Boy I wanted that jersey.
The Peoria Bicycle Club hosted the state championship (USCF) crit again this year it returned to the great venue of downtown Peoria. The technical "hourglass" (oo la la) course is a perennial favorite and for good reasons. This year in addition to challenging corners, depressed manholes and slight up's and down's, there was an often hard to predict and strong wind.
I had a little chat with Coach Randy before leaving for the race. He suggested a strategy that would put my strengths to good use and put the endgame in my control. I got on the trainer bright and early Sunday with a plan to win and confidence that I could pull it off.
On the trainer warming up, an emergency services vehicle pulled right up to the intersection I was at looking for their assigned spot just as the church bells from a block over began to toll. An eerie reminder of the events of last year gave me a heavy heart and a knot at the pit of my stomach. Beth's memory was with me throughout the day. But I was here to look forward, to put the past in the past and race the race. Plans for the day moved my head to the task at hand.
Rolling up to the start line I saw familiar faces. The master's 4/5 field has some regular participants that I genuinely enjoy racing with. The majority of the field was 40+ and there were enough Team Mack guys around to create a nice blue/red hue to the start finish area. There wasn't a big XXX'r presence, but I was happy to see the black kits punctuating the field.
True to form Mack got up front right away, wanting to control the race. For almost the entire race, at least 2 of the top 5 spots was occupied by Mack. Early on they drove strong tempo and sent several attacks off. Knowing the race was short and Mack was well represented, I covered several of them. Teammate Mike Seguin had the same idea and went with a few I wasn't there for. Ultimately none got more that say 100m off the front and by the time the free laps ended it was clear that nothing was going to stick.
We get the bell with one to go and the pack starts to surge, shuffle a bit through turn two. Between 5 and 6 the field widens across the road and I'm on edge waiting for the lineup. I wanted to come out of turn six in the top 5 wheels. Mike Seguin took the outside line, and looked to see if I'd grab his wheel. Very tempting but the field had been going to the gutter on the left side on that straight all day as the wind came across a bit from the right.
I thought it better to stay out of trouble and not boxed in but exerting a little more effort on the right. I took the inside line, sacrificing a few spots and a wheel I was confident in to secure my path for attack. It's about here where my head starts to question the plan. Do I have enough in the tank? Is that headwind too much to go? Can I really commit to this? I think it's always true that a good plan always sounds great before the race but executing in the race is the real challenge and the fun.
So I went before the last intersection on the backside. The plan was to create a gap before the second to last turn, hold it through the last turn and hold off the field all the way to the line. I got about 5 pedal strokes into my move, looked across to find that someone else had the same plan. Voytek from Lot was out of the saddle emerging from the pack on the other side. He came from almost the gutter on the left side, meaning he had better protection from the wind BUT also a few people who could respond more quickly.
We converged at the 2nd to the last turn. I was thrilled to see teammate Mike Seguin on Voytek's wheel and just as I got there he opened enough room for me to slide in. Voytek really turned it over on the slight incline going into the last turn, in a bigger gear than what I chose and that was probably the defining moment for the last few hundred meters. He exited the last turn at the front and I couldn't get around him. I was all in. When I heard Steve Feehery coming by me I got out of the saddle for a second only to find my legs weren't having any of that. Later found out he came from behind Seguin who was behind me...Steve was flying.
And that's how we crossed the line 1-2-3. Hats off to Voytek who had a great plan and a nice long windup for the end and Feehery who had a great finish. I can be disappointed about not getting the jersey, but happy to share the podium with those guys.
Huge thanks to Seguin, who gave me that wheel at the end. That was BIG. I also need to recognize coach Randy for helping me get here and devise a solid strategy.
Much thanks to the Peoria Bicycle Club and everyone who sponsors and volunteers at the Proctor Crit. This is a very well run race and a great venue for our state championship.