Going into this year’s national championship I was a lot more relaxed than normal. This had to do with two distinct differences from previous years racing. One was the fact I was not racing the juniors anymore. This meant I could focus on racing and be worried about crashing out. The second difference was that I would be a first year under-23. I would be racing against guys who are in their early 20s, some of them fresh off European campaigns. This fact put almost no pressure on my shoulders. I knew I was an extreme underdog, even just to finish.
The line up of the road race was very relaxed. I sat under a tree putting ice cubes down my bibs with the rest of my team. I knew that this was going to be a hot and long race, 168 kilometers starting at 1:30 pm in the hot and humid Augusta Georgia. I personally have been looking forward all year for the conditions of this road race. I knew by living and training in Houston all year would help me tremendously for the national championships.
I lined up at the back of an almost 140 person peloton along side my teammates Kevin, and Shane. The start of the race was very slow. Gradually, I moved up along the outside of the pack to get to the front. I comfortably sat near the front making sure I was taking as many drinks from my bottle as possible. I knew with the hot conditions that even the strongest racers were going to succumb to the heat and DNF. My acclimation to the heat was probably the most important factor in my training for nationals this year.
As I sat near the front, I would occasionally fad back in the movement of the peloton. Se were riding through the first lap when a small break established themselves off the front of the group. No big teams were in it, and there was no sense of urgency to bring it back. The break got a maximum gap of about four minutes before the gap started to hold. As the first couple laps started to tick off I could sense that it was time to start getting more attentive and focused on any small splits that could get up the road.
Going into the third lap I was sitting last wheel of the peloton talking to my teammate Kevin about where we need to be heading into this lap. At the base of the feed zone hill I lined up on the left side of the pack and slowly started to move up, as the group was bunching up on the right. By the time we were halfway up the hill, I was at the front of the pack as the heavy hitters started attacking. I was able to get onto the wheel of some the racers that were on the offensive. I gave it everything I could to hold on. After we crested the feed zone hill and took the left downhill turn I found my self in a select group of about 10. This included some Livestrong members, BMC, and Cal-Giant racers, all the big teams in the race. Before we started getting too big of gap some Garmin members bridged across to us. We quickly got into a rotating paceline and started to pull away from the scrambling pack.
As we were continuing our rotation we were rapidly pulling away from the pack, and eating into the advantage of the early break. I continued to take pulls in the rotation when I could. After a while we ended up catching the leaders who integrated into our group. We Soon had a large lead group of nearly 18 riders. With a group this big there were many riders who were just sitting on for the free ride. I just had to make sure I was eating and drinking enough.By this stage in the race I was eating close to 2 gels, a granola bar, and 4 bottles a lap. This may have been a bit over what was needed but I just wanted to be safe.
With every other hill I would notice riders disappearing off the back of the group. Not because of accelerations or tempo, but entirely from cramps and a lack of eating. As the laps continued on I started to conserve more and more energy. I knew that there were too many guys from the big teams in the break to take it easy much longer. It was not until there were 2 laps left in the race before the attacks started to go off. Right off the back the rider in front of me let a gap open on a long hill.
I sprinted around him as best as I could to close back to leaders. It was about a 3-minute chase before I finally caught back on to the wheels of the leaders. We were down to a 12-person break at this point. A few moments after I got back on the attacks continued. I was more attentive and made sure to not ride behind anyone that might let a gap open. The attacks continued as we approached the final lap of the race. As we started the final lap we were down to only 10 riders, with 3 just off the front of my group. At this point I was overwhelmed with excitement. I knew that I had a good chance of getting a top ten in in my first under 23 road race. All the big teams left in my chase group were content with the guys that were in the three-man lead. We spent that final lap parading around at a solid tempo just got get to finish line.
As we approached the final kilometer everyone was jockeying for position. I mentally told my self just to sit on the wheel in front of me and hope for the best. We were going up the final slope slowly waiting to see who was going to start the sprint. After a false attack by Garmin we were at 300 meters to go. I was sitting 5th wheel in my chase group. I gave it a dig at the crest of the hill to try to get around anyone, but that started the sprint. I ended up finishing were I started the sprint, 5th in my chase group and a very respectable 8th for the day—against the top under-23 riders in the country.
In conclusion to this race I have to give a special thanks to my team, my friends and my family for helping me and supporting me all year long. I could not have done with without everyone.