"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


Stick with what you've got

(photos by peloton-pix.com)

I had a big chip on my shoulder coming into this weekend. Saturday was the opening event for the Illinois Cup, Burnham Racing's Spring Super Criterium, in South Beloit. Days before the two hour drive to the state line northwest of Chicago, I knew I had something to prove.

In group discussions of tactics and "let's-win" scenarios, my name isn't mentioned very much. At all, really. Can't complain, it's my own fault. When racing for my own results, I botch things terribly, beset by indecision and fear of failure, waiting for the perfectly framed moment which never comes. In my fourth season, I am still looking for Win Number 1. Still, lack of respect is lack of respect, and I always take it kinda personally.

I know I'm a very strong rider, and even with more brawn than brains, that no one follows a plan more stringently than me. Taking my own risk of failure out of the equation clears the tactical picture for me immensely, and by declaring this year to make racing more fun and free-willed, working for others and destroying myself in the process, I'm hoping to become a much more instinctual racer. That will be a big part of removing the pressure to getting my upgrade to Category 2 by the end of the year.

The Category 3 race was stacked by my own XXX and Burnham, of course, as the host team. Each team had at least six riders. Tom Briney, Newt Cole, and Liam Donoghue had all declared designs on the victory, while (speaking for myself, at least) others only wanted match attacks, guard breaks, and lay waste on the final lap in support. The early laps played as though this script had been typed on paper.

Briney, Newt, and Liam waited a patient game while Chris Kinnonen guarded the front and Kyle Wiberg and I made sure there was red and black in each of the flurry of early attacks. Seemingly every couple of laps I was in a different iteration of the break, almost always with Recycling's Ben Laforce and Burnham's Jason Mindemann or Eric Goodwin. Don't hold me to that as memory in those situations is always a little fuzzy.

The breaks would always start with a solo attack by one of a few solo riders, and then would build numbers on late bridges by guys with support in the pack; that's definitely how I found myself in so many different groups off the front.

The last one I was in definitely had potential. Moving up the leeward left-hand side in the finishing straight midway through the race, I saw Kinnonen pulling the group with no support, then noticed a new break of three or four moving away, with no XXX representation. That was not good at all, so at the first turn I broke hard off the front. With someone in tow, I bridged into Ben Laforce's draft at the tail of a now sizable threat. I think we had a good gap for at least a couple of laps but were eventually reeled in. The shifting winds and March fitness disrupted the rhythm of a truly committed break; at one point wagged my left elbow and the dude pulled through on the windward side to my right.

As the laps ticked down, I saw more and more of Briney, Newt, and Liam who were holding to prime position. With 3 or 4 to go, Kyle was in a break of three, including Laforce, once again. As we passed turn one after seeing two to go, Kyle was drifting back to the group, with the other two riding away. I couldn't wait until the last lap like I'd planned. With the rest of the team behind me, now was the time to light the last match.

As we passed Kyle I dug hard into the wind without breaking off and closed the gap smaller and smaller. By the end of the backstretch curve (and me pedaling boxes) they were now easily within striking distance. As if he'd read my mind, Liam took off like an F-14 from an aircraft carrier. The move was so committed you couldn't not believe in it 100% and I whooped ecstatically after him, "Yeah, LIAM!!!" He caught the other two quickly and blazed away alone in the tailwind.

I sat up, got on the end to hang on by a thread with depleted legs, and watched Briney and Newt do their thing, which was fight for wheels like tenacious pit bulls. I could not have been more pleased as I coasted in across the line, dead last from the group, hearing Alan Treuthart shout, "he did it!" and then see Liam sprawled out on the grass, an arm raised in the air. Briney and Newt had made it into the top five as well.

A perfect ending to a perfect race. And later I found out I'd also won a prime, a SRAM chain with a powerlink, while pulling through on one of my early breaks.

Incidentally, I did all of that on a half-flat rear tire. Half way through, I began to feel squirrelly back there through the high-speed last and first turns on either side of the start-finish. I debated getting a wheel, but rationalized it was the wind playing with my deep Stinger 60s (but knew better). I didn't want to miss out on any of the fun I was having and it's a good thing I stayed with the wheel I had. I broke a spoke on my back up wheel somewhere between 25 or 30 minutes into the the Pro/1/2/3 race an hour later. Speaking of which:

After realizing my race wheel wouldn't hold air and putting on the back-up, my training wheel w/PowerTap hub, the 75 minute Pro/1/2/3 race rolled out with another XXX-heavy field. Included was everyone from the Cat 3 race except Chris, plus Ed Amstutz, John Tomlinson, Peter Strittmatter, Dave Moyer, and Scott Herring. The first lap and half were quite leisurely, and at the beginning of lap two when the pace was really lagging, I easily moved to the front in order not to get pinched in the turns by the widespread group.

Seconds after I found myself chasing the first of a violent barrage of early attacks, and even in a stillborn break for the rest of the lap or so. After that there wasn't much more I could do besides hang on to the tail of the dragon as the pace would often surge to 30mph-plus during the early attacks.

Finally about 25 minutes in it looked to be settled, with two separate groups off which would eventually form a group of nine. This included Moyer, whom I didn't see break away, and JT who I watched turn himself inside out into the headwind on a solo bridge to the second group.

Shortly after, people began asking me if I'd broken a spoke. "Naw," I casually responded. It was just my valve extender slapping on the deep carbon of the wheel. The joke of the Cat 3 race as well. With my calf-tattoos, I'm Cat 5 style forever, baby! Actually, not a joke all, I found after Nate Iden of Burnham rolled up behind me: "dude, your wheel is gonna fall apart!" Sure enough, I looked between my legs to see the rim "whupwhupwhupping" against the brakes. I really had broken a spoke. Rolling in, I realized my race wheel was unridable too, and there was no neutral support. So I called it a day.

I watched from the sidelines as the front group gelled cohesively and grew their gap to over a minute. With two to go they dropped to eight, and in the end, Tomasz Boba of WDT won the day, with XXX placing Moyer in 4th, JT in 8th, and Peter in 10th.

A really good day for the team, to state it politely. XXX Racing is now in the lead for the Illinois Cup overall team competition, not to mention the Cat 3 and 40+ divisions.

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