The final road race of the season did not disappoint for me. The course was a rolling 3-ish mile triangular lap on three roads surrounding a forest preserve in Oak Brook. Having scouted the course 3 times in the previous weeks I felt very confident with the course and knowing where to be and how fast one would be going during certain sections. The first cat 5 heat was going to be 6 laps for a total of about 19 miles.
Having such "intimate" knowledge of the course I knew I wanted to be up front going into the second turn, a very tight switchback that led into a 90 degree turn that was flat for a little bit before the climbing section of the course. As the race started I scrambled to click in. As is always the case I missed the pedal and was chasing the back of the pack. Luckily the pack was cruising pretty slow. I took the first turn wide and made up a couple of spots. The pack was mostly stretched out even though we weren't going fast, this allowed me to move up in position as we were coming into the second tight turn. Having been unable to properly warm up, my legs felt like cement and my high level of nervousness had not subsided as it usually does once the race starts.
Before I knew it I realized that I was in the position that I wanted to be leading into the turn as I was riding about 4th from the front. The riders in front of me took the turn cautiously...thats when the killer instinct kicked in. As we cleared the tight switch back I launched an attack knowing the majority of the pack was still cautiously turning. My legs instantly responded and the adrenaline kicked in hard.
My brain and all other non-leg body parts ceased to function momentarily as I flew off the front. The adrenaline was pumping so hard that I hadn't realized that I was already going up the climb. My eyes had to tell my legs that I was going up the first climb because they sure weren't slowing down for nothing not even good old gravity. I looked back and could see that I had a considerable gap on the pack, unfortunately I had hoped that I would have brought a chaser or two with me but that was not the case.
Having been in a solo breakaway once before this summer I knew what was in store for me. I kept the effort high, just over my time trial pace. Every 15 seconds I would look back in hopes that a strong rider or two would be closing the gap. I crossed the line solo off the front by myself and was able to maintain a gap for about 1/4 of the second lap. As the pack caught me I cautiously slipped back into the pack. Doubt crept into my mind, why did I do that? was that too early? do my legs have anything left? Those questions quickly disappeared from my mind during the lap when as we were going up the main climb I caught some movement out of the corner of my eye. Someone tapped my rear wheel sending me off the road. I was able to stay up and rode on the gravel shoulder as I heard the all too familiar sounds of bikes crashing behind me. That would not be the first close call.
The next couple of laps were pretty slow and I was able to maintain good pack position. My teammate Bryan even managed to go off the front for a while with a strong Flatlandia rider. I bridged up to them for a little bit but the pack soon chased us down. About four laps in or so I did something that surprised even myself. I was riding third from the front when the rider leading did the elbow wag and moved to the side, the rider behind him had no interest in riding into the wind so he followed the rider pulling off. As soon as he moved over from in front of me without hesitation or a single nanosecond of thought I attacked again despite being in a spinning-ly low gear. Once again I was off the front by myself for about a half a lap, David from Flatlandia and a wild card team member managed to bridge up and we rode together for another half lap before the pack had enough of our shenanigans and caught us as we got the one lap to go bell.
With one lap to go the pace went up and the pack quickly split in half. I was still feeling strong and confident moving well within the stretched out group. Rather unfortunately we caught up to the race group that went out before us and we were neutralized, this allowed the rest of our pack to catch back up to us. We were now about a mile and a half away with most of the pack still intact. We hit the climbing section at a very good pace but no one was trying any funny stuff. During the descent going into the final climb before the final turn I managed to get good positioning. I looked around and since no one was doing anything I said what the hell I'm going for it. On the final little kicker before the final turn I went for it. I took the last turn tight and fast. Around the turn a long descent leads into a false flat that flattens out before the finish.
I was now leading the pack to the finish line. This is where the memory gets fuzzy, it was all or nothing, this was it...8 months of training...a summer full of intervals...countless crits and soul-crushing hills...getting dropped and lapped...crashing and trashing a frame. My road racing season was coming to an end in these final 500 meters of leg and lung crushing fury. Tunnel vision...legs burning...lungs going..to explode...hold it...hold it...OH SHIT! BUMP. MY REAR WHEEL! CRASH BANG SCRAPE...I’m still up! Go go go go don’t look back 300 meters to finish line riders passing on my right...one...two..150 meters...damn a third rider...50 meters look back, carnage in the distance.
Ahhh 4th place...