The day following a ton of work and the success of putting Nikos on the podium at Hillsboro, Tom P., Trisha, Monika, Courtney and I continued our trek south to race Sunday at Tilles Park in St. Louis. Tilles park is a smooth pavement course within a city park. 8/10 of a mile, not a hard corner to be found and a gentle rise 1/3 of the way in. This is as non-technical a course as they come, a cupcake course, much like our Sherman Park race used to be, with the only consideration being that the course is fairly narrow throughout.
We arrive at the race to a light drizzle and I was thankful I didn't pre-reg. Tom, Courtney and Mo were all better planners and pre-registered... they were committed. I was not and was leaning towards bailing.
I watched Tom, Mo and Courtney race in the drizzle and come out of it messy, but none too worse for wear. Courtney in particular looked like a hardened warrior, with a dirt & grime goatee, but she was smiling with the success of having reeled in a strong PSIMET break for a pack finish. Mo loves the dirt and had a blast. I realized I couldn't turn my back on the opportunity and after all, it was only a light drizzle, so I kitted up and got my number. And that's when it started to rain in earnest.
Great. I've just dropped 45 bucks and it's raining. Oh well.
We line up to the most anti-climactic acoustic guitar music (no Johnny Cash for us), warn each other to be safe and after 2 short laps I'm soaked and questioning how long I'll be able to even see, when the attacks start. It's a Masters' 1-3 field and St. Louis generally has a fast masters group, owing to their long season and warmer weather.
There were four different teams represented in the field with multiple riders each and these guys were frisky. The Cyclery and Big Shark in particular kept sending guys up the road and someone from another team would always get up there with him. Then you'd have two teams blocking hard and no-one had the will power or desire to break through and chase in the rain. Except for me. Oh, why did it have to be me?
Over and over I would lead the chase to reel in a break and a few times, just when we’d catch, a counter-attack would launch. When you've got 3-4 guys blocking, it's just effective. The final break was 18 seconds off the front and only one person would barely help me chase. For this one, I dug hard into the pain cave and when we caught, I couldn't see through the left side of my glasses and was blowing gritty snot out of my nose. I thought to myself, if they counter again, I'll be lucky to hang on to the pack, if I even see it happen. Then, a miracle! The pace slowed so I could recover (and rinse the dirt out of my mouth).
With about four laps to go, attacks simply stopped (thank goodness!). Everyone settled in for a pack finish, leaving me thinking, “I'm with the pack, job well done." I concentrated on race position and refused to give up second wheel, neither to advance or fall back, for the final few laps, being assaulted by the spray of gritty water the entire time. The last two laps in particular were hot as two teams each sent a guy up to crank the pace and string us out. Then, with a quarter lap to go, the pace slacked and no-one (me included) would advance, despite people yelling at us to, "keep it hot!"
As we came to the last bend, the pace then picked up hard, real hard, almost a mini sprint. This was a group of mainly Cat 2 riders, they were familiar with how to finish the course and it showed. At about 400 meters to go, I feel the swarming start and I'm struggling to stay on the 5th wheel, thinking, “No, no, no! It's too early for me!" I find myself just trying to hold some semblance of position long enough to get into my sprint window, all the while, feeling all my hard work slip away. Then I’m in-range and I see my lane open up. It’s time.
I move off the 5th wheel and kick in my sprint. I dart around 5th, fly past 4th wheel and I am no longer worried about the guy in 3rd. That's because I looked up and saw the two leaders and felt they were within reach. I found a second kick and moved my sprint to 42 mph (I didn't believe it either), with me closing real fast on the two leaders. At the end, the podium hit the line with half a wheel between each of us and it was my bike throw that put me into second (thanks for the spring drills last week, Randy!).
Although I didn't win, I'm chalking up the day as a victory after the amount of effort I put in to reel in the many breaks. I was proud to add to xXx Racing's time on the podium this weekend, where our team put someone in the top three at every race we attended (Hillsboro, TTT Nats, Tilles Park and Menomonee Park)!
Also, for those going to St. Louis in the future with a Friday or Saturday overnight stay, be sure to ask anyone on this weekend’s trip about our restaurant choice. It’s worth a visit and was quite “unique.”