What a long, strange trip it's been.
One year ago, I was coming off a solid winter of training, getting ready to enjoy another road season with an eye firmly on 'cross, and had just ridden my first trails ever only a month before. I showed up at the second Parkside race with little expectation other than the chance to blow out the cobwebs a bit. In the 30+ race, I managed to make the break, and we worked fairly well together until Scott Pearson snuck away with 3 laps remaining for the win. I held on and played sprinter for the day -- the only time I'll ever beat Rob Springer in a sprint, and managed to place second. In the 1/2s, I sat in, rolling with the field once it was clear the break was established and they weren't going to let me go after a couple of dead-leg attacks.
Fast-forward 12 months. New job, new team, new bike, spotty training, Parkside again just for fun. 'Cross season was great, and it was weird to realize that my last race was only 3 months ago. I was coming off my first solid training block with pretty tired legs, and on the drive to Kenosha I was feeling the butterflies ... I was more than a bit nervous at how I'd feel.
I felt horrible on the Saturday Judson ride, with literal pain in my quads at every gap-closing effort. I sat in the whole ride, but it was still an effort ... which meant Sunday may be really rough. Don't be fooled: the Masters 30+ guys are strong and fast. It is never an easy race.
Now, I know "it's only Parkside," but let's face it -- the first race of the year is always a litmus test, Parkside or not. And everyone who races road in the Midwest -- everyone (and some mountain bikers) -- pays attention to Parkside. You might say you don't, but be honest now ...
Waiting for the start, I saw my teammate Dr. Mike Jones take a well-fought win in the 40+ race. He went from the corner against a strong Macker into a headwind ... and held it! If we ever teach him to stand up in a sprint, this guy will be deadly ...
So that was a huge encouragement as we lined up for the 30+ race, with me and Bryan Rhuede starting our days, and Jones, Pete Rolewicz and a German named Ansver (I think?) all pulling the double. We got a front-row position -- I figured I'd at least have that going for me ...
Whistle blows, we go, and I settle into 4th or 5th wheel, hiding from the wind and getting used to the course again. A couple of early attacks go, but nothing's going to get away this soon. We cover, we hang, no big gaps opening ... until finally, this guy gets a bee in his bonnet and makes it stick. The black and green Mars kit looks awesome off the front, and he's rocking the gears ... a couple of guys make a half-hearted effort to bridge, but the pack pulls them back ... Jeremy is hanging out there, fighting the wind ... wait, he's losing steam ... coming back ... through turn two and into the headwind, and whew! There he is just before the hill. We got him.
Anticipating the counter, I move into the top 5. Sure enough, we crest the hill, and there it goes on the right -- I don't remember who it was exactly, but within seconds Pearson was bridging on my left, and before I knew it I was on his wheel. We hammered down the backside, impossibly getting a huge gap in the tailwind corner, and by the time we swung around again, it was me, Pearson, a North Brancher, a guy from Village -- and Rheude! Bryan made a huge effort to bridge just before the headwind. We saw 19 minutes on the board ... it was going to be a long day.
And that was the race! I'd like to report that we all worked well together and sped away, but -- well, it's Parkside. Pearson was his usual self, taking monster pulls and gapping us every time. Just like last year, I yelled at him, and just like last year, he told me to shut up. The Village guy didn't work, the North Brancher was pretty strong, and Bryan was unfortunately right on Pearson, which put him into difficulty a few times.
Finally, with 3 to go, Pearson had enough. In an exact repeat of last year, he took off solo, hammering up the hill and gapping us. Our small group was just being swallowed by a bunch of chasers, so it was a perfect move ... and he was gone for the win.
We were a bigger group this year, so I didn't want to leave it for the sprint. I watched a couple of guys try to attack, but it wasn't really happenning ... at the same time, everyone was getting scared for the sprint. Finally, with 2 to go, we came into the headwind with me hiding in 4th wheel. Bryan was on the front with North Branch right behind me ... I calculated the energy someone would have to overcome to catch me, and realized this was my chance. Bryan swung right on the hill, NB swung left, and I blasted up the middle, giving it all I had. It was timed perfectly -- by the time I looked back, I was halfway down the backstretch, and there was no going back. It was a hard couple of laps, but I made it stick, finally rolling in about 20 seconds behind Pearson on the line.
Bryan kept rolling for the Cat. 3 race later, and had a good showing until he cramped on the final laps. It was super-warm out -- and that first hot day can be killer with the fluids.
I chilled for a while, then warmed up for the 1/2s race. ABD had a huge contingent, so I knew I was on defense ... maybe a little too much, as the Swedish National Team (aka PCW/Hyundai) attacked the hell out of each other to establish a break with two of their guys and Mike Ebert from ABD, and when Pearson and another guy went, I just watched it happen. Eventually they were down to four, and we were racing for the last medal ...
Nothing was getting away, so I settled in and played pack tactics, getting used to riding in a group again. Finally, with 3 to go, a guy in red who had been attacking all day somehow managed to stick it -- it was a super slo-mo attack, but it worked, and he took someone with him for 5th and 6th. I went again through the start/finish with 2 to go, but was immediately brought back ... everyone was gassed, though, so when the two guys in front of me rubbed wheels on the hill, I saw my chance and took it, executing the same attack as the 30+ race, and rolling away for 7th. That last lap and a half was painful, and I was totally pedaling squares, but it worked!
So all in all, a good opening to the season -- if this year develops like last, it will be a fun summer! I'll let you know in a few months if Parkside does indeed predict the future!
11 hours ago