The day started well, with Andy and I trucking out from Chicago about 9 a.m. Thankfully things had settled down enough that I felt OK drinking my coffee ... finally feeling normal!
We rolled into Mad-town a couple of hours later, just in time to see Macker Don Lowe pull apart his small break in the 45+ race and take the first win of the day in a two-up sprint! Don is one of the super-strong Masters riders we have on the squad -- I think this is only the beginning of his third season on the team, and he is an absolute animal. Nobody can touch him when he puts his mind to it!
Then, in the very next race, Macker Jordan Heimer pulled out the V in the Cat. 5s! Jordan is new to the team, and we're expecting great things from him in the future ... a great way to start the year!
So the pressure was on as I warmed up for the Masters 1/2/3 race with a couple of my teammates. Yes, this was a Masters race -- but for Wisconsin Cycling Assn. races, Masters races aren't "open" ... "Open" Masters means that anyone above 30 (or 35, or 40, etc., depending on the promoter) can participate. In Wisconsin, though, they do it right -- because we're categorized, a brand-new 40+ Cat. 5 won't be lining up with the likes of Billy Jones, only to get his doors blown off in the first 100 meters. Which also makes the racing very fast -- more than half the later Pro/1/2 field was made up of guys toeing the line in the Masters 1/2/3!!
I've always liked the GDVC races, and in fact pulled out a win myself a few years ago as a Cat. 3. This race was bound to be tough, with 20+mph headwinds on the uphill backside, a corresponding tailwind for the backstraight and uphill finish, and a field made up of a who's who of Wisconsin speedsters: guys from Wheel & Sprocket, Endeavour, GDVC, Beans & Barley. The only one missing was Mr. Jones himself, off to get married!
Mack had six or seven guys ourselves, all pretty strong in their own rights: Fleck, McGeen, Lowe, Tim LeRoy, a couple of new guys from Appleton (sorry I can't remember their names!), and a new guy named Lou. I've been in 1/2s races where Fleck and McGeen have pulled the field apart, so I knew we had a chance to keep the streak alive ...
As predicted, the race was fast from the gun, and Fleck patroled the front tirelessly for the first 20 minutes. He was in just about every move, and the one time he wasn't, McGeen was there to cover. Fleck was incredible, putting in a couple of early digs and jumping on everything that moved -- it was awesome to watch him go, and then go again, and then go again. And again! Just behind him, McGeen, Lou, Tim and I were watching and blocking, or covering, and moving around as the pack bunched and thinned in the massive wind and front-side speed.
Finally, as we approached halfway, we came down off the hill and I used the momentum to carry me up the left side of the line ... just as it did, Fleck blasted out from the right, creating an instant gap and taking a couple of guys with him. I sat up, changing to blocking mode, as one or two more bridged ... all of a sudden, there were two Sprockets up there with Fleck, and the small group had grown too big. By the time we made the turn to the uphill start/finish, the group came back and we were all together in the headwind.
That made it my turn, and again as we rounded the corner into the tailwind I took off, burying my shifter into the 11, putting my head down, and HAMMERING as fast as I could. For about 800 meters, I just stamped on the pedals, not looking back and not worrying about whether this would work or not ... I knew my teammates were primed and ready, and at worst I would be able to sit in and recover. Through the start/finish, down the small rise, left into the uphill headwind ... I moved to the left, flicked my elbow, and saw ... WE HAD A GAP!!!
Not only that, but the situation was PERFECT. Along with me, who had blockers back there, were riders from Endeavour, Sprocket, GDVC, and two other semi-strong teams -- all in, who's gonna chase?!?!? We started rolling, and soon our 5 second gap became 10, then 15 ... we weren't perfectly cohesive, and I was struggling a bit after my initial effort, but gradually we stretched the elastic, and then broke it completely with about 20 minutes left to race!!!
Six guys off the front, not working perfectly, but working enough to make it happen. Behind, we had teams blocking every move -- although I hear Sprockets weren't too happy with their guy in the break, and even made an effort to chase us down! Mack was having none of it, though, and my teammates performed incredible work to reel in every attempt and close down anything that dared tried to move off the front. That's what teamwork is all about!!!
Meanwhile, up front, time was ticking down and I was hurting. I pulled through enough to work, and to not cause any problems, and when the pace got slow I made sure to get to the front to keep the effort alive. As we got down to 10 minutes to go, and then 8, I had identified the strong men in the group, and made sure to reshuffle the break to be near them as we got into the headwind ... I also made sure that, when I was really hurting, I was the one on the front up the hill, setting the pace to make sure it didn't kill me!
With 4 laps to go, I knew it was time. I sat out a pull, grabbing a sip of Gatorade and throwing my bottle into the grass. The next pull, I ducked in behind and fiddled with my shoe. I took the next pull, coming through in a cursory manner and keeping the pace steady. With 3 to go, it was time to figure out how to win ...
My last pull was up the hill, again keeping the pace smooth. We saw 2 to go, and I ducked into the back, hunkering down as low as possible on the bike to stay aero and avoid the headwind. No one had attacked yet, which meant no one would be able to ... I identified the GDVC guy as the weakest, and started to set him up ... we got the bell as we creasted the front hill, and as we approached the corner the GDVC guy rolled to the front ...
Around the corner, start the uphill, into the wind, and JUMP!!!!!! With GDVC "blocking" on the right, I made my move into the wind on the left, hammering down on the pedals as hard as I could as I pushed up the rise. My rear wheel skidded slightly, and I almost lost momentum, but in my glance behind I could tell that the chase wasn't organized and this was my chance ... make it to the hill ... crest the hill ... ohgawd I'm pedaling squares ... make the hill ... push ... push ... PUSH!!!
I crested the hill, looked under my arm, and the race was over. I had a 50 meter gap, I was heading downhill and then into a tailwind, and I threw my chain into the 11 and just killed it. Around the first left, driving through the chicane as if it were a straightaway, by the time I reached the left-hander to the start/finish I had 5 seconds, and by the time I was 50 meters from the line the chasers were just coming around the corner. Victory was mine! Another Mack win!!!!!!
It was a fantastic moment, as I had plenty of time to zip up, throw up my arms in salute, and savor crossing the line in first. The race was well-fought, and my breakaway companions deserve all the credit for keeping us alive -- there were a couple of times when I thought Sprocket or Endeavour were going to pull my legs off on the uphill. Thankfully, just a bit of effort at just the right time meant I could keep the streak alive! And from behind, my teammates made all the difference -- knowing they were back there doing all that work made the victory that much sweeter.
Because this is an early-season race, the awards are merchandise ... in addition to a nice Michelin tire, check out what else I won ... I get to channel Tristan even more now!!
In the Pro/1/2 race, I was in a bit of survival mode, watching and trying to help Andy out as best I could. I put in a couple of digs, and didn't wait for the race to just happen, but my energies were mostly spent. Andy had great positioning in the finale, and managed to pull out a 12th place -- that's a great finish in a very fast race with such a large field! Way to go Andy!
All in all, then, a great start to the USCF season for Team Mack ... and we promise to keep it rolling!!
ONLY 237 DAYS TO NATZ!!