"It never gets any easier. You just go faster." ---Greg Lemond
"Don't buy upgrades. Ride up grades." --- Eddy Merckx
"You drive like shit." ---The Car Whisperer



I returned to the corn fields of Utica, IL on Sunday with a new team and new expectations.

Saddled with an almost unbearable load of lack of confidence, I competed in the American Bicycle Racing 4-Man Team Trial last year in what was easily the hardest 90 minutes of my entire life. Blowing up at the start, I dug deeper than ever with teammates who refused to give up on me, and recovered to help bring the remaining three of us home with a respectable time.

Now I have a full season of coached training in my legs, and I have certainly proven my physical mettle this year, if not my mental. I've really been ramping up on the interval sessions these last three weeks, and I was confident I would be strong from the get-go. We'd had two practice sessions, once with all four of us, and going in we all knew technique and fluidity would be our biggest enemy.

The course had been shorted to about 30 miles just minutes before the scheduled start, due to lack of marshals and some gravel at the end of the planned 60K lollipop loop. We had to discuss a bit of tactics about how to deal with the wind: it would be tempting to really hammer it with the strong breeze behind us going out; we would need to temper our effort in order to save some gas for the crosswinds and the return which would take into the teeth of it for 5 miles to the line.

And it was tough to lay off. Without that much effort, past 29 mph we went onto an average speed of 31 for the first leg. At the right turn, we immediately had our first gap. Peter was back on the bike after having spent most of the summer recovering from a broken collar bone suffered after losing a wheel in a 180 degree turn. Also, as a dedicated TT-er, he is not as comfortable in packs as the three us are, to begin with. So being skittish (and we've all been there), he wasn't comfortable staying on his wheel.

But, being such a strong rider, he was in it until well past the turn around, even with all the wind he was constantly pushing. Although shortly after, he began missing the wheel worse and worse after pulls, and finally, when I had to move in ahead of him and burn it to catch the unexpectedly open second wheel that materialized after I pulled off, we made the decision to move on and keep pace without him.

Back into the crosswind was the last time I saw Peter until the finish. My strength began to become erratic; on some pulls I could stay out for a long time, others I could feel the red line approaching alarmingly fast. I was eating a lot more wind than the rest, going cave-man style. No aero-anything. With the late announcement of the event, I hadn't set up my bike, and didn't want to ride in a new position for a such a physical event at the last minute. And I guess pride got the better of me.

Over the last half, Jeff was a mean dog who'd broken his chain, inspired by a frightened mailman... 140 pounds of anger working over his compact crank like a crazed metalworker on monster, never-ending pulls. I had to call him off several times to save it for the head wind on the final leg. Jeremy was as dependable and solid as you'd expect for a triathlete who'd qualified for Nationals. His speed never wavered once on pulls that were as measured as a yard stick.

All of us barked orders and all of jumped without asking how high. The intensity burned and smoked, and after our final right turn into the headwind, the kindling burst into flames. The wind slowed us but we just worked harder. It was good we'd saved it because now we needed it.

It was swirling left and right. Just after we'd pull off into it, the direction would shift again. As the pain turned to agony over the last 3 miles , it was hard for any of us to stay on the wheel, let alone try to have to the mental capacity to find the sweet spot. Several times I thought I saw the finish line tent but it was only a mirage. Through the cloudy haze of pain I held just a little bit back, keeping that last little bit close until Jeff let loose with one last blast of rage and it was afterburner time.

We crossed the line in just under an hour and 12 minutes, and a 26.3 mile an hour average.

This event is always my favorite because it crystallizes all we've worked for over the course of the season and gives a chance to lay it down with teammates I've ridden with since snowy days before leaving for California.

Next year I want this team back. Peter just needs a bit more confidence with group riding, and if he still needs work, then we'll just send him out to pull us for the first half of the race.

Along with the apparent shift in the chilly air outside, it's transition time for me. Up ahead lies camping trips, visits with friends and family, and no cyclo-cross. Sorry, no offense. I owe it to Katy. She's come out and beat the cowbell at so many races this summer, I've got a lot to give back.

That's not to say I won't be headed to Montrose Harbor, with a flask in my pocket, for some snowball practice this winter.

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