Ahhh, River Falls. It is one of my favorite places to race. I’ve only had the opportunity to contest the course three times. Once, as a category 5 racer I got third. My first race of 2009 as a category 4 racer I got fourth. This year I was back — better trained, better motivated, and confident. I was wanting to better any previous finish.
The one thing that was different this year was the fact that I was going into the race as the series points leader. Lining up right behind me was Jon Leifer. He was only two points behind me. There were also three other riders who had a mathematical chance to tie me or take the lead. As I looked around, the only other one of the challengers was Wade Greene. Looked like it was going to be a three-way battle.
Waiting to begin (Click image to enlarge)
Billy and Matt were there to help me out. The plan was for them to manage any breaks and to keep the field moving. My job was to take care of the challengers for the points lead. So, we rolled off with a job to do.
The first lap was typical. It was a chance for us to all get warmed up. A lone rider did go off the front, but everyone knew he wouldn’t survive. Everyone was riding for the first climb.
That first one was no fun at all! I heard chains dropping right and left as riders searched to find their climbing gears. Riders were coming back and some were moving back and forth as they tried to find a line. It was impossible to find a rhythm!
Determined to avoid that if possible, I moved to the front on the third climb up. This time I was able to get in a rhythm and my legs were sending me good signals! As long as I didn’t wear myself down, I would be okay.
Controlling the front (Click to enlarge)
Something that made me smile was overhearing some of the conversations around me before the race started. Leifer was behind me and I heard him comment to some of his friends that “417” was the rider to mark. The result was that it gave me confidence.
Here on the front after that third climb, Brian (a Greenville Spinner’s rider) came up beside me. He kept looking over at me as though he was trying to see if I was tired or something. I made a point to breathe through my nose so he would think I wasn’t working and finally I looked over at him and grinned.
The only problem now was that I was on the front. There was a break up the road with a minute lead. I was torn between the primary objective – protect the points lead – and the secondary objective – win the race. I knew the guys up ahead were pretty strong. What if they were able to hold it?
Matt was calling to me from behind me. “Get off the front, Jonathan!” I started to slow, but no one came around. Finally, a rider moved pass me on the left with Matt in tow. I decided to slip back into the clutches of the group. The vision of Leifer coming around me at the end because I was too tired to counter reined me in.
Speaking of Leifer – where was he? Wade was in front of me for most of the race, but my closest challenger was not coming near me. I chalked it up to him patiently waiting back at the rear of the field with some friends waiting for a final lap attack.
Back in the field (Click to enlarge)
From that point on I attempted to stay in the first 20 or so riders, but away from the front. As we neared the fourth and fifth climbs, I would work my way toward the front so I could avoid the circus of the climb. After we crested the top, I would ease back into the field.
Finally, the last lap arrived. Still no Leifer and I could tell that Wade was going to give it a go. My focus was simply on trying to stay near him and conserve as much as I could for the inevitable push from the Charleston racer. I was in between the two.
The pace picked up as we made the right hand turn onto the final climb. I quickly increased my cadence to match the acceleration. It was at that point I made a fatal error.
I was moving easily within the first 15 or so riders. The riders who had tried to create a gap up the initial part of the climb were starting to get caught. Wade was up there driving it! Still, no Leifer.
Just past the 1K to go line I was well within the top 10. Suddenly, I started to think less about Jon Leifer and Wade Greene. “Hey, you just might be able to win this thing!” It was about that point where the road kicked up. My legs were not responding the way they had earlier on the climb. I looked down. I was in my big ring.
Now, I realize that most cat 3’s and up will respond, “So? That hill is a big ring hill.” Sure it is, for you guys. However, that wasn’t what I was expecting. I had determined a sweet spot for putting out a steady tempo that I knew would run most of these guys in the ground. The big ring realization threw me for a loop.
I shifted to the small ring and searched around for the right gear on my rear cassette. Thankfully, I hadn’t lost any positions and there was only a small gap. I reeled them in and nearing the 200 meter notice I was moving into the lead. “Come on!” I thought to myself, “You might get both objectives today!”
A rider was now coming up to my right. It was going to be a sprint once we got over the rise. However, now my gearing was working against me. I shifted back to my big ring, but that moment of hesitation gave the rider an advantage. I was then searching for a smaller rear ring and attempting to shift into a sprinter stance. Again, more hesitation and I was starting to spin out!
By the time I got into a decent gear, I was nearly a bike length behind and had another rider coming up fast on the left side of me. It was going to be close even for second! The lead rider threw his arms in the air at the line and I crossed with mixed emotions as the third place rider threw his bike forward for a photo finish.
Another second place finish (Click to enlarge)
Oddly enough, a rider not in our race and without a teammate anywhere near me in the finish, protested my second place finish. I’ll grant it was close, but the camera showed that I beat Johnny to the line. In case you’re wondering, normally the people to protest are riders involved or a team manager.
As I was standing talking to my wife, someone walked up to me. It was Jon Leifer in his street clothes! I’m sure I looked confused. He congratulated me on wrapping up the omnium and then explained that he had dropped his chain on the first climb and after trying to catch back on decided to call it a day.
On my way home, I went over things in my mind. What would I have done differently had I know Leifer was out of the race? I do know I would have attacked sooner on the climb. Would that have gotten me a win? I don’t know. As John James told me afterward, “Stop second guessing. Be happy with your place!”
I am happy — very. I can race at Donaldson tomorrow without pressure of defending the points lead. Leifer wants to make it a sprint fest. I’ll give it a shot. As you know, I’ve never considered myself a sprinter… but now I’m starting to believe.