I've moved up to category 3 on the road in my third season of racing. In my third criterium win of the year, I earned the distinction of being the champion of Illinois.
Before getting into the detail of Glencoe, I'll recap my first win as cat 3 at The Quad Cities Criterium on Memorial Day. The course in downtown Rock Island is made for pure speed with wide turns forming a figure 8. This would be the third year at this race for me. I wanted a good result as my results at Snake Alley (18th) and Melon City (30th) didn't go as well as I had hoped they would. My Dad, Aunt, Uncle, Sue, and a big crowd lined the streets on a hot, sunny, windy, and absolutely beautiful day. I told Andrew Truemper, my only teammate in the race, that "I felt like getting a breakaway going today".
Our race would be 24 laps. It started off at a brisk pace with the 63 riders fighting for position near the front of the peloton for better lines through the turns. Just as the pace seemed to settle in, I came around the last turn to see what looked like a couple of riders dangling off the front to make a move. I quickly accelerated out of the group and blasted past the leaders. After a 30 second surge, I looked over my shoulder to find myself alone and with a sizable gap. I came around after 1 lap with a 20 second advantage and 17 laps to go on the board.
"Nice job, idiot" I thought to myself. I had almost zero faith in my ability to hold this gap for the rest of the race. I kept plugging away at the pace, hoping that I would pick up a prime and give my Dad something to cheer for. The laps kept counting down and my lead stayed consistent. I thought of all of the terrible things that might happen to me in the race. It seemed like a classic example of the field letting the breakaway waste away at the front while they bide their time to make the catch with a few laps to go. I also thought of positives, like Jens Voight who has said things to the effect of "you'll never know if you don't try" when attacking a race. I thought of all of the successful breakaways that I have watched in cycling. I thought of how much I love the suffering that accompanies the time trial discipline. Sue is there screaming time gaps and ringing cowbell at me every time I go by. The huge crowd gave me tons of encouragement. Jonathon Atwell, who had convincingly won the previous day at Melon City, tried to bridge up solo with little success. Then a group of 6 organized to try and chase me down to no avail. The laps counted down. 10 to go. Keep it up. 5 to go. Is this real? 3 to go. Gap is still good. 2 to go. They aren't catching me. 1 to go. The field has no chance. I win with a 30 second gap. I sit up after the last turn and take it all in. I'm the only one in the picture. I found my dad and gave him a hug. Then I got up to the podium for a very pro presentation with podium girls, flowers, and a sparkling grape juice spray. I walked away from the race with my first win as a cat 3, a HUGE payout of $361, and a very heightened sense of what I am capable of doing in a race. Minus a few tweets after it happened, I kept details of this result quiet as I didn't want to tip my hand any more than I already had before bigger races to come at Galena and Glencoe.
Fast forward a few weeks to the Glencoe Grand Prix. In the week leading up to the race, the cat 3 squad and I made a plan consisting of me getting into a breakaway early in the race. The rest of the guys would do their thing to keep the peloton in check. We thought that I would be a marked rider. Earlier in the day, Mark French from 708 introduced himself to me and asked me about Quad Cities. That confirmed our suspicion. We also expected that I would either be chased down quickly by teams looking for a sprint or joined by other riders looking for their chances in the break. I was mentally and physically prepared for whatever was to come.
The race kicks off and I felt ready to attack the field from the start, but exercise patience. The race had predetermined sprint laps and king of the hill laps. The top 5 finishers on those laps would receive 5 to 1 points, depending on their position in the sprint or at the top of the hill. The winner of each of these competitions would win a Swiss Army watch. At about 15 minutes in, the bell rang for the first sprint. I had planned on making my move after the this sprint, however, the pace slowed after turn 1 with nobody wanting to push it. That was all the hesitation that I needed. Now was the time for my move, before the technical turns on the course. I made a gradual, but steady acceleration away from the field where I would find myself once again alone and with 45 minutes left of the 60 minute race. I won the first sprint lap and quickly opened up a gap of 15 seconds. Now it's up to me.
The race continues on and my gap grows to about 30 seconds. The minutes ticked down but there was a LONG way to go. I got to 30 minutes to go, then down to 15 minutes. The lead was still solid and I still felt fresh. I had been getting time checks along the way from the race announcers and teammates on the roadside. I used those time gaps as my barometer for how much effort I needed to put in. I settled into a solid rhythm that kept the gap consistent. I had faith that my teammates were doing what had to be done to keep the field in check. I was comfortable with my lead hovering at around the 30-35 second mark. The time and the laps ticked down. With 5 laps to go, I knew that I was going to win the race. I had paced myself perfectly. I started to lose a touch of speed through the longer straight sections, but I continued to carve each of the 8 turns per lap with surgical precision. The field was racing for 2nd place.
The last lap was surreal. I gave a fist pump at the top of the hill. I looked over my shoulder to see nobody in sight except a race official on a motorcycle and a SRAM neutral support motorcycle. I was in good hands and about deliver a state championship jersey for xXx. I came through the last turn to a LOUD crowd in downtown Glencoe. As I had started my last lap, Randy had advised me to think of a good post up - I put both hands up as I rolled in. Once again, I was the only one in the picture. The field sprint came in 34 seconds later headed up by Mark French from 708 Racing and Kyle Selph from Tower Racing.
After the race, I found Kyle and the rest of the team at our team tent.
Then there was the podium for the Glencoe Grand Prix winner's jersey. Along the way through all of this, I had locked up both the sprint and king of the hill competitions for the watches - bonus!
And finally, the podium for the Illinois State Champion jersey. Far and away, this was the best moment of my cycling career.
After interviews and photos with sponsors, I enjoyed a handful of Goose Island Green Line beers and watched the pros throw down. Moyer was impressive (as always) in finishing 9th in an insanely fast and aggressive race to repeat as cat 1 state champion. Liam would be the Illinois runner up. Those guys are strong.
As usual, the organizers of this race have set the bar very high for professionalism. It has everything that a racer could ask for from SRAM neutral support, rider accommodation tents with food, fantastic atmosphere, great payouts and prizes (the sprint and KOH competitions were a very welcome addition), and an outstanding course. I hope to come back next year to win again.
In case this wasn't enough, another recap of the race can be found on the Glencoe Grand Prix blog at http://glencoegrandprix.com/blog/?p=508