So I rolled across the line exhausted. The journalist and photographers swarm me. I see a familiar face; it’s Robbie.

[b]RV:[/b] So Jared, looks like you all had a hard day out there today. Could you comment on how the break formed?

[b]JR:[/b] Yeah, we were gunning from the start. I got the word in the radio that we were to push pace. When we hit the downhill section I just went to the front and drove it as hard as I could. When we got to the uphill, I swung off and saw that we had a small group of 10 and xXx had three in the group. From there we just tried to keep the hammer down and stay out of site. Looks like it worked.

[b]RV:[/b] With this win, do you feel that your season has been validated?

[b]JR:[/b] It helps with the confidence. It’s been a long season and despite a lot of good results, until you get that W it makes for a stressful situation. I mean, we’ve got a lot of good riders and we work really well together. But when the victories keep eluding you, it makes you question yourself.

[b]RV:[/b] Downer’s/Glencoe typically marks the end of the crit season, but this year there are a few more races. What’s next on deck for you?

[b]JR:[/b] I’m going to take some time off and then get BEEP, ready BEEP, for BEEP, BEEP, BEEP, BEEP…..

Stupid alarm clock – I was really enjoying that dream! Oh well, it’s 7AM and time to get ready for a day of doubling up (Cat 4 and 30+ Open). Wonder how it will all play out?

[b]CAT 4[/b]

100 riders and a 10 turn technical course. Considering there are about 40 of us who race regularly, I have no idea where the other 60 came from. Stay up front and work our plan (we had 18 riders or so) is all I can think of. Officials send us off and the pace goes ballistic from the beginning – which was expected. I find Wolters and slot in behind him as we work towards the front. Somewhere in lap three I got separated from him, but managed to find DJ to keep it moving. Then the gaps started forming and I kept having to burn tons of matches to come around and maintain contact. Long story short – pace stayed too hot, too long, on too hot of a day and I got ejected from the main group (which I am guessing is about 40) somewhere around 16 minutes in. I got passed by a second group and eventually hooked up with a third group, which I would stay with for the rest of the race.

This being the PRO National Criterium Championships means one thing – if you’re out of contention, you will get early finished (i.e. pulled). Whenever I went to Downers Grove (the traditional site of the Championships) that was my main objective, don’t get pulled. So we’re about 20 minutes into this thing and all I can think about is where is that freaking pace car and where is the follow moto? The moto answer was clear, it was right behind us, which meant that we were the last group on the course.

In our group was myself, Adam and DJ. Adam and three other riders were at the front killing themselves. I was about 6 wheels back yelling for people to take short pulls. Let it be known that I wasn’t yelling because I wanted other people to do the work – I wanted them to pull off the front so I could help. Our only chance of staying in the race was to keep the pace close to or above 25 mph. I could help do that if I was on the front, but I didn’t have enough left in the tank (at that point) to come past 5 riders to get there. Needless to say, despite not working all that well together, we somehow managed to keep the peloton about 25 seconds off our heels.

It’s funny sometimes what you remember of a race. Like Fowkes looking at this watch each time we came by the start line and the lap counter moving down ever so slowly. Like seeing Wolters come back from the peloton and yelling at him to slot in with us. Like slowing down at 3 to go and thinking we weren’t going to make it unless we picked it up. I remember being on the back stretch and hearing the announcers yelling prime – 2 laps to go. Well, at least I knew they were at the start finish and that we had some time. And then came the final lap.

In cycling there is a gentlemanly rule – if you didn’t do all the work, you don’t take an unjust finish. Adam and the three other riders did the lion’s share of the work so they deserved to come across the line before me. But being fresh did allow me to do one final act of teamwork. Between 3 and 4 I came up the left to get on the front (I told Adam during pre-race that I would lead him out if we found ourselves together at the end). He saw me moving up and just slotted in behind me. My job was to now push as hard as I could for as long as I could and not lose him in the process. So I took the descents like I was in Tron and scurried up the rise like I was Schleck. I delivered him as close as I could to turn 9, pulled off and then rode in (avoiding a crash caused by a blowout in turn 10).

Like my dream I rode across the line spent. But Robbie was no where to be found this time and I had no idea where I finished. I eventually made my way back to our team’s tent and learned that Adam took 1st out of our group. I also learned that he got bad positioning at the start which put him so far back. Too bad for both of us, I know that we were both looking to do well at this race.

[b]30+ Open[/b]

Okay, so my second race was scheduled to start about 40 minutes after the finish of my first. During this time I found out that in the 4’s, only 38 of the 100 riders finished on the lead lap. Everyone else was either early finished or DNF. What’s even more shocking is that in the lead group there were only 25 riders and our chase group was 1:34 behind them. Me? I finished 33rd, Adam 28th, Owen 11th and that’s all I had time to see before something dawned on me. Why are there masters riders rolling slowly behind the kids? Crap, that’s my race!

Once they let me back across the road, I managed to get back to the tent, get my shoes and other gear on, get my old number off with the help of Nick and Meg (thank goodness I pinned it under my first) throw my bike over the barricade and get to the line (still somewhere in the middle of the pack). The result?

The race didn’t start off as fast as the 4’s and there was tons of breaking for the first lap. But it eventually strung out with the weaker riders getting pushed to the back or outright shed. In the end, I got ejected (too much work for one day) and early finished somewhere around 21 minutes in. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted and I could get an early start on my drive home to my daughter’s first birthday party (which meant I wouldn’t get yelled at for being too late). It would also give me some time to think about just how poorly I had performed.

When you’re a competitor, you tend to be hard on yourself. You tend to berate yourself whenever things don’t go your way. Heck, you may even wonder why you do this thing at all. There are the almighty highs and the cavernous lows. And then there is reality. When I was at the party my sister asked me how I did in the race and I told her that I finished 33/100. Her response was “wow, that’s pretty good. To finish 33rd out of that many racers is pretty impressive.” It was that statement that made me think “normal” for a second. To you and I, 33rd is a failure when you are aiming for the podium. It shows that you’re not all that strong and that you’re not on the top of your game. But to all the normal people out there, it’s a far cry from what they could ever do on a bike.

So with that said, I’m not too disappointed with my results. Besides, there’s always next week to try it all over again. Until we meet again on the road…