushing up the hill. I don’t think I stood once. I remained seated, got in a comfortable gearing that let me pedal at about 95 rpm, and eased up the hills. Even if I backed up a bit, that was okay. I knew I could make it up later.
Finally we were going into the last lap. I was starting to get excited. On the last climb up to the start finish line I felt really good! I could also tell some of the riders around me were starting to show signs of exertion. I continued to stay in the mid-to-front portion of the pack. Billy pulled up beside me. “All you have to do now,” he said, “is to match any moves.” That is how things unfolded until we reached Dunklin Bridge Road.
Here I got on Billy’s wheel. I knew he would turn himself inside out to get me in the best position. There were only two of us, but Billy is an experienced rider and I knew he could lead me to where I needed to be.
Then the Globalbike boys started organizing to our right. Billy and I were boxed in as they began to move. This was the beginning of the end. Curran was on the front starting to stretch things out and it was obvious he was setting up something for this Globalbike teammates.
The field began to stretch out and Billy made a move. Unfortunately, a big guy who had been crowding me for the last half mile bumped me and physically moved me off the line. I got moved into a box of slower riders and suddenly found myself about 20 riders back with the front of the field way up there!
I started to panic. At first I wanted to just put the pedal down and push my way into contention. Then I looked ahead and saw that the break had been reeled in and that really the entire field was together, we were just stretched out. Soon we would have to turn and – at least in this cat 4 race – the field would bunch up again.
I slowly began to work my way toward the front. Curran had tired and no one was really wanting to force the issue. By the time we reached the turn, I was in fifteenth. Better yet, I was feeling pretty fresh and there was no doubt in my mind that I could pass at least ten of these guys on the final climb.
Turns out, I didn’t need to. The rolling nature of that section started popping riders. By the time we turned onto the final stretch, I was in about eighth place. In the turn I passed another three and about 200 meters in, there were only three riders ahead of me.
The lead riders had a good sized gap since they had started a break away after we turned off of Dunklin. I knew immediately I would catch them. Without too much effort I was closing the gap and there were no riders immediately around me. I passed the one rider between us and now they were my final carrots.
At 300 meters to go, I knew it was time to move. I didn’t go into a full sprint, but I stood and started around them. It felt good to make the move and literally hear the air go out of them as I passed. They couldn’t counter.
However, I could sense there was traffic coming up behind. At 200 meters, I went into a full sprint and was actually starting to believe that I was going to get it! I knew I couldn’t let up. There was someone starting to inch up to the right of me.
Closer and closer we got to the line. I was digging out of the saddle with my hands in the drops. Still the rider kept inching up beside me. It was like we were in slow motion.
About five feet from the line I knew I was going to be second. Jonathan Leifer moved past me and I could not get more speed. We passed the line with the front of my tire right behind his front skewer. I was the first loser.
I didn’t even think about being disappointed. I had beat Fork Shoals! The last time I was there I limped around the line in 37th on a busted bike and bruised body. For me, the demon had been exorcised!
Icing on the cake? Afterward while I was talking to my teammates, Steve Sperry came over. He grabbed my hand with what appeared to be a bit of excitement and said, “Now, THAT was a sprint!”
I’ll go to bed happy!