Results? Could've been better. I finished higher in two of the three road races I completed in during 2007, my first year racing.
But all that happened in between the start and the finish? The actual racing part? What a difference a year has made.
The morning of Hillsboro-Roubaix, the intermittant sunshine didn't do much to warm the cold morning or calm the unexpectly quick winds whipping out of the east. I procrastinated a bit too long inside the registration area of the church before finally getting on the trainer an hour before go time. I got in a solid, if abbreviated, warm-up with a couple of superthreshold efforts in about 25 minutes, before heading out onto the course. I rode out about a mile past the feedhill to get a feel for the headwinds and the gearing I'd need for the big, decisive hill before divebombing onto the race's namesake jolting, jarring brick streets on the way to the finish line.
The night before I'd scouted the course in the car with Tamara and Katy so I knew what we were in for. Even then we'd known there would be some kind of wind out of the east, so being able to see that much of the cross-wind section would be though technical, narrow, rough, and winding roads helped much with the mental preperation.
There was a centerline rule in effect for all but 300 yards of this race, not-with-standing the fact that there was no yellowline at all, and much of the back part of the course was only one lane to begin with.
I knew staying at the front would be key during the entire race.
Everything timed out well, and I found myself at the front, awaiting the 4/5 field's start, without too much time to get cold, but I still stood there shivering next to my xXx teammates: Jeff, Newt, Sheriptis, Bob, Loukis, Leonard, and Jim. I'd be lying if I said the shivering wasn't mostly due to the nervous antipation of my first time attempting this very famous regional road race. But thankfully, the neutral start was soon rolling.
Spin easy, big boy. Right turn. Down hill through the feed zone. End of the cones in sight. Just as Newt said to me, "Yo! It's a race!" at least 8 were immediately attacking. But the uphill right after reeled all but two in. The Ghisella and Killjoy riders were soon only on the periphery of our attention. Immediately xXx set the pace for the main field, and we were well into our first lap.
Newt, Chris, and Jeff did wonderful job keeping all the subsequent attacks in check, and the pack stayed together in the tailwinds heading west on the long stretch of Interurban road. A very good thing, too. Any gap would have been much harder to bridge once we turned south and took on the 15-20 mile an hour crosswinds.
It was here that two decisive crashes happened, right after another. One, right behind me, seemed to stretch on forever, "crack! bang! snap! crack!" and riders yelling the obvious. I heard later those split the field and left a lead group with about 40 riders. It then hit me that last year, in Spring Prairie or Proving Grounds, two much easier races, technically speaking, I would've been behind that crash.
Yet even then, as Newt churned a furious pace at the front, I found myself, along with Jeff, one too many wheels back. The echelon was out of room, and it was either hang myself in the wind or ride in the shoulder. I asked Jeff to move up so we could start a second echelon, but nobody behind us was paying attention or had already found another group, and it was immediately intuitive that with just two us, a gap would form pretty quick.
I don't know how, but someway it was easier to dig down and try and grab a pinch of draft here and there until we reached the straight headwinds on Walshville and headed back east. It was still not without supreme effort, and through a 10 minute stretch was at near-max fighting only to hang on to my place in the pack and not give up an inch even then.
I was able to recover in the straight draft, with Newt still at the front. A couple of attacks flew off in the headwind, but nothing got far at all and were overtaken on pack dynamics alone. He took us up the big hill at increasing speed and down over the bricks and onto our second and final lap. That last effort split the field again I heard, now down to under 30 riders. Again, last year I would've known for sure, as I would surely have watched that lead group growing smaller while I counted every rider.
Back onto Farm Trail and Interurban, the pack was much calmer and more thoughtful. The breakaway was still about 45 seconds ahead, and we could see them, tantalizingly close. Upon reaching the headwinds of Walshville, one more crash behind me sent a few more riders packing, and the front group got down to a bit of business.
The chatter started as two lines naturally formed, and when the right leader pulled through, I yelled "your clear!" and to the wheel in front, "it's you, man!" A nascent rotation began to form.
But all we had left in the main group were myself, Jeff, Newt, and Bob. Bob was conserving himself for his strong pack finish, and Newt was in desperate need of recovery after cracking the whip for nearly the entire first lap. It was up to Jeff and I to keep things moving. But we had enough Killjoy and Ghisella riders to disrupt things, and other teams were either too tired or unknowledgable to get in the flow. The work to fill the resulting gaps was too much in that wind that close to the finish.
Soon the fields ahead were going past on their 3rd lap on the out and back stretch, and it was obvious the break woudl stay away. And the end game was on.
The pace immediately slowed to a near crawl in the wind, no body making a move at all. It quickened a bit up the feedhill, but mostly to get around dropped 3/4 riders without gapping. I moved up to second wheel and rolled down the hill on a Vision Quest wheel, again with no one making any moves. Except for the lead wheel I was on half-heartedly trying to move off. I stuck on like glue and waited.
Waited until my impatience to make a decisive move got the better of me.
I jumped and attacked at the base of the hill. It felt wonderful. I spun and danced and fast and big as I could and imagined the separation growing behind me. I really thought I could make it. In the depths of my oxygen-deprived brain, I really thought I could.
The line of demarcation from ecstatic endorphin rush to the painful crash of cracking is one of brutal contrast.
It happened so fast.
I sat down about 2/3rds from the top and tried to grind out that last little crest as they caught me. I clung onto the back as I hit 40 going onto the bricks. And was dropped sharply out the back on the second to last turn before the finish.
I watched them float away. I kept my pace up as fast as possible to fend off the rider behind me maybe 75 yards away. But I wasn't going to catch anyone else. Jeff was maybe 30 yards ahead, and Newt at the back of the pack maybe 25 in front of him.
While not entirely down on myself, I flashed a huge smile through my anger as Katy took a picture as I crossed the line while Tracy held the huge red sign Katy had made on the sly before the weekend. I knew I was dating a former cheerleader, but damn.
It was a thoughtless, ill-timed move that wasted all the gains I'd made thoughout the day, not to mention the efforts of my other teammates for a stronger overall finish. But then I realized, of course, that I had still made those gains.
Last year, I waited and had to react. Today, I'd been making the decisions and moves that made others react. I'd heard so much and so often that the race is at the front. Today, I lived it. I'd avoided the crashes, barked the orders in the chase group, and made the first move.
Eggs, omelet, blah-blah-blah...big lesson learned.
What a difference the year has made.
I ate it animal style on the way back to town: a Culver's Double with bacon and cheese, not to mention half a bag of orange slices and candy corn from the gas station before.
We saw the Sears Tower go dark as we arrived in Chicago, for Earth Hour.
I even had a gig that night believe it or not. A benefit show on the far northwest side, it was luckily a show/play/split show on account of provided equipment and understanding bandmates.
We found that Hatchi's Kitchen in Logan Square was still serving. I ate about a 5 pounds of sushi, before heading to bed and almost immediate sleep.