On Saturday, one of my big goals for the year was accomplished in the BSU road race that was part of the collegiate omnium hosted by the BSU team. Surprisingly, the road race course included part of the ride that a large group of us took about a month ago, namely Little Feezeout Hill. In that respect, I was at least familiar with the course. Also, as part of the hosting club, I had the opportunity to drive the course to set up signage before the event to do even more reconnaissance. It was especially helpful to know how long climbs were to be able to gage my effort and output.
I came down with a cold on Thursday night, which caused me to reconsider my goals for this race. In addition to not being able to fill my lungs completely, I felt quite a bit of fatigue. Restless sleep the night before allowed me to only get about 5 hours before rolling out to the race. I did as much as I could to fuel and hydrate the night before and the morning of the race in hopes that it would be enough to get me through it.
Although the pervious two days had been as warm and sunny as we have seen this spring, topping out at 71 on Friday, a storm front had moved in and brought rain and high winds to the course just in time for the whistle. Before the start of the race, we chatted with a couple of the teams about taking it easy until we made the turn to prevent some of the younger riders from being alone in crosswind gusts of 45 mph. OSU, UW, WWU, and Idaho all agreed. I laughed a little because, after Nate Starnes watched the previous helmet video, he assigned me the moniker “El Patron.” In the pro peloton, it describes the senior, stately leader of the field. He essentially called me old. Yet, here I was getting a consensus from the group to essentially neutralize the first 7 miles of the course.
After the whistle, OSU, BSU, and Idaho all participated in the pace setting in a wide echelon which offered the most protection to the group. Even though we built a wide field, the tempo was fairly high. As we approached a mile long climb, which signaled the end of our predetermined opening stretch, the pace lifted and several of the key teams started moving up. An Idaho rider named JT pushed the pace up the hill and I sat on his wheel. The field was beginning to string out and as I looked back as we crested the hill, the field was spread out more than a ½ mile behind. Anyone caught in the back would miss the action to come.
I still had my teammate Jace on my wheel and several strong racers were around us on the front of the field. I have learned over the last month of racing that if you want a chance at a high placement, it is necessary to be right at the head of the field. This allows you to go with any and all moves. Coming down the descent before turning with the wind, I was sitting second wheel behind Jesse, a strong OSU rider. JT, Idaho’s only remaining rider in the front of the field, attacked. Had I not been in position, I might have missed it. We accelerated down the hill at 40+ in a crosswind, each of us spinning in our highest gear. As we rounded the corner and headed with the wind, all aerodynamic advantage was neutralized. With such a strong wind, the difference was leg strength and cadence.
After about 3 minutes of all-out effort, we had established a break of 8. In the mix was Jesse and Nick (OSU), Ye (UW), Jay (Wittman College), Eric (UO), JT (Idaho), Sean (WWU), and myself. Sadly, my teammate Jace had been trimmed in the move and was now one of two riders marooned in the ever expanding “no man’s land” between the break and the field. Over the next 5 miles we would put more than 3 minutes on the field and built a lead that would never be challenged. One of my big goals for the collegiate season was in the process of being accomplished, getting in a serious break.
The heavy tempo proved to be too much for all but Jesse and Nick, who escaped just before the foot of the climb. The remaining 6 were split, as climbs will often do, as we pushed up Little Freezeout. At the top, Sean and I were in the back now trailing the others by more than a minute. We made a pact and got to the business of trying to reel in the group. We hoped that they would not be as motivated as we were and we could make the catch. Over the next 4 miles of steady trade-offs, Sean and I managed to cover the distance just as three riders were making the turn on to the home stretch. It was then I realized that we were missing a rider, who had missed the turn. We had rejoined the trio with 1 mile to the finish.
The headwind was upon us again at more that 20 MPH. Knowing I likely had the least left in the tank of all of us, I let them do any work they wanted. I told Sean that I would try and set him up with a lead out if the opportunity came. He and I had done good work together and without him I wouldn’t have been able to catch on. But, shortly after he agreed, he attacked. Later, he would say that he felt good and thought he could make it off the front and carry it to the finish.
Sean and Ye left the remaining three of us and managed a gap of 50 yards with less than 1K to go. Gambling that someone would try and bridge up, I hung in JT’s slipstream to avoid as much of the wind as I could and to boost any reserves I might have. Jay from Wittman took the bait and tried to bridge the gap. I followed and we closed the gap with 200m to the finish. As we arrived, Ye decided to go and pushed for the line. I left Jay and jumped on his wheel and sprinted to the line. I was hoping he would fade and give me a chance to sprint around him but it was me who started to whither. He crossed 1 second in front of me but allowed me to clear the remaining riders.
For my efforts, I took 4th place. It’s a result I’m thrilled with. I managed to put myself in the right positions throughout the race. I anticipated the right moments, marked the correct riders, rode as hard as I could, and convinced others to work to our mutual advantage. Despite my cold, I managed a good result. What I lacked in fitness compared to many of the other, younger riders, I made up for in good decisions. Only two races remain in my collegiate career. I hope I can have another finish or two in the top 10.