I told our new teammate Seth that I was planning to race twice at Fox River Grove, a crit course with a ferocious climb and a long, meandering descent.
"You sure you want to do that? This is quite a hill."
Well, I had been sure, until he mentioned it. Maybe it would better to save my legs for the 3's race?
Then I saw some of the masters who were warming up and had even more second thoughts. This was going to be a tough race. The field wasn't big, but they were all winners. I decided I'd see how long I could hang, but I told Ed I'd be abandoning as soon as I lost contention.
About three laps in, James from Vision Quest put in a strong effort up the climb. I followed it and pushed tempo over the top. When I pulled off on the descent, I heard Ed yell from behind: "We have a gap. Let's go." And off we went.
James took a pull, then I took another one, and soon we were climbing again. James and I would pay for our pulls, both of us getting dropped as Ed, Stathy from Alberto's and Wayne from Verdigris climbed out of reach.
On the descent I was able to pass James, and I could see the lead threesome a litte bit up the road. Ed knew I was trying to catch back on and played it perfectly, soft-pedaling in first wheel until I was safely back on.
Predictably, Wayne and Stathy weren't thrilled with being outnumbered, so I should have seen it coming when they started attacking with four to go. (Apparently they don't read these reports, or else they'd know that my role in the break is to come in last.) I had just covered an attack from Wayne when we hit this hill and Stathy gunned it. I didn't have a chance. I watched as the race rode away from me.
Happily, we had enough of a lead at this point that I didn't have to work too hard the last few laps in order to stay in no-man's land, and I was able to leisurely roll in for 4th place as the announcer said words that are music to our ears no matter how many times we have heard them: "Ed Amstutz from XXX Racing with the win!"
Not bad for a guy who pulled up a mere five minutes before his race start.
I expected to be fatigued when the 3's race started 30 minutes later, but I didn't expect to be dropped on the first lap. But there I was, having trouble clipping in and then well-gapped by the time I got to the top. Fortunately the pack took the descent at a recovery pace, and I was able to catch back on, and by the next lap I'd felt my legs come back to me.
JT and Peter were extremely active from the beginning, putting in huge attacks and making every lap hurt. Soon I joined the fun, attacking over the top of the hill and getting a huge gap by the bottom. This would prove to be an excellent point of attack: People would be utterly knackered from the climb, and if you could be first into the big ring it didn't take much to launch yourself down the hill and get a huge lead.
JT bridged up and it was just the two of us, but in the final corner I got distracted by the sound his carbon wheels of death were making, and I rode up into someone's lawn. Fortunately I kept it up and reintegrated, but it ended our mini-break.
It was painfully obvious -- emphasis on painful -- that the elastic would eventually snap and there would be a select group, and it seemed likely that one of us would be in it. The only question was who. It could have been any of us.
About halfway through our 40-minute race, I covered two riders trying to get off the front on the descent. Coming down the homestretch, they got out of their saddles as if to sprint -- Oh, right ... a prime.
I let them go, and they were soft-pedaling when they hit the base of the hill. Opportunist that I am, I kept plowing up. By the top I was joined by Derek of PACT and Matt of Bicycle Heaven. Matt pulled most of that first descent, and as this was a prime lap as well, Derek and I let him have it. This was the key to the break: If we'd killed ourselves with even a tiny prime sprint, the break would have been over. Instead, we rolled through smoothly and kept it steady. We wouldn't see much of anyone else for the rest of the race.
With two to go I started to think how I could win this. Derek seemed to be strongest on the climb, so I focused on beating him. As he wagged for us to take a pull on the descent and then took a swig of water, I gapped myself and attacked hard. I had a good gap starting the bell lap, but Derek caught me on the climb. Halfway up he put in a counterattack. I matched it, and then took an aggressive turn at the top. I was gone.
I looked back and they weren't close. I hammered it, taking the corners hard and fast, and gave myself the luxury of thinking about my post-up. Hands up? Crossed arms? Point to the hearts?
Whoops! With a few turns to go I turned and saw a baby-blue streak -- Matt was bearing down on me. Now I was in full panic: I could NOT blow this. I took the turns hard and sprinted -- yes, sprinted! -- for the line, remembering to keep my cadence high and use my entire body, and I barely held him off with a throw. Alas, no post-up for me.
If the line were 5 meters farther, I have no doubt he could have caught me. As it was, my lungs were about to leap out of my throat, and there were strange rumblings in my belly. I'd never worked as hard as I had worked to hold Matt and Derek off.
This was my first win as a 3, and my first win since a XXX-dominated masters race at the 2006 Sherman Park. After coming up short so many times this year, this feels like a big monkey off my back. And I also finally cracked the riddle of how to win a 200-meter sprint. Step 1: Start with a 50-meter lead. Step 2: Cover 200 meters in the time it takes your opponent to cover 249.
Once again, it it was my teammates who helped soften the field, and I was thrilled to see that Peter, who before the race was fearful that he was going to get shelled in his first 3's race, sprinted for 4th behind me.
I'm not sure the team has ever had as productive a day as this: Four wins overall, two 2nds, two 3rds, two 4ths and two 5ths. Let's do it again at Proctor!