I engraved the O’Fallon road race onto my calendar last January. Since then, I have been planning for it to be my last race before a long period of rest and recovery. If all went according to plan, I would be going good for Galena and would then taper slightly for O’Fallon, the IL Championship masters’ road race. I wouldn’t participate in the omnium so that I could save everything for the road race and hopefully bring home the championship jersey. I wasn’t alone in that thinking. No other IL rider raced the TT the night before. I know. I was there spying -I mean watching.
We would race for two and one half laps or a mere 54 miles. The first lap was pretty tame. My only concern for it would be to make sure nothing rode off the front early. We were a small field of 12, with six racers from IL. This made maneuvering and watching quite easy, but I still wanted to make sure I kept near the front. There were three guys from Gateway Cycling Club, and one of them smoked the TT for the W, so I marked him. I figured he would be their guy to win. The MO riders guessed that the IL riders would be most aggressive, so they were content to sit in towards the back of our little field. Before the end of lap one, I had ridden at endurance pace on the front for a few minutes, chased down two guys while dragging the rest with me, and probed with some tempo while on the front with strong crosswinds. No real fireworks. One of the Gateway racers strung us out for a while. My legs were getting warm and ready as we approached the end of the 22 mile lap, and the only real significant hill. It was not Galena significant, but it was sharp enough to be a race factor.
I marked this moment as an opportunity to make my first move. I didn’t want to attack, but wanted to charge up the hill fast enough to inflict some damage. My hope was to shed riders and possibly get myself into a move that contained a strong Gateway racer. If their fastest guy marked the move and we got away, and he had better legs than me, it wouldn’t necessarily mean my losing the jersey, but would mean that we would be able to stay safely away from the group, which was the objective. So I hammered up the hill, got over the top and glanced back. The only rider on my wheel was an IL rider.
Bicycle Heaven racer Marc, who won the ToG road race, was glued onto my wheel. I heard teammates screaming at us as we whizzed by the Athletico tent. We turned and looked back. We had stretched the gap significantly. I continued for a few minutes and flicked my elbow. Marc pulled through, and we exchanged a few words of encouragement. We were now committed. Do or die. Game on.
As we worked together, I thought about how this was now a tad harder than I had planned. Two IL guys riding for the championship meant second place was not an option. I would need to now figure out a way to win.
As we finished the second lap, I went up the hill faster than I had done previously, wondering if I could shake my partner. Up the hill we went. It was now late in the day, and hot, and as we reached the top of the hill for the second time, I could see his shadow all up in my business. There was no shaking him. This was concerning. Previously, my partner had shown a few signs of fatigue, and I was convinced he was tiring after riding hard that second lap. But now however, I was beginning to believe all that was wise bluffing, and that he had used me as a launching pad and then wind shield. Also, anytime I went hard up a rise, I never gapped him. Oh the trickery! We went through the feed zone and he told me he was going for water. I was fuming. We left Kyle road and headed out again for the half lap. I flicked my elbow; he didn’t pull through. I had been played. This guy was planning to rip my legs off. I flicked again and he pulled through. Our pace slowed significantly. It was the first time we had dialed down the intensity. This was mentally taxing, because when you’re in the break, if you’re not riding until it hurts, you’ll get caught. Was our gap large enough to continue at this slower pace? I didn’t know. I looked back. The coast looked clear. We were in good shape, for now. 10 miles to go.
Maybe Marc would miss the half-lap cut-off road? I could leave him on the front until then. I decided to go with that plan for the time being. But no, that’s no way to win. We crawled up a hill and I let out a few dramatic breaths. I could play the bluffing game too. I was ready to go if he attacked me. I sat on his wheel, thinking. He seemed to be ready to race. At the top of the hill, I shifted back to the large chain ring. He stayed in the small. He drank some water. His head dropped slightly. What’s his game? Wait…no; he was tired! Should I attack now?
Sometimes racers just know when to attack, and they do without any hesitation. This has often been the case for me. This time though, after the idea of an attack came to mind, I reconsidered. Should I go? I could hear my voice in my head second guessing myself. I moved slightly to the left of his wheel. I gripped the drops. He was still in the small ring and on the hoods. I got out of the saddle and launched my last nuke of the road season.
It worked. By the time I needed to sit back down in the saddle, breathe and clear the stars, I was all alone. I would now need to settle in at threshold and stay there. I approached the last 8 or so miles like I do our team’s fitness check time trials. I would save nothing and go to my limit. I had already eaten, drank, and stretched out a bit and would now be locked into a tuck position for the remainder of the race. My PSIMET wheels hummed along over the 100+ degree asphalt. At one turn, I thought I heard a marshal shout something about someone being right behind me. Really? I looked back and could make out four figures beyond the previous 90 degree turn; they were no more than a mile back! Oh no! I pedaled faster, but now I had to be concerned about blowing up and losing too much power. I had been going along at 91 percent, and as I glanced down occasionally, I saw 92, 93, and even 94. This was dangerous. I hit the 5K to go sign and looked back. Nothing. I entered the woods before the hill. Still clear. I passed other riders broken off the back of different races. 500M to go. I got out of the saddle and brought myself to within 100M. I looked back. Nothing. I zipped up, and crossed the line with my arms held high.
I’d like to thank the race organizers and all the officials and all the volunteers who helped out. Marc, it was a pleasure riding with you, dude! As the fellas told stories and chatted about the race, I learned that Marc had been caught by three chasers. They caught him shortly before our half-lap cut-off turn. Actually, they reeled Marc in soon after I had attacked him. How soon? I was told that they saw me make the attack! The hardest part in winning this championship was not pedaling around the course. No, the most difficult aspect was the preparation. This win was months in the making. All I needed to do was try my best and have fun. Sometimes, we absolutely destroy ourselves for the victory; often times, that is just the way it goes. At O’Fallon, however, the hardest part entailed the training and planning, and the self-imposed expectation of only winning this race. The winter months, focusing on rest and recovery, those tough 3rd and 4th build weeks, the rain, the super tough races you do, the driving, and all that time alone! Man, this bike racing stuff really doesn’t get any easier.