Last Saturday I headed up to South Beloit, Il to do my first couple of races for the year. The Burnham Boys have always put on a great race with the Spring Super Crit. And Blackhawk Farms Raceway is a great venue to start the season with and shake out the cobwebs from the winter. I will say that I was a bit nervous going out there. I had taken a lot of the bike this winter and did not feel like I was in the shape I needed to be in for racing. I am also riding for a new team this year as I just joined Beverly Bike - Vee Pak Racing Team. I am very excited to be racing for them and getting some good results for the team, because of the outstanding support I have already received this year from the shop, sponsors and teammates. And lastly, it is the first race of the season.
So I set up simple goals for myself in the three races that I was competing in? Race #1 - 30 + Cat 1,2,3,4 - Use it as a warm up and shake the cobwebs. Race #2 - 40 + Cat 1,2,3,4 - Top Ten finish. Race #3 - Cat 1,2,3 - Use it as added training for the day but do not get dropped from the pack.
It was great to line up again at the start of the race and see all the racers and friends that I have met over the years. We get our instructions, the whistle blows and we are off. The pace was fast and I felt sluggish. So I told myself it was for a warm up and to just stay with the pack. As time past, I was getting into the swing of things and made my way to the front. I did pull at the front but did not last long and went to the back again. Then a break formed but it did not seem all that aggressive or strong willed, but enough teams were involved to make it work. I could not get out of position so I watched it slowly pull away. After a lap or so I started to worry that it might stick, which is no good for a sprinter like myself. The team mates in the pack really did some good work to keep others off the front to avoid chasing down the break even though the break seemed a bit lazy. So I went to the front and finally three or four of us continued to rotate and go around the blocking teammates in the pack. After two laps we had them down to about 60yds with two laps to go. Time for me to fade back and recover for the sprint at the end because I thought there was no way that the break would stay away now. The teammates of those in the break took over at the front again and the break succeeded. Oh well it is just a warm up race for me anyways, but still tough to handle. As we came to the final turns I practiced moving up to the front and was in great position for a sprint but decided to stick to the plan. Save it for the 40+.
As everyone started to line up for the next race, I could see many were doing the same as me and competing in both master races. I got the feeling that another break might not work here as there was a bit of frustration by letting the last one get away. The pace was just as fast and there were a number of breaks that went off but none got away. When it got down to three laps to go I started to get that feeling and the focus began setting in. That feeling is hard to explain. You do not feel pain. You become hyper sensitive to everything that is going on around you. Your mind starts calculating every little action of every rider around you and how it might affect your position in the field. I guess I am going into battle and survival mode has kicked in. I start to think about the previous race and getting into the same position for the finish, but this time no holding back. And then one of those funny or crazy things happen as they always do in bicycle racing and you see your race going down the tubes. Going into the final turn I am sitting about tenth spot which is a good position for this long drawn out sprint, but I find myself getting pushed out on the turn and then I realize I am not going to make the complete turn. I have but two choices. One, slow down, get boxed in, lose momentum, and lose any chance of a good finish. Choice number two, ride off course, over the rumble strips ( two sets), into the rocks and rough asphalt, then try and get back in. For those that know me, this split second decision is an easy one.
I continue to pedal but steer straight and go over the rumble strips, make the turn on the rough and bumpy asphalt, put in a small sprint while merging to get back into position that I had lost from the incident. From here it is about four hundred meters and time to sit and recover but only briefly. I continue to power up the straight away holding my position and waiting for the right time to put it all out and up to the line. I stay protected from the wind. I stand and start my sprint going up the outside and passing rider quicker than expected. This is a long sprint if you start from the corner, and guys are fading quickly. I see that a podium is now possible and continue to push all the way through. As we cross the line, I am thrilled with a third place finish after being so doubtful and nervous for the first set of races for the year. A podium for Beverly Bike - Vee Pak and me. Great way to start the season.
Final race of the day is the Cat 1,2,3 and of course the toughest. Just stick with the goal; stay with the pack, good training for racing myself into shape. I have to be honest and say I was definitely struggling for most of this race. There were attacks right from the get go and they did not stop until a group got away. Then it seemed like everyone was struggling as we tried to chase them down, the pack thinned out and another separation opened up. Now the chase group was getting away too. I did not have much in the tank but I said, "What the hell, it is for training". And I jumped from about ten back and sprinted around the outside to catch up to the second group. Halfway there my legs are screaming why are we doing this? Pressing on I make the first chase group of seven and hope that as a group of 8 we can catch the front 6. The confidence is building in my head with all that has gone on today and a group of 8 should definitely be able to pull these guys in. I can not do a pull right away and call ‘Fill’ twice, still tired from making the junction. But then I make my way to the front through the rotation and take my turn. Then my mind can not longer overpower my legs and I start to fall apart but so is everyone in this group and we are soon caught.
I am able to hang on in the back of the pack and stick to my goal. And this is where the fun begins and the cobwebs come back. I start to feel strong again and although we will not catch the break I start to gear up for the field sprint. And with three laps to go the focus sets in but is clouded by cobwebs. Down to the last lap and I continue to move up for a good sprinting position and am ready to give it one last effort. We approach the last turn and feeling confident yet comfortable with what is about to happen. And as I come out of the last turn I move up some more and then sprint like never before? Soon I am at the front and shocked that I am there. I start to feel the fatigue sent in and still do not sense anyone around me. So I give the small peek to the sides. No One? Keep Sprinting. Why is no one coming around me? Why is no one near me? I give the full over the shoulder look and sure enough I have a big gap!!?? Something is wrong. Then I realize that a small bell is ringing and that I went one lap too early for the sprint. I laughed as the cobwebs and fatigue had clouded my thinking. I could not latch on to the back of the pack as they came screaming by me for their final lap. My legs were toast and I coasted the final lap and enjoy it and every minute of the day.
What a fun day of racing and a good feeling to get the first race day under my belt. I would like to thank Burnham Racing for putting on another outstanding event this year at Blackhawk Farms. What a great course for racing! Also thanks to all the officials for their hard work and professionalism to make these races possible. Nice work even if there is a problem with the lap counter, ha ha. And lastly I would like to thank Beverly Bike Shop, Vee-Pak Inc., and the entire team for all their support and the opportunity to ride with the team this year. It has been a more than surprising experience and I only hope to provide more success for the Team.