This season has been hit-or-miss for me. Monsters of the Midway was particularly bad, one of my worst days of racing in years. So this weekend I headed where any climber goes when he needs a confidence boost: the hills. Wisconsin hills.
I've always loved the Baraboo road races, and somehow the courses get more fun each year. This year's edition was no exception. Each 15-mile lap had about 1,000 feet of climbing, including a steady, milelong rise into the start/finish that was right in my wheelhouse.
William Pankonin joined me for the expedition. We had about 30 riders in our field. ISCorp and Trek Midwest had 4-5 riders each. After a solo escapee had been brought back at the end of the first lap, Will and I both traded attacks, but we weren't too committed to any of them. My hope was just to probe the field and soften it a bit. I fancied that if they saw enough of my attacks going nowhere, they would react poorly when I would put in a real attack later on.
My opportunity came at the end of the second lap: I was surprised to see we had successfully isolated all the teams. Other than us with two and Trek Midwest with three, no team had more than one rider. That usually bodes well for a breakaway. I shared the news with Will as we rode comfortably near the front.
As we started the main climb into the finish, a rider was about 15 seconds down the road. Quietly I got into position and into the right gear and then burst off in pursuit. Someone yelled "Up!" but I had successfully flown the coop alone. I stayed out of the saddle for most of the climb, scooping up the escapee and, hearing him wheeze behind me, urging him to stay on my wheel. I would need him.
We recovered on the descent and quickly got into a good rotation. The key would be to stay out of sight in the flat portion, and for the next five miles it was looking good. Unlike my previous bluffs, this time I was all-in.
But then the heat set in. Did I mention the heat? It was hot, and my colleague and I were exposed in the sun like ants under a magnifying glass. After 20 minutes at threshold, I could suddenly barely muster my endurance power.
Soon we were no longer out of sight, and unfortunately for me the catch came right before the steepest climb on the course. At this point my arms had goosebumps and I was a bit dizzy-headed ... I decided not to chance it. I pulled off and accepted water and strawberries from some generous course marshals.
My race was done. I'd gone all-in, but my rivals had called, and today they had the nut. That's racing. At some point in every single race you gotta put all your cards on the table. Sometimes they'll stand up. Usually they won't. But you'll never rake in a pot if you never raise the stakes.
After a long respite in the shade I made my way to the finish to await the sprint. I felt bad leaving Will alone in the field, because my plan had been to lead him out for the sprint.
Sprint? Ha! I was expecting to see a small group behind the pace car, but instead there was only the distinctive black and red of XXX. Will had broken away and was riding -- with nobody in the picture -- to a classy win.
Fox River Grove 35+
This is one of the area's most fun and challenging criteriums, so I was excited to stay over at Will's and join him for the masters race in the morning. The field was about 25 riders, split between 35+ and 45+, including more than a few Enzo's riders, who surely would be hoping to secure omnium points and defend their successes from Saturday's races in Elgin.
One of the keys on this course is to always be in the lead group. Unlike other courses, breaks do not often get reeled in here. If you're not in the lead group, you're in a losing group, and never the twain shall meet.
So I was happy to see Will and Dave Hudson shoot off the line and surge up the hill. This meant I could take it a little easier, knowing that if a group formed one of them would be in it.
By the top, Will and a few Enzo's riders had a gap. Riders were chasing, so I tucked in and enjoyed a free ride. On the second or third time up the hill, we were not far behind Will's group, so I kept it in the big ring and charged up the hill. Meanwhile, the Enzo's riders were attacking at the top to get the hill-climb sprints. I kept my momentum, passed them and went over the top alone with Will.
I gave him a quick respite on the downhill, and then let him float away. Meanwhile, three riders had made their way to my wheel and were happy to be there. At least one of them didn't even know Will was down the road. Even better, they were all 45+ riders.
Only one of them was willing to do any work on the descent or flat, so Will's lead ballooned as we toodled our way around. I, of course, was pushing it hard on the climb, and with one to go I was finally able to shake the others and cruised in for a solo 2nd place.
I'd never gone 1-2 in a race with a teammate before. It's pretty awesome, even better than winning. And in this case the win couldn't have gone to a more deserving and hard-working teammate.
Fox River Grove P/1/2/3
Adam Herndon, Dave Moyer and I lined up for this one against a pretty solid field, including Enzo's A-Team and UCI rider Alex Bowden. We'd have our work cut out for us.
Herndon got to work right away and went off the front on the first lap. It may have cost him the race, but it was a useful rabbit to have early, and it made it known that we were here to control this race.
I didn't think I'd have an entire race in my legs, so I made it count when I could, trying to attack any time there was a lull on the hill. If I wasn't attacking, I was "accidentally" letting gaps open in the flats and forcing oxygen-starved opponents to sprint forward to close them. I wanted to make enough riders hurt so that we could isolate the other teams and give Dave a better shot in the sprint.
Finally the right split happened. After one of my attacks I got caught at the base of the hill. Naturally it would have to happen on a points lap, so a handful of riders rocketed by me. I told Dave to "go get them," hopefully conveying the fact that I was pretty useless at this moment, and get them he did.
It was here that the final groups formed: Dave in the front group with four others, all isolated, and me in the first chase group of four. Since three of us had teammates down the road, we had zero impetus to push hard. And with payout going 5 deep, there wasn't much incentive to challenge for 6th.
I tried to escape a few times on the hill, but the legs were pretty shot. And when the attack came on the final lap, I couldn't even be bothered to answer. I excused myself and casually rolled in for 9th -- or so I thought! As I coasted down the hill, my mind on dinner and a nice long shower, two riders I had long ago left for dead sprinted by me. Blast! Always sprint for the line, friends!
Fortunately Dave did a better job of keeping his focus, getting 3rd place and give us the last of what were quite a few podiums on the day.
On to Galena!