Well Hillsboro sucked. Missed the move, Dave crashed, etc. etc. Lucky for me, there was another race to be had.
Much like last year, I was hoping for redemption in the form of a win at the Hueston Woods Road Race. Much like last year, I’d find myself in a breakaway allllll day. And this time “all day” meant 20 more miles. Course is a rolling and twisty loop through woods, with three significant climbs; the finish line sits atop the final, and most difficult, stairstep.
I spend the first four miles surveying the heretofore unknown Ohio field, looking for strong guys, figuring out the numbers on the various teams. With only 25 guys racing, I figured a break would be able to stick, especially with Cleveland Clinic, Panther and Fuji each having three or four guys in the peloton.
My mistake the day prior had been poor positioning, so when the break had gotten off, all I could do was watch from 70 wheels back. Destined to ensure this wouldn’t happen again, I made my way to the front after taking notes on the makeup of the group.
Panther dude jumps, we all go with him, chase him down, everything comes back together. Couple other guys jump, unsuccessfully. Then it’s strung out a bit, and same Panther guy jumps again along the yellow line. I’m on the right side of the snake of riders, he’s attacking on the left, but I see him make his move, and decide I want to be in it. By the time I get around the front rider and latch onto this Panther guy, a Cleveland Clinic rider is already on his wheel. So the three of us ride hard for a good 30 seconds, and when I look back, we have a gap. Just 60 miles to go. Let’s roll!
I had the benefit of going to college all of 20 minutes (by bike) away from the course, and thus have hundreds of loops’ worth of experience with this route. I know it like I know the potholes on Damen, you could say.
One of the joys of this course is that because it’s so twisty and windy, it’s easy for a break to get out of sight. Lots of times out of sight can mean out of mind. Doesn’t mean it won’t come back, but in my opinion, it helps for developing the initial gap. So we three plodded along for several laps, building up our lead, never seeing the peloton behind us after gaining the initial separation. I knew that my two breakmates had teammates working back in the field, and when the volunteer on the side of the road who was giving us splits got up to “3:35,” I knew we were the podium. Especially because we were all still working.
I spent a good 30 miles looking into the two guys’ eyes, testing them a bit on hills or on flats, seeing how they responded and determining how I would win. Hunting for any chinks in the armor. Panther tells me he was in the break at Hillsboro, and is slightly cooked (Ryan Aitcheson, took second at Hillsboro and second here at Hueston Woods for a damn good weekend of racing, real strong kid, junior worlds track racer from Canada). Cleveland Clinic tells me he used to race with ABD back in his Chicago days (Jim, 40, another real strong guy, veteran, tons of experience, has placed well in NRC races, won the elite Downers Grove race in the early 2000s). Yeah, strong guys. So, how to beat them?
Panther starts skipping pulls, and after an inordinate amount of skipping, I purposely let a gap open up to Cleveland Clinic. It grows, and grows, as I slow and slow, looking back and waiting for Panther to come around me. He doesn’t. He even tells me he’s got teammates in the peloton and wouldn’t necessarily care if it all came back together. Booooo. I sprint back up to Cleveland Clinic, hoping we’d drop Panther soon. We wouldn’t. He would continue to skip pulls.
With two to go, I try to drill it up every little rise: the three significant ones and the false flats. Basically any time I’m at the front, I’m trying to make these two work. Panther is falling back a bit on every climb, but we’re always regrouping and continue to plod on. Time gap is still 3+ minutes, and not really a factor anymore; we’ll stay away. As we approach the final climb with two to go (meaning we’ll see one to go at the top), I attack, crest, look back, and see a very sizable gap. At this point, with one lap to go, there are a bit over eight miles left. Do I hold it?
Everything I’d observed up to this point was quickly run through a calculation, and I knew this was the move, and full commitment was required. When we’d initially gotten away, almost 60 miles ago, Panther had said something to Cleveland Clinic. Voices raised a bit, and both seemed irritated at each other. Didn’t know what it meant at the time; regardless, I’d locked that away. Tim Krabbé, in his poignant race-as-a-book The Rider, writes: It’s too early. Always attack as late as you can, but before the others do. I rarely (i.e. never) trust my sprint, and wanted to use the climbs to my advantage. Yes, it was early, but if I’d waited too long, these guys might attack first and outsprint me. I knew that 100 meters behind me there’d be infighting, and knew it’d be to my benefit. So this was it. Head down, I pedal hard. For eight miles, by myself. The gap I have to the two of them grows.
It’s inexcusable what my brain does to me in these intensive time trial scenarios, but this deep in the pain cave, I have no control over anything. It’s Sunday, but to combat the pain my mind attempts to silently sing that odious Rebecca Black song, “Fri-yee-day.” It’s doing a very poor job – not at the actual singing, that’s flawless, but at the pain avoidance – as legs are still cramping and there’s plenty of pain. Everywhere. Legs hurt, back hurts, legs hurt. Geh-in’ down on Fri-yee-day. I think of Gilbert or Chavenel, my two picks for the Ronde, and imagine the kind of pain they must have just endured thousands of miles away. Man they’re so much cooler than I am. Kickin’ in the FRONT seat. Ride harder. Six miles left. Come on. Sih-in’ in the BACK seat. Ohhh, that hurts. The song lyrics more so than the lactic acid buildup. Closer, though. Four miles. Just two more climbs. Hey, there’s Ben, a cat 4 from Pegasus, my car-ride down here, cycling backwards on the course toward the car. “Look at THIS guy!” he yells in encouragement. I grit a smile through my clenched teeth. Partyin’, partyin’. Yeah! Liam, you’re going to repeat. You’re going to win this race again. Look back. Nope, still no one. Last climb: stairstep. Pass these two lapped dudes for good measure. Get to the top already. [url=http://jjakucyk.exposuremanager.com/p/hueston_woods_road_race_040311/dsc_7493_1_1_16_3]Only guy in the photo, lapped Cat 3 riders notwithstanding.[/url] Which podium place can I taaaaaake?!
Yesterday was lose day, lose day.
Today it is win day, win day.
We-we-we so excited.
We so excited.
Tomorrow it’s rest day, rest day.
And then Sherman Park comes afterwards.
I don’t want this season to end!