Since I was one of the few pre-registered riders, I ended up with dossard No. 5. It's sort of fun to line up in good-sized fields with a low number -- something about it helps to mentally get me ready to race. Number 5 is good, number 11 is great -- I'm not tied to any particular low number, or any number at all for that matter -- it's just fun.
The morning clouds and rain cleared, and we had about 50 guys line up for the 1/2 field in windy and chilly conditions. I had never been on this particular course configuration before, and ominously it reminded me of part of the Alpine Valley course, one of the hardest of Superweek ... But I was ready, and determined to just ride a good race, to ride my race.
10 to go: We had 10 laps of a 6.5 mile course ahead of us, and I used the tailwind start to clip in fast and lead the field over the first small rise. This way I would have good position, and we weren't pushing too hard. We hit corner 1, turned right, and I got swamped on the uphill, but was still only about 15-20th. A break of two went on the flat back straight of the course.
9 to go: Up the hill to the start/finish, and I was toward the front. We were all being pretty good about the yellow-line rule, but there were some clear violations. I'm not sure where it has come from, but I've gotten really good at moving through the group, rather than around it, and used that to my advantage. Some weak attacks go on the hill, and I'm about 25th at the start/finish, seeing 9 to go.
8 to go: I'm not feeling super, but am doing pretty well. Squirrelly riding in the pack makes me realize I need to move up, and I do so on the long run-in toward the hill. We hit the hill and Crater puts in a dig ... I go from about 8th wheel to about 15th. Not too bad, and I big-ring it to stay in contact with the second small group on the road. We all meet up just at turn 1.
7 to go: Still feeling pretty good, I hang out near the top 10 for the entire lap. On the run-in to the hill, I move up on the left side, a bit too much work in the wind but I knew things were going to get tough. Sure enough, ex-Jelly Belly pro Paul Ellis puts in an attack on the hill ... and I'm there! It's a struggle, but I somehow manage to stay in contact with the leaders as we see 7 to go and begin the regroup into turn 1. I tell Shannon I will need a bottle on the next lap. Then right, and up and over -- I'm doing OK with the tailwind, but start to fall back a bit. That's when it happens -- a couple of strong attacks from Kurt Refsnider, IS Corp, W&S and a PCW, and all of a sudden a second group is forming just off the front. Crater moves to the front to block, and I know it's now or never -- I jump around him, pushing like hell to bridge the gap. I've got a good rhythm, but I'm not making up much ground, and Crater is sitting on me as he has a guy just ahead ...
... and I was racing! It was a tactical gamble. Some would say a tactical mistake. But I didn't care. It was now or never, and by god I was racing. I was making this race as hard as I could. I was contributing. And boy did I pay for it!
We came around turn 2, and I had brought the gap down to about 4 seconds. As we hit the cross/headwind, I was done, and swung left just as everyone behind realized the opportunity and jumped up to the group. Ellis led the charge, and before I could even catch a breath, the entire field had passed me! There were only 25 guys left!!! Kurt was tacked onto the back, his earlier attack having been brought back, and I lost contact on the uphill. I dove down into a tuck on the fast downhill, and used his green and grey kit as my lifeline and just make contact as we hit the headwind ...
6 to go: We hit the hill, and it's steady. But I'm suffering, and by the time we get to Shannon I have become unhitched. I grab my bottle, but have lost 2-3 seconds, and the gap is slowly but surely starting to open. Attacks go like crazy just after turn 1, and by turn 2 I've lost 20 seconds. I pick up another straggler, and we hold the group to 20 seconds for an entire lap ...
5 to go until the finish: At various points, I ride with as many as three others. There's 21 guys up the road, but I went there to do 100km of racing and I wasn't going to quit now. Shannon tells me Jim is behind, and if he's still riding I'm not the last one out there. I spend a lap and a half completely alone in there, and then with 2 to go meet up with another Illinois guy. We hammer it home, finishing 22nd and 23rd after a long, long day out in the saddle.
I want to say a big thank you to Shannon (Holmes ;-) ), who was kind enough to feed me and give me time splits. At some point I was 9 minutes off the back, but needed the miles ... and a HUGE CONGRATS to her and Jim, who will be getting married in Walla Walla, Washington in just a few weeks ... sorry we can't be there to celebrate with you!
In the car on the way home, I felt strangely satisfied with my race today. I didn't have the fitness to pull off even a field finish, but I held on long enough to be one of the last couple of guys dropped, and -- much more importantly -- I raced. I realized that that is what I enjoy about bike riding. Racing my way. If that means attacking and chasing and getting dropped, then so be it. I have enough tactical sense to not do stupid things, so I'll use that to my advantage and just go out there and race. No more of this "don't do anything but sit near the front." That's not me, that's not my style of racing. I want it hard, I want it fast. And if I don't have the fitness to hang, then so be it -- at least I'll be racing.
And speaking of which, it's time for me to get a move on. I've got a TT to race in just a few hours, and the coffee's ready!
ONLY 189 DAYS TO NATZ!!