Blazes of Glory
By Luke Seemann | Jun 8, 2009
Race name: Winfield Twilight, Spring Prairie Road Race
Race date: Sunday, Jun 7, 2009
This is one of our best local crit courses. Great neighborhood course with great neighborhood support, including a block party that generously sponsors and celebrates king-of-the-hill primes.
With a big, long hill it’s a course suited to me. I’d shoot for a win here if it were a 3’s race, but with a 2/3’s field I would just have to hope to get in the right break and then somehow survive into the money.
Chatting with someone before the race, I mentioned that my strategy would be to stay cool for the first few laps, and then let ‘er rip once everyone was tired. So then why was I attacking on Lap 3 already? And Lap 4? And Lap 5?
Needless to say, none of these attacks went anywhere except into my own personal pain cave. Eventually I figured out that attacks got more traction when I attacked at the top, rather than the bottom, but even then I was just burning my matches way too early.
Five to go—that would be a GREAT time to attack! And that’s exactly what ABD’s phenom Ryan Freund did. A lap later he was motoring away with a 15-second gap.
Near the top of the hill, I unleashed what I hoped would be a bridge attempt. And I had an OK gap for a bit. I powered down the descent—without braking!—and drilled it through the flat. I was hurting. Looking back, I saw Julian and a Verizon rider coming close. They had a gap of their own, and they were flying. I accelerated one more time to catch their wheel ... and I couldn’t.
Soon the pack caught up to me at the base of the hill, and now I had a total engine failure. The legs would not turn. I was soon gapped, and I rode the final three laps by myself. Dropped.
Afterward, I was bemused to have opponents compliment me on my “brutal pull” that had nearly broken their legs. (I was flattered, but it’s not a good sign when your “attack” is complimented as a “pull.”)
I txt’ed my coach to tell him about my ignominious end. “Were you popped off the back,” he asked, “or did you go out in a blaze of glory?”
Oh, that was easy. Blaze of glory. So at least I had that going for me.
Eighteen hours later, the third of Wisconsin’s great road races. I’ve done this one since I was a rookie, with mixed results. The principal climb is steep—up to 14 percent!—but it’s too short to do me any good. Anyone who’s seen me do the hill sprint onto Green Bay Road knows that short-and-steep is not my style. Last year I made a break of three, but goofed up the end game and was dropped on the final climb.
This year we had an ace crew: Me, Peter, Dave Moyer, Jacques and new teammate Tyler. Dave delivered our fresh new black 2009 socks, so we rocked out with our socks out.
Our race was a formidable 10 laps, or 65 miles. This is where those four-hour trainer rides in winter and those five-hour Sisters rides would pay dividends. Teamwork would be just as essential, but with about 50 riders, how much of a dent could five guys make?
Peter had done much of Saturday’s Eric Sprattling Three States Ride, so he made clear beforehand that he would just be trying to cover early attacks. That plan didn’t last long. Within four miles he was off the front solo.
But it worked great. He never got much out of sight, but it caused great consernation in the field, and it put the stress of chasing on Wheaton-Franciscan, the only other team with more than four members. He has a bit of a reputation, Peter does, and Illinois riders were quick to point out his position in the Illinois Cup standings. (The fact that he was knackered from Saturday’s 110 miles would remain our little secret.)
The pack finally caught Peter on the fifth lap. Many attacks would take place over the next few laps, but most came during lulls in the action, so I didn’t pay them much worry. I attacked several times myself, but even when I attacked under duress, like you’re supposed to, I could barely get any separation on the field. “What the hell!” I said to Jacques at one point. “Why isn’t any of this working?”
I was starting to cramp. What was I doing here? Why was this field almost as big as it started? This race was a tough nut to crack, and it was making me miss the races in April and May, when nobody was in shape. Those were the days!
Finally, the nut cracked. I just needed to be patient.
With two to go, I attacked at the top of the climb. I got an OK gap and, still recovering from the climb, rode tempo as best I could. A group of about 10 caught me on the descent. I had figured they would. Guess I was just attacking out of ritual or habit. But then they slowed. So I did what Jens or Randy would do: I attacked again, before any others could catch on. And this time I got a bigger gap, and I was recovered enough that I could ride closer to threshold.
Ten miles to go. Just like our Fitness Check Time Trials, right? Except those don’t come after 45 miles of hard riding.
I focused on keeping my cadence up, trying to channel all the heroic escapees I enjoyed watching during the Giro. I got out of the saddle at the top of each roller to maximize my descending speed.
I never lost sight of the pack behind me. It was definitely thinner than before, but it continued to bear down. I zeroed in on the pace car. Catch the car ... catch the car ... catch the car ...
Could I really ride 10 miles by myself? Not likely. But I got motivation from knowing that I had four stout teammates in the pack, resting. I knew that if I were caught, one of them would counter, or would be fresh enough to win the sprint. That is a tremendous asset when you’re off the front.
Coming into the hill with one to go, a 5Nines rider successfully bridged, just in time. I’m eager to see photos of this moment, because I’m pretty sure I was slobbering as I tried to climb. But over the top I fell behind his wheel, and I got some much needed recovery.
We maintained a good lead through Turn 3. Three miles to go. He was from Wisconsin. This was his state championship. “Do you care more about the jersey,” I asked, “or the win?”
If he’d said he was after the win, this is the point where I would have stopped working. One of two things would have happened: He would have towed me to the finish line, and I would have come around to win; Or, the pack would have caught us close to the final climb, and one of my fresh teammates would have sprinted for the win.
Fortunately, he indicated that he was going for the jersey, so I contributed all I could to our escape. He led into the final turn, up the hill, and we rode side by side. We were going much slower than earlier, dipping down to a 7 mph crawl, and halfway up we could see the pack starting to climb behind us.
He pushed harder, and I had to fight to keep up, and he continued to push over the false flat at the top. I had nothing left. I lacked the energy to sprint out of the saddle. I stayed seated, plowing away in his draft, wrenching my body over bike—and just in time came around for the win by a foot.
And sure enough, just as I’d been counting on, Dave Moyer wrapped up the field sprint to get 3rd.
This was another great example of how to race as a team. With the exception of Tyler, all of us are in the Elite Development Program, so we’ve been training and racing together since our March camp in San Luis Obispo. Some mighty solidarity has developed as a result. I’m proud to race for these guys, and I’m even prouder when they race for me. Can’t wait to see what our full squad will achieve at Sherman Park next week.