The first section of the New Year’s Resolution course reminded me of a criterium. The race is categorized as a UCI C2 race and starts straight and into a strong headwind on pavement with a little turn followed by a slight rise, a sharper turn on a paved path, and finally a sweeping “S” turn before leaving this pavement section and onto gravel. The starts of these types of races can be compared to how a crit often finishes –thrilling or horrifying, depending on what you like.
On Saturday, the rest of the course was frozen hard and fast. I received a good call up in the front row and chose my spot. After a lot of hard work in a grueling CCC series, and a couple of good results, it was nice to have my work pay off with a good Crossresults ranking. After pre-riding the course a few times yesterday, I knew I wanted to be towards the right because I felt the right side offered the smoothest and fastest line. I waited for the whistle in silence with some really fast racers, including the Flatlandia guys, Gatto, and Euro-crosser David Lombardo. We were off and with a good start, I was able to maintain position and get clear of all the elbows and handlebars. By the time we exited the beginning of the course, we were single file with me sitting around 6th wheel. We approached the hill full throttle, bounced our way down, and sailed across the course in the jet-stream tailwind. The course and our speed began the stretch out the field.
The first move came within the first lap and saw Lombardo and Miller gain some separation on five or six of us. I passed a rider and attempted to cover the move going into the headwind dragging three along, but I was unsuccessful as the two leaders now smelled blood in the water. They increased their speed and worked the course so that their gap increased. We now became a chase group of four during laps two and three. This is my favorite type of course because I’m able to keep the pressure high for a long time, and I did so for two whole laps remaining mostly in the front trying to catch the leaders and trying to drop one or two of our group. Mr. Haupt once flicked his elbow in the headwind and I had no problem pulling through as hard as possible. I began to realize, however, that I would need to change plans as we began lap four with around three to go, because my pressure was having no effect on my competition.
I managed to pull off the front and get on a wheel to breathe a little and assess the situation. The two leaders were now gone, and the four of us were now fighting for the third podium position. We all took shots to the gut and face as the three of them punched and kicked with all their strength. We covered attacks and counters, and used all our might to concentrate on the few little technical sections like the triple zig-zag double-barrier. We all rode it once, ran it later, and one time some of us ran it while others rode it. One of us rode the high line through sand, the same line Powers would later ride in the Pro race. On one of these laps, Mr. Haupt flicked his elbow with me on his wheel, this time though, I did not pull through. I could hear Busteed over the speakers illustrating our tactics to those watching. While coming up on one lap to go, I began to feel fresh again. I was second wheel into the headwind through the start/finish with the last lap bell clanging. We rode up the little paved rise, turned and prepared for the “S” curve.
I have a lot of experience on this course, and there was one race last year where I found myself in a group of four with one to go. During that race, I waited for one late moment to launch an attack in hopes of winning. It didn’t work. Thanks to Warren Cycling, I know my strengths and weaknesses with sharp clarity, and I knew I couldn’t wait for the end today. I would not make that mistake again.
As we approached the “S” turn, the rider in front eased up and looked back at me. I attacked into the turn. It wasn’t pre-planned; it just felt good. The others would now have to decide whether or not to use risky speed in the turn in order to defend the move. I knew that this would be a good first place to begin a series of attacks with constant high pressure. You couldn’t go full gas through the turn, but you could after you exited, and that created a good gap for me. They closed it slightly while going into the next technical turn, but it hurt them. It hurt all of us. I attacked with everything I had up the hill and buried my chain into the small cog on the way down. Another gap now grew, and it stretched slightly. We hammered and camp up on the far side of the wheel-pit, where I was absolutely shocked to see Lombardo running with his bike on his shoulder. He was waving one arm trying to flag his pit person. Really sorry about that David, but holy smokes! We all realized that there were now two UCI podium spots up for grabs with a half lap to go.
As we maneuvered through the zig-zig, through blurry vision, I was able to see that there were still racers behind me. This was okay though, because my plan was to hurt myself enough throughout the lap, so that by the end, my three competitors would not be able to beat me sprinting. After I remounted I delivered my final attack, which I held until I could see the pavement of the start/finish. I heard Kirby yell something about sprinting for second! I got out of the saddle and with my hands in the drops, I sprinted as hard as I could, which was probably tantamount to the attacks I had previously delivered during this last lap.
A little bad luck for one guy is often someone else’s good luck. Last Saturday, I had the good luck. My tactical racing prevented a four person sprint at the race’s end, which I would have probably lost. So tactics with a little luck had me throwing my bike at the line for second place. I never looked back, but know now that Mr. Haupt was strong enough to chase me down after the zig-zag, and smart enough to use my slipstream to beat me at the line. I was very happy to share the podium with him, and congratulations to Mr. Miller on his well-deserved win.
Coach Randy often reminds athletes to always try to imitate in practice what you will experience in competition. So on Sunday, I lined up for the earliest race, the 8:00 40+ masters race because that is when I’ll start my race at nationals next weekend in Verona. In the morning, we found the start/finish area and entire beginning straight-away covered in smooth, slick ice. I would never dream to practice on anything like this, and would instead avoid it at all costs! But, we lined up anyway and calmed ourselves by deciding to not go hard over the ice. A few racers even announced a neutral start until safely over the ice. It was funny to begin a cross race in the saddle. We all stayed in the saddle because you would slip and fall if you shifted any weight and disturbed your delicate balance. We went hard though, and still took some risks. I managed to maintain a good position at second wheel. After the leader’s back wheel slipped dramatically in front of me, we all lined up and rode the safest line off the ice. Whew!
I stayed second wheel until we left the first off-camber section. With the hill straight ahead, and with good ground under our wheels, we were now free to fly. I passed the leader and pedaled up and down the hill and through the straight-away as hard as possible. I had caused some damage. Looking behind me, I saw only two riders on my wheel. I eased up a bit, still keeping it fast, but not fast as possible, or not “Met het hol open,” if you’re familiar with the Dutch version.
As the three of us carefully rode a couple laps, I thought about how to win the race, or actually, how not to lose the race. The ice was my main concern. One fall on it could result in a missed podium or worse. I weighed the risks with USAC cyclocross nationals next weekend, and it was easy to decide that I would not take ANY risks. Nationals was my main concern. But how to win?
If we remained together by riding at this pace, then eventually, someone might attack, taking a risk, and maybe causing a slide-out. Or perhaps the slide out would happen while covering the attack. I didn't want to be a part of quick and sudden attacks, nor did I want to attempt to out-sprint a racer on ice, so I decided I wanted to be away off the front, even if it meant riding alone for three laps. Also, I did not know these guys, but I knew they had fast legs, good skills and crafty tactics. On the next section of safe ground, I applied high pressure and kept at it for a lap until I had created a gap. It is hard to ride solo because you might be tempted to ease up on the throttle. I did my best to gauge the time gap, and I heard someone yell out that I had ten seconds. I wasn't too comfortable with that, so I tried to race even faster, except over any section that was covered in ice, and there were plenty!
With one to go, I knew I would win the race, barring any mishaps on the ice. I managed a careful post-up, but even that made me nervous because I was thinking about not being able to race in Verona because I took my hands off the bars on ice!
Thank you to Chicago Cyclocross Cup, the Indian Lakes Hilton, USAC, ICA, the announcers, all the volunteers, all the clubs, all the hecklers and shouters and to everyone who came out and helped make the 2013 New Year’s Resolution so fun and memorable. See ya in Wisco!