Power File- http://bit.ly/msr750
When it comes to criteriums, Elite Nationals in Augusta, GA was about as straight forward as they come. Dead flat, four 90 degree right hand turns on a .8 mile rectangle course. Other features included about 160 starters, rough roads, wind, and heat. Meeting about an hour before the race near James Brown Blvd., Phil and I covered the basics of the race over a 1.25mi warm up. Water. Sunscreen. Strategy. I could tell in the spin that I felt amazing after opening up from the previous day’s Time Trial. These legs were not to be wasted on a good ride, but saved for a good result.
The tactics were pretty simple, not to sweat the start of the race and plan for a field sprint. After seven attempts at crit nats with breakaway tactics (in ‘99, at 19 years old, I went from lap two to the finish line off the front…for a top 11 result), this course flipped those race’s roles on their heads. Both Phil and I quickly agreed that it was not worth firing off one bullet in our chamber until the last 10 laps, and then only in a fight for position. From there, if I saw an opening to jump inside the last 1.5 laps, I would. That’s it, simple.
With the start line race not an important one on this course, I lined up at the back with some old teammates while Phil started at the front thanks to a call-up from his 9th place in Bend’s crit championship. We both surfed wheels for 80 minutes, but with Phil further up in the field due to his start and with me in the last 10 riders. From my point of view, there was no compelling reason to move up. I felt amazing, the field was flying, and there was no way a gap was opening up on this course mid- field that couldn’t be easily closed by just taking the turn without using the brakes. Also, the pack was really bunching up in the turns, so the back was an easy place to just back off 100- 150meters before every turn and just coast into all of the riders braking as they exited the corners.
When Phil and I finally met up 2/3 of the way back through the field, we did our routine quick check in. He was feeling great. I let him know that I had a full book of matches to burn and was going to save them to execute the already laid out plan.
With about a dozen laps to go, I moved up through the outside of the field to the top 5-15 riders. I followed a few attacks and made a single 3/4 speed attack just to keep pressure on the front of the field. There was a good three rider move up the road that featured the marquee team in the race, Cal Giant, the recently crowned TT Champ John Jacobs, and another rider. I was more than happy to let other teams do the work of keeping the break in check and the gap was coming down fractionally until about 7 laps to go. At that point, the race just slowed down for a lap before a few really tough turns on the front by some of the stronger guys in the race.
Out of the last corner and coming into four or five laps to go, a rider attacked out of the field. Quickly another rider attempted to bridge with a Team Mountain Khakis and a Cal Giant rider right on the wheel. I jumped on, then had a rider jump in and take the Cal Giant wheel. Coming into turn two, the rider blew sky-high and was starting to open a gap. I took an awkward line through the bouncy turn in an all-out sprint and opened a gap to the field, partially thanks to the blown rider shooting backwards through the head of the pack.
Mountain Khakis and the first rider in the group closed the gap to the leaders without asking for help from the Cal Giant guy or myself. With my matchbook mostly in tact, my first job when our group integrated with the leaders was to look under my arm and try to time the gap. It was big, and with Cal Giant and Mountain Khakis committed to the break, I did not have to burn many matches to keep this move going. It was now that I knew I would win. The form was there and I had put zero effort into the race to be in a position to win with less than 2 miles to go.
I rode assertively, never missing pulls. But I only had to take two turns at the front in the break before riders started sitting up from fatigue. The TT champ, Jacobs kept the pace high through the last turn with two laps to go and the next rider let the wheel go. I jumped out of the last turn to close the gap to discover no one jumped on my wheel. The two of us held a tenuous gap over a group of three, which was swelling with riders coming up in small breaks to create a larger second group on the road. The pack was within 10 second of our lead move.
With Jacobs crusted over in salt, I knew he was blowing out a bit in this final move. I needed him to make it to the finish, and he was going so strong that he pretty much by himself would sustain the gap. With my fresh legs, I swapped pulls with him over the 2nd to last lap on a fine threshold of going fast enough to keep Jacobs on my wheel, but the shattering chasing group at arms-length as well as the hard charging field at bay. Coming into the home straight on the last lap was the first time I took a full-effort pull, going for most of the long straightway and hoping Jacobs had saved something for the last lap. Boy, he did. He took a monster pull into the headwind backside straightway and as his effort began to flag with a half lap to go, I jumped with everything I had. Just my second full effort of the day. Just .4 miles to go. Alone. I knew I could do it but the field was right behind us. I left nothing to chance and bombed the last two turns, jumping out of the last corner for the final 250 meters to the finish. For the first time, jumping out of the turn, the effort was stinging. I didn’t care, I just had to bury the effort and concentrate on going as fast as possible. With Dave Towle calling the race I could hear that the field was close and that Rahsaan Bahati was hot on my wheel. No giving up. No victory solute. No hands off the bars. I needed speed.
Closing down an impossible gap down out of the last turn to a single bike length was Bahati, dusting the remnants of the field. About 10 meters after the finish line, completely gassed but sure of the win, Bahati passed me and signaled approval for my effort. I attempted to do the same to him, but all I could muster was this horrific stare in his direction with my mouth fully agape. Phil, after following wheels and distracting the chase, put himself in a great position coming out of the last turn and made up a lot of ground in the final 250 meters, coming around all but four riders to round out the podium.
A major contributor toward my confidence of winning were my successful benchmarks on fast courses heading into nationals. Every week I get to test myself at The Driveway Bike Race Series and just the week before the race, I had a good night after a tough day of training. The speed of the weekly crit is so high that it takes immense power to get across to moves in near triple digit heat. With the regular average speed of a Driveway crit at 27.5- 28.0mph and crit nationals at 26.5, I felt confident going into the final laps that if I do what I normally do every week, things would end up well for either Phil or me. Here’s the Driveway power file from the week before- http://bit.ly/k2gNcX