The first three weekends of the season kept me busy with six days of racing: two road races, two criteriums, and two time trials. I had ups, downs, and fought a whole lot of headwind.
Hillsboro Roubaix; April 2
Hillsboro is the crown jewel of the spring racing schedule. It is wildly popular, everyone talks about it, and everyone wants to do well. Last year, I flatted out of the race at mile 12 resulting in a DNF. Since then, I made this race a priority to get at least a top 10, and contest the win. I was sure that the bike was in excellent mechanical condition and I put fresh rubber on the wheels the day of the race. I felt confident in my teammates and myself. What could go wrong? During warm up, I would find out how bad a race could go before it even started. I got a pinch flat as I hit the bricks after the downhill as I was heading to the start line staging area.
I had to run (in cycling shoes, not fun) to the start area where I put my spare front wheel on as the race officials were giving final instructions. I was frustrated and sitting in the last starting spot in a field of 125 riders. Nick and Owen started near the back with me, which helped to ease some of my concerns.
As the race started, the difficult process of moving up in the pack on narrow roads with a centerline rule began. As usual, everyone is on edge early as there are many near misses and pile-ups due to whoever is squeezing a handful of brake further up the pack. We finally got “moving” when Nick was taken out by a rider who was trying to make a move on the gravel shoulder. I did not realize who was involved in the crash until further up the road when I again saw Nick who made a gutsy chase to get back in the pack. The group was now moving at a brisk pace with me still in poor position, still wanting to be in the first 30 wheels of the peloton.
Serious accelerations ensue and everyone near the back is fighting for survival. I spent a good amount of energy moving up to the back of the now much more selective group.
Not fully recovered from the effort, we hit a very windy section of road after a sweeping left hand turn shortly before getting back into town. Completely unable to find a wheel for a bit of relief, my energy reserves were quickly approaching dangerously low levels. I clung to the back of the long, single file line 60 riders long. I tell myself “Just hang on through the climbs and this pace will settle down”. I did not hang on through the climbs. After the second of the stair stepper hills, the group had moved ahead while I was moving backwards. By the time I got through the bricks and out of town, the race was out of reach. I had nothing left to try to catch on, even with Bill waiting and willing to give it a go. My ticket was punched and all hopes of a good result were gone.
Refusing to quit, I rode the second lap with a few others here and there with plenty of time to think about my shortcomings. I wondered how I ever had a good result on the bike. I wondered what planet I was on when I assessed myself as feeling good to go just a couple of hours earlier. Everyone else was battling up the road and I should have been there. Nick fought to get 7th, the best result of the team. I rolled in at 50th place, 11:47 behind the leaders. Not sure what is worse, a mechanical DNF or a terrible day on the bike…
Spring Fling Criterium; April 3
The best way to get the taste of a bad race is to race again. After Hillsboro, I was able to exercise some demons at the Gateway Cycling Club St. Louis Spring Fling Criterium. The race is a short loop with some gentle rollers through Tilles Park in Ladue, MO. I was racing without teammates in this one but I wanted to be aggressive so I jumped out to try a break early in the race. I built a lead of about 30 seconds over the course of about five laps.
Nobody bridged up and I started to run out of gas. I pulled the plug on the break and got back in the pack. The race came down to the sprint and I was poorly positioned. I finished 14th - not exactly exercising those demons from Hillsboro…
Sherman Park; April 9
In the two years that I have participated in Sherman Park, I have not had a decent result to show for it. It was time to make a change. I spent almost the entire race jammed in the pack on the inside. I had a grand plan of attacking hard with 2 or 3 laps to go. I knew that I would have had teammates patrolling the front and looking after my interests if I went. My time to attack came and went as I was still locked on the inside of the group. The bell lap rings. Frustrated, I had practically conceded to not finishing with the sprint due to my position when out of nowhere, a lane opened up on the inside. I quickly jumped to move up the pack. As I approach the front of the field, John Kalnins and Owen Aronson pull out and cut inside. My eyes grew huge and I jumped on the impromptu leadout train. John drills it at the front through the last turn. Owen swings out and gives a final leadout. I jump out of his slipstream and hit the jets, but a little too late. I crossed the line 3rd. I am ecstatic with the result, as it had been a while since I took a whiff of a podium. The memory Hillsboro begins to fade.
John Fraser Memorial Time Trial; April 10
This is the same course in Maple Park, IL that I was able to win (cat 4) as part of the Fall Fling last September with a time of 21:06. It is a 9.7 mile course with two turnarounds. This time, it was warm and very windy. My time was 22:37, good enough for 4th. I expected a better time. I did not ride hard enough and my aero bars started working themselves loose halfway in. Can I get a do over?
Leland Kermesse; April 16
Hardcore: 60 miles of rain, STRONG wind that always seemed to be in your face, and gravel mush. I rode my newly acquired Scott Cross Comp frame with road gearing, road pedals, and no computer. The field had 42 starters. Only 30 would finish. The race broke up on lap 1 on the first gravel section. I lost touch with a small group at the front and got together with various chase groups throughout the next two laps. I cramped, dropped out of the chase to ride my own pace. Saw John Kalnins on the side of the road with a flat and nothing to change it with. Stopped to toss him a tube and CO2 inflator. Kept on rolling, fighting, riding. Recovered from the cramps, I pushed harder and caught riders who had been part of the chase and had now blown up. Worked together with Nick Amlot. Keep going. Keep fighting. We got word that we were in the top 10. Keep going. Keep fighting. Maybe we can catch a few more. Keep going. Keep fighting. There was nobody in sight behind us or in front of us for nearly the entire final lap. Nick lets me take 6th at the line; he takes 7th. After the race, I hurt more than I have ever hurt after a race. I had to sit in the car for 30 minutes before I was able to stop shaking. I felt good about the result on a race that is tailor made for the hard men (and women) of the road. Much credit goes to Nick for keeping me in the game as I struggled near the end. The memory of Hillsboro has faded into obscurity.
Cherry Valley 30k Time Trial; April 17
With legs as dead legs as my computer battery, I would have to fight out my longest time trial effort since the state TT championship last September. The weather was cold and again very windy. The course had a few small rolling hills, which made for an interesting dynamic. I rode conservatively on the way out. On the way back, I rode in fear that I was going to be blown off the road. I fought the bike to keep a straight line. The cross / head wind was crushing my speed and my spirit. I was not a good judge of my own effort, and my time suffered as a result. Again, I came across the finish line with way too much energy left to give. 47:04 – 4th place. The only silver lining to this is that I can get these lousy time trials out of the way early in the season when they do not count for much…