Pro/Cat 1 Illinois State Road Race Champion!
By Seth Meyer | Sep 13, 2009
Race name: IL State Road Race Championship / Tour of Willow Springs
Race date: Saturday, Sep 12, 2009
If you want the short version, here it is: Sniffed out the right breakaway, which ended up being six, suffered through last-lap attacks, did the longest sprint ever up the climb, was third in the race and first IL rider for the jersey.
Now, if you dare, bear with me for the long version:
A nicely paved, 10-mile loop with a 1-mile, 3-stair-step climb to the finish was the venue for this year’s state road race championship. You know there aren’t many road races in Illinois, but I like the longer distances (even though only 60 miles is a bit short for a P/1/2 road race—I suppose it was already Sept 12th), and I like uphill finishes even more. So I wanted to make today count, especially after having a bit of a tough year. That is, up until yesterday!
I was already nervous just looking at the competition in the parking lot. Many riders to be feared came out for the event, including Chad Hartley and Rob White (Geargrinder), Dewey Dickey and a teammate (Mercy-Specialized), Chris Uberti (Panther/RGF, who just won the Tour di Via Italia), Ryan Freund and new Chicagoan John Meyers (ABD), and John Puffer and one of his Texas Roadhouse teammates too, to name just a few. But if you don’t try, you’ll never succeed. And, if you look at the others too much, you’ll psyche yourself out. So I tried to remind myself just to stay focused on my race.
Here’s how it went: Lap 1 was fairly quiet. We went neutral up the climb, and there were some frivolous attacks the next five miles no one worried about. Then Puffer and three others got away, though they weren’t given much of a leash. Second time up the climb, I got a gap bridging up to that move, but, once it all got sorted out over the downhill, the field was back together again. There were a few more attacks that lap, but nothing too frightening. Third time up the climb, we really just rolled over it. Hard, but comfortable-hard.
Lap 3 on the backside was where the break formed. John Meyers had just been brought back, and Dewey, Hartley, and White started attack/counterattacking. I got a bit more attentive then, though I needed to be careful not to try to follow everything on the flats, as I only had one teammate, Eric Wiecek, to help me, and as my small frame can tire out quickly going with too many moves on level ground (like when I got dropped from two ISCorp breaks back in May, having to cover six guys as a solo rider, but then having nothing left after the fact). So, after about 10 moves, I found the right wheel—Rob White’s—and we didn’t even really attack, but just sort of rolled off (isn’t that how the break always seems to happen?). Gap.
Two others came up to us: Chris Padfield (Team Get A Grip Cycles) and a Bicycle Heaven rider. We four rolled along all right together, did a steady pace up the climb, and we started Lap 4 committed to the move. Halfway through this lap, we welcomed three bridgers: Ryan Freund (ABD), Mercy-Specialized, and Texas Roadhouse. Unfortunately, at this moment, Padfield also got a mechanical and had to drop back to get a wheel (a strangely parallel situation to Cadel Evans in the Vuelta the same day?), but the break couldn’t wait for the long-ish change. What a pity! So it was down to the six of us, and we rolled through all right the rest of the lap.
Lap 5: This was a scary lap. We were only averaging about 25mph. Granted, we had been out for a while, there was a headwind on a good part of the course after the downhill, and everyone must have had teammates blocking well, but, still, I had to ask Freund at one point, “Are we going fast enough?” to which he simply agreed with the skeptical query, “We can’t be.” Everyone wanted to save it for the last lap, though, so we just sort of crossed our fingers and hoped the situation didn’t get too precarious. (After the race, I learned our advantage indeed was quite precarious here, but a big shout out to everyone’s teammates for doing their jobs behind and keeping bridge attempts in check.)
Lap 6: I have never cramped in a race to the point I could not even turn the pedals over. I take great pride in being aware of my body and taking care of it in this way. But no feeding on this course (one of my few criticisms of Tower Racing—otherwise, super organization, guys!) meant I was running low, and the penultimate time up the climb, I felt a bad cramp coming on. Thankfully, it disappeared after a few seconds, but this was a very nervous moment.
Even more nervous moments followed, when Freund said he could see a bridger in the distance after the climb. He hardly finished this sentence, and someone smartly attacked! It came back together. Then Roadhouse went, White went, Bike Heaven went, Mercy went, Freund went. Then they all started taking turns. I was already running low, and I was, by far, the smallest guy—hardly a rolleur!—in the move. So, at this point, I made a new rule: Whoever attacks me, I will no longer cooperate with. Otherwise, I’m just going to ride myself into a hole, get dropped before the climb, and caught and passed by the field.
The funny thing is—everyone attacked! And my rule could have just as well been a de facto rule, as all I could really do was hang with the accelerations in the draft. So that was that. I was just following wheels, hoping our inconsistency didn’t see our gap diminish. With about three miles to go, Freund put in the hardest attack of the day and got ten seconds fast. The other guys got organized well and pacelined really hard to reel him in. At this point, I knew we were going to stay away, doing 30 into a headwind and all. So I just tried to conserve. The gap was very scary for a minute when it just stayed locked in at around 10 ticks. I thought I might be seeing the jersey riding away. But, as we got to the bottom of the climb, it started to decline.
Last time up the hill, 1 mile to go: Roadhouse goes at the bottom. Hard. We catch Freund. It is hard. The pace stayed hard over the middle pitch. We near the bottom of the third one. Life is hard. I hope Freund is gassed. I hope the Roadhouse guy went too early. I don’t care much about White and Mercy. I just pray, as I white-knuckle the handlebars, that I can out-sprint this Bike Heaven guy for the jersey. Roadhouse starts to lead out the sprint. White goes early, from the bottom of the last pitch, and I try to follow. I can’t, but nobody can. So I stay with Roadhouse. This is about the point where I’m thinking, “This is the longest sprint ever!” Mercy starts to come around on Roadhouse’s left. I go on the right. Mercy looks like he’s going to take me, but I could still get third, and the jersey. It has already been a 30-second sprint. I can’t even believe this is happening. (You can sprint up this climb as much as you want on the Sunday ride, but it is so different after 35 miles in the breakaway.) I am essentially just trying to stay out of the saddle and hope it all works out.
Somehow, it does. I crest in third with Luke Seemann screaming, “State champion!” at me—at that moment, the two most beautiful words in the English language.
I have to thank Luke for all of his support, helping me onto this squad last year after an early 2008 that really took its toll on me mentally. He has been true-blue since then as well, even if I haven’t always performed to the potential I once showed. Apropos, true-blue, I am endlessly grateful that my mate Eric Wiecek was with me at the race today. Even back to our Cat 3 days, he and my buddy on the mend, Steve Vandeven, were responsible for helping me secure so many results, and their support has not at all changed over time. Finally, I’ve got to thank Dave Moyer for outsprinting me in training last Monday—yes, I still owe you lunch!—and reminding me, no matter what, to stay out of the saddle…even if that final punch seems eternal. I recalled those words at the end of the race, and they helped greatly.
It’s not always easy to get in the break (or stay in the break!), as I struggled with this May. It’s not easy to make it stick either; I remember the heartbreak of being caught at Sherman Park after so many laps out front. Sometimes you lose motivation, especially during Superweek if you’re like I am! Today, though, it all finally came together: I sniffed out the right move even though I didn’t have too much help covering the many attacks, and I conserved enough to save it for that eternal sprint. Finally, a result worth a report!
So I’m pretty tired after all that. Needless to say, you won’t see me riding Sunday. But you will see me in the Pro/1/2 IL road champion’s jersey in Hillsboro in 2010!
Thanks for reading! Glad I could deliver another championship jersey to xXx Racing-AthletiCo!
P.S. I love my Hed wheels!