We got the the staging area, chatted with a few friendly faces, listened to the instructions from the USAC officials, and then the USAC motorcycles led all 70+ cat 4 racers out of the parking lot for a 2 mile neutral rolling start. As we were soft pedaling to the starting line, I scoped out some potential competition, went over some race strategy in my head, and said a few prayers that I make it through this race unscathed.
Once we rolled through the starting line, I saw the lap counter displaying 5 laps to go, and if that wasn’t enough motivation, an official was yelling “You’re racing! You’re racing!”. The pace suddenly picked up, and after the initial surge of adrenaline dissipated from the peloton, the pace slowed back to a reasonable speed. There were plenty of surges up the hills, down the hills, and coming out of the corners, but I knew I had to cover those undulations in the pace and stay in contact with the front of the peloton if I wanted a chance at finishing well. Surge after surge, hill after hill, and lap after lap, I continued to be patient. There was an attempt at either a solo or a few man break away each lap, and I knew it was way to early for those attacks to stick. So I continued to be patient, and not try to join the break. We reeled the breaks in lap after lap. Once the final lap started, even though we still had 10 miles to go, people started jockeying for position. I knew that it was too early for that, so I held my line, maintained my position, and continued to be patient. Going up the big hill on the last lap, people were less willing to hammer it as they did in previous laps. The entire peloton was together and I knew the pace had to pick up to spread everyone out. After bombing down the backside of the mountain, the pace stayed high unlike the previous 4 laps.
We were trying to find teammates, allies, and wheels which we could trust in the last few miles. As he had done each lap, the Billy Goat pulled up beside me on part of the back stretch, and this time, instead of checking on how each other was doing, we went over some race strategy for the upcoming finish. There were a few rollers on the back stretch which we attacked, and I used these as opportunities to get around some tired racers on the outside. I saw the teams starting to line up with each other in preparation for the last 2 miles. I was excited because I felt fresh attacking the rollers, and I knew I was in a decent position to place well. Then I remembered that this was exactly how I felt about 11 months ago when I was caught in a crash in the last 3 miles of a race, so I reminded myself to control my exuberance and maintain discipline to keep myself safe. Out of no where, I started talking to the guys around me. I’m sure my heart rate was at or close to lactate threshold, and I was cranking out zone 5 power, but all I noticed was the moves being made around me by the other racers. Once I saw the finish line in sight, maybe 300 yards ahead, I saw guys overtaking the leaders, and I jumped onto their wheels, and began my final sprint. The top 8 finished withing about 2 seconds of each other, and I ended up in 4th place.
After crossing the line, I looked back to make sure the billy goat wasn’t caught up in the crash. Then I saw him come across the line smiling! He told me that he was able to get around it on the right, but it slowed him down and he lost some spots. The good thing was that he was ok!
After chatting with guys on other teams, we headed back to the parking lot to meet up with our other teammates who were in the next race. They were warming up, pinning numbers, and popping pills just as we were doing a couple hours earlier. I gave them some advice about the course and about race strategy. Then we took some pictures, and they were off to line up with their fellow racers. As Charles and I drove home, we were talking with the other guys on the team on Slack, and sharing our experiences from the race. We were also eagerly waiting for updates from our other teammates about how their race went. We both thought it was a great race and we had a blast. Same time next year!