First things first: xXx must attend this race in the future. In great numbers. It’s 90 minutes away, a great course and an excellent opportunity to come in with a large team and do some damage. There were some glitches in the organization (more on that,) but I highly recommend you put it on your calendar next year. There are lots of categories and easy to races multiple times in a day. I reg’d for three back to back--4’s, masters ? and masters ¾. It promised to be a long day!

Now then, on to the races. This course has a lot happening for it tactically. It’s a 1.1 mile loop around a state park and features a hill that encompasses most of the 2nd half of the course. It’s actually three hills strung together with a false flat between #1 & 2 and a slight downhill before 3 which climbs the final 350m to the finish line. [yeah, I know I’m mixing standard and metric measurements but that’s American bike racing, isn’t it?]

The 4’s race was a lot of fun. It was a hot pace with a few breakaway attempts. Nothing really stuck. Early on I picked up that a Belgian Wercks rider, Steven Trebatoski, was strong and knew what he was doing tactically. At one point we chatted and considered a move together. We both had concerns about the wind stifling anything through the start/finish but he agreed to go with me if I felt the urge. Going into the bell lap I attacked up hill #3--through the start/finish. Alas he and most of the peloton went with me and and as I neared mid-course I was swallowed back up. I knew there was no slowing the pace at this point so I did my best to not fall past mid-pack and "will" myself to recover for the inevitable sprint finish. I mentioned "glitches in organization." Well as the pack rounded the final downhill turn into the finishing climb we were greeted with at least 6-7 riders across the width of course warming up for the next race. I’m pretty sure there were a few lapped riders thrown in also for good measure. With a pack of amateur cyclists going hell-for-leather trying to win Clif product/upgrade points, it could have been a disaster. I started into my sprint early weaving in and out of riders and managed to take 8th. Trebatoski took first and thanked me for “thinning out the pack.” In hindsight my attempt at a solo flyer was my undoing but at least I stayed upright and was ready to race again...10 minutes later.

The masters ? race started out decidedly slower and I instantly could sense a lack of bike handling skills amongst my fellow racers. Hey boy and girls, the handlebars curve downwards for a reason. Get in the drops! After two laps I considered either dropping out for my own safety or attacking to try to string out the pack. I chose the latter, except I didn’t go all in. There was a lot of racing left and I knew I wouldn’t stay away which was fine. It did string things out but the paced slowed back down again after I was caught. It pretty much stayed that way the rest of the race. It became a pretty textbook master ? race--guys would be riding strong then vanish, then reappear. Some guys rode like idiots. Some guys yelled at other guys. Mostly it was guys riding like idiots yelling at other riders for riding like idiots...sigh. Nothing much happened tactically until the bell lap. The pace picked up and after the first hill a rider whom I hadn’t seen all race launched a blistering attack on the right side. I mean, it was strong--the guy took off like a shot and two Team Extreme riders just barely jumped on his wheel. I was boxed in and had no hope of getting to them which was unfortunate. The original attacker was fading but the Team Extreme guys were working together and that was a real problem. They had enough of a gap that it would be hard for the group to catch them with less than ½ the course to go. The pace was picking up but I decided to concede 1st & 2nd place to Team Extreme: my chances were better sprinting with the pack for 3rd than trying to bridge up. I also decided I was going to win the damn field sprint.

I sat second wheel as we went through the final corner and into the uphill sprint. Attacks came from both left and right as I saw riders jump right out of the corner. I wisely just got on their wheel. Predictably they started to flame out and once we hit 200m I launched. For the first time in my cycling life it felt easy. I picked off the remaining 4 sprinters and told myself not to let up until the line. I sensed there was no one close but I threw my bike anyway just to be safe. My first podium spot and a box of Clif bars were mine!

As I rode my cool down lap I did a quick check-in with my body. My legs felt tired but good enough to race again. After a quick podium photo I changed into a different jersey with the masters ¾ number. I was zipping up as they said “riders ready.” Sure I am.

Or not. As soon as we hit the hill in lap one I cramped up in my right leg. I soft pedaled a minute but by then the pack was 150 up the road. I knew I couldn’t close that gap nursing a twitching quad. I considered whether I wanted to ride solo for another 40+ minutes and decided I had had enough. I pulled out at the start/finish and chose to call it a day.

And I will call it a good day. I rode thoughtfully and tactically but, when all that failed--as it so often does--I had the sense to improvise and the strength to gut it out. The year is still early but I feel like I am already seeing a lot of hard work come to fruition.