We knew what had to be done. We emailed for a week prior to the race, talked about it on long car trips to other races and mulled it over during the warm-up. The plan could be very simple or enormously complex. The simple version: make the break.
The context of the plan is a little more nuanced. The riders on the elite team realized that Glencoe was actually going to be several races in one. Two dozen pros were in town to earn NRC points and thousands of dollars in prize money, but there was also the typical group of locals there to win the state championship. Our race was unusually small, and it was clear that the pros would try and drop every last one of the amateurs in the early laps. If you made the break as an amateur you’d likely get a free ride around the course, and hopefully you’d get pulled away from the rest of the amateur competition.
It’s an interesting experience to have a strong representation of pros in your field. In some ways I know they’re just regular guys who race bikes for a living. Many of them are similar in age, and we’ve probably raced some of the same races in the past. On the other hand, there’s a whole other language, code of etiquette and brotherhood amongst them that you quickly realize you’re outside of when you’re in the race. They race together throughout the summer and know each other intimately, which makes them skeptical of the amateurs amongst them.
An example came in the middle of the race Brad Huff asked me “Are you with us or are you lapped?” and in my glee of Brad Huff talking to me I responded “I’m us.” Brad Huff ignored my unintelligible response.
That question snapped me out of my singular focus on making the break and I suddenly realized I’d done it. I’d worked hard to stay at the front and had tried to follow accelerations when all the major teams had riders up the road. The early laps were fast; fast enough that I questioned our collective ability to hold the lines we were taking into the corners. But I realized I should probably trust Jeremy Powers’ lines in a technical crit.
Just as suddenly as I realized I was in the break I began to look around and found that I was likely the only Illinois Cat 1 rider in the move, basically assuring me a state championship. It was a little surreal—I began asking the couple of other amateurs whether they were from Illinois, and they all laughed and shook their heads. After that I settled onto the back of break—there wasn’t much work for me to do as the three pro teams in the move alternated attacking and bringing each other back. When the group was together I’d pull through, and pretty soon we lapped all of the small groups left on the course.
I kept my low profile until the end, knowing that it would get very hard in the final couple laps. Luckily things were relatively tame until the last kilometer when the pace really jumped. I clung to the back of the group, but had no real chance of coming past any of the sprinters. I stood on the pedals anyway and passed some of the leadout men for 9th place. Being in the top ten was a nice surprise, but most importantly I had the pleasure of donning the state championship jersey for a second consecutive year and sharing the podium with Liam, who was the first finisher not in the initial break. Needless to say it was an absolutely wonderful day—except for the “I’m us” comment. What a ridiculous thing to say.