The Hillsboro Roubaix is one of most anticipated road races in the Midwest. It fills up fast and draws riders from Missouri to Wisconsin.

Its inspiration is Paris-Roubaix, perhaps the most legendary one-day race in the world, otherwise known as "Hell of the North" or "Queen of the Classics."

Like Paris-Roubaix, Hillsboro's principle feature is a long stretch of brick, unmaintained brick littered with ruts and potholes and gravel.

Riding over the brick is bad enough, but you also enter it coming out of a long descent and, on this particular day, aided by a 20 mph tailwind. One second you're screaming down a hill at 40 mph and then you hit the "pavé" and suddenly your bike is bucking you like a mechanical bull at a Texas honky-tonk.

Between the bricks, the hills and the ridiculous crosswinds, I knew this race, a combined 3/4 field, would be a brutal affair. It would also be my first serious race as a Cat 3 and at 66 miles my longest.

I couldn't help but think of a training ride I went on with a local Cat 3 team last fall. They dropped me in the first 10 miles. That was a casual training ride. How on earth could I fare any better in competition?

Hovering over all this uncertainty was the threat of thunderstorms, the chance of which hit as high as 60 percent. The only thing I knew for sure was that his would be a race of attrition that would spit people out the back from start to finish. I just wanted to be spit out last. My strategy would be to sit in, hang on and hope for the best.

I spent most of the first lap near the back. The roads were narrow and the field was large. It was impossible to move up through the congestion. At the back we felt the brunt of the frequent braking and surging, and we had to fight the hardest to not get gapped in the crosswinds.

I touched base with Seth from Get a Grip. We shared the same frustration over the braking. "Are all Cat 3 races like this," I asked, "or is this just because there are so many Cat 4's in the field?" He could only shrug. Fortunately Seth is a smart, agile rider. As we approached the two hills that led into town at the end of the first lap, I followed his wheel as he navigated his way up to the front. I suddenly had breathing room.

Approaching the same two hills at the end of the second lap, I predicted to Ed that Seth, an excellent climber, would attack. Sure enough, he did. I scrambled up the second hill to catch him, as did Ed and a few others. We rattled our way across the bricks with no regard for bike, limb or dental fillings and soon enough were with Seth and tried to get a paceline together. As soon as it had begun, however, Seth saw that the field was right on our heels and smartly called off the effort. The good news was that the pack exiting town was a little bit smaller than the pack that had entered it.

It was on this trip through town that I learned that there was someone well off the front. I had no idea.

Starting the third lap I rode some tempo and attacked once. At one point we had a very viable group of a dozen, including myself and two teammates, but none of the others wanted to work, and the field caught us. By this time, however, the field was down to about 30. Mark, Ed and I were the only ones from our team.

Two and a half hours into the race, I kept up the pressure into the headwind, figuring that there were some dangerous riders that could catch back on if the pack relaxed. But 20 seconds into any hard effort my left hamstring and quads would cramp up. I would make do with those 20-second bursts: I'd go to the front, drive the tempo, cramp up and retreat back into the sanctuary of the draft ... and then I would do it all over again.

During one such effort someone asked, "Are you attacking, or are you just going faster?" I think he was making fun, and indeed it's one of my weaknesses: It is sometimes hard to tell whether I'm attacking or "just going faster."

Riders started to slip off the front. I was in no condition to chase or bridge. When Seth and a Mesa rider got a good gap together, I asked Ed whether he wanted to be up there with them. I figured I could jump and get him halfway there. But he declined. Sure enough, they would stay off, thanks to some solid blocking from their teammates, and I think both Ed and I would regret his decision.

Normally I would think about trying to wait to lead Ed out at the end, but with my cramping I didn't think I would be useful in a sprint. So I reported my condition to Ed and went back to driving the tempo as well as I could, hoping to pop more and more riders off the back.

Finally we neared town. Quietly Ed sneaked off the front and started to drift away as we hit the hills. Mark and I went up front to soft pedal, the only job a guy with cramped quads can perform, thus vexing the chase. Few had the energy to come around. Ed's lead grew. "Go, Ed!" I screamed into the wind. "Go!"

When one rider said "Coming on your left" on the climb, I pretended not to hear and glided over to the left to obstruct him. (Questionable sportsmanship, granted.)

Finally people surged past us as we hit the bricks. I mentally urged Ed on. Mark and I were sacrificing our results and we were happy to do so, but it would only be worth it if Ed could hold people off.

Which he did, of course, finishing a few seconds ahead of everyone else to get sixth place. I held my own in the sprint and despite getting boxed and not knowing where the finish line was got 11th.

Given the situation it was textbook teamwork. What impresses me most is how it came to be almost telepathically. We never talked about what we would do in such a scenario. Nonetheless, Ed knew exactly when to go, and Mark and I knew exactly what to do in response. It's only a shame that five people had already gotten away.