In order to open up my legs, I decided to do the non-championship under 29 B race on Wednesday. The conditions were fast and slippery, the surface was a mixture of wet frozen dirt, half melted ice patches, and packed snow. As I expected my legs were blocked up and my start was lackluster, I took me most of the first lap to figure out how to ride the slippery conditions at race speed and get my legs fully opened up. Despite some shifting issues, I placed second to a Canadian u23 rider named Micheal Vandenham and my teammate Max Ackerman had a great ride to 5th place.
On the day before my race (Friday), I rode over to the course to cheer on friends that were racing and ride on the course. By then, the temp had risen above freezing and a inch of rain had fallen. The course had inches of slippery, slimy mud, and patches of ice underneath. There was no wind, it was foggy, and the temp was just barely above freezing. In short, the conditions were absolutely perfect for me!
The morning of nationals I woke up early enough to pre-ride the course before my 10:30 race. It's a good thing I did because the conditions were completely different. There was a very strong, icy cold biting wind and it was as cold as it could possibly be without freezing. The biggest change though, was the mud. Over night it had thickened into what is referred to as "peanut butter mud". Thick, power sucking stuff, requiring little technical skill. At first I was frustrated. This stuff was not bad for me but I had still lost a huge conditions advantage. However, as it got closer and closer to my race, the sun came out. The warmth began to thaw out the partially frozen thick mud and the consistency became more loose. It wasn't the slippery mud of the day before but there was now a line through the mud, right next to the tape. By riding as close as possible to the tape and spinning, you could go faster than slogging through the deep mud in the center. The technical part about it was you were running a very high risk of getting tangled up in the course tape, or worse, hooking a post and flipping.
I warmed up and rode over to the start line. It was very cold, I had a thermal Skinsuit, two base layers and Enzos Button embrocation on. I lined up second row on the left. I lined up on the very outside. The gun went off and we sped towards the first corner. Then some one slips on a ice patch on the inside and starts a massive crash! I slam on my brakes and slide to a stop just in time to avoid falling into the pile up. I stand there for a few seconds in what seems like a eternity as I try and escape the pile up. by the time I finally do, I'm forty seconds back on the top five and in the thirties.
Later my dad ask's me if I was frustrated then. To be honest, I do not remember feeling any emotion. If you look at photos of me in the race you can see my face and mind were a expressionless void focusing on one single thing:
Racing my bike as fast as I can.
I don't remember much from the first two laps of the race. A few disjointed images with little thought attached to them. After the race my dad told me I was 30th when I hit the dirt, 25th coming through the pits on the first lap, and I was 17th by the first hill. I was on fire, having the race of my life after complete disaster!
By the end of the first lap I could hear people shouting at me: "That's top ten right there! Go! GO!". I moved into 11th. Then 8th. into 6th. 5th place ! For the first time in the race, I felt an emotion. I smiled. This was my goal, top five! I wasn't going to get it easily though. There was some one on my wheel, Anders Nystrom. The last lap was a blur of pain as I tried to drop him. He passed me right after the pits, I put in a huge acceleration and passed him back before the hill. Little by little I started to open a gap. I was concentrating everything I had on not making a mistake. Which of course, was my mistake. On the final uphill coming into the downhill into the finish, my front wheel caught something. I fell down. I got back up quickly and ran up the last bit of the hill and got back on my bike. It was a tiny mistake, but it was enough. Anders caught me, sat on my wheel and then attacked me as we hit the tar. I struggled to hold onto his wheel to try and make some last attempt to beat him at the line but I had already burned my all my matches. I crossed the line in 6th place, four seconds down on the podium.
I had a amazing Nationals. I had the ride of my life right after disaster and I did it when it counted. I was the only rider in the top ten who got suck in the crash. My ride was not without flaw but I am proud of it. Now that I have done the last race of the season it is time to rest so that I can return for road season, hungry for more.
Thanks to Roxxanne King (@CyclingRox) for the awesome photo and the Bonebell for the video!