Kyle Sabatini: VeloTek Grand Prix Race Report

As I woke up this morning, sensing every ache and pain from the days past, the reality of this past weekend is finally settling in. Today is my birthday, yet another in the books.  Although it is undoubtedly the most painful birthday weekend, it’s perhaps the most satisfying and fulfilling to date.

Just a week ago several teammates and I were in Fayetteville, Arkansas for the Joe Martin stage race. A brutal, demanding race, both physically and emotionally. I took three days off this past week leading up to the VeloTek Grand Prix and honestly felt like I could have rested more. Come Friday night, I was hoping the legs would be ready for another tough weekend of racing.

Since the Velotek Grand Prix was only my second stage race, I was still nervous. I thought of my strengths and wanted to capitalize on them. Short bursts of energy over a short period of time.  That’s my jam. I wanted to do my best in the TT to set myself up well in the overall standings. I took this tip from teammate Luke Hall last weekend. Waking up Saturday morning and realizing it was raining didn’t help my thought processes. I gathered my gear, my lovely girlfriend, and we headed towards Wells Overlook.

Miraculously, the rain had stopped moments before we arrived. I put on the rest of my gear, jumped on the bike, and headed over to registration to meet the rest of the team. We talked strategy and our history of overcoming this savage called Wells Overlook. Before I knew it my start time was just around the corner.

I approached Wells with a sense of urgency. I wanted to pick up and much speed as I could on the “flat” part just before the first turn. There was a little wind pushing me and the grade wasn’t as mean. The last part was but a flash. I caught a glimpse of my teammates cheering me on at the first switchback. That brief moment gave me an extra push to finish the remaining hill. I got to the top and my lungs were screaming. The insufferable kind of pain that made me laugh. I laughed because I think we all are a little crazy for doing this to ourselves. I wouldn’t change it for anything.

I sat at home, anxiously awaiting of the results. I couldn’t believe my eyes when they were finally posted. I was merely 2/5th of a second behind the leader. Going into the criterium I knew he was going to be my biggest competitor. I ate some food, took a nap, and woke up refreshed for what was about to come.

The team huddled for a quick strategy plan prior to the race. Jack Funk was willing to share his seemingly endless wisdom and gave his suggestions; something I’m very grateful for.  To be honest, nothing could prepare us for the mayhem that was about to take place. The race was fast, fun, and dangerous. My teammates Tim, Jake, Chris, Alex, and Will did an amazing job covering attacks and sheltering me throughout the race. I was boxed in for the prime lap. I was so frustrated, literally sitting dormant with a guy in front and one on each side of me. It was too late. We zipped past the line.  I had to put it all behind me and start thinking about the final lap. A handful of attacks later the final lap was here. I managed to stay in the top four through all the corners. As we were about to round the final corner I realized the inside was clogged up so my only option was to push hard to the outside. I flung out to the edge of the pavement narrowly avoiding dropping off the edge. It was a drag race after that. I overcame four riders and managed to sneak by the top guy at the last second.  A huge ten second time bonus moved me to the top of the GC and boosted my confidence moving into Sunday. Three non-team members went down in different parts of the race. One was Cody Jones from Big D Cycling, my biggest competition. An abundance of road rash and a dislocated shoulder was revealed after the smoke cleared.

I woke up Sunday feeling tired but well nourished from Chef Brad’s meal the night prior. The road race was brutal, mean, and seemed to never end. An incredible junior rider split from the pack two miles in and held a forty second gap for nearly forty miles, an unbelievable effort. A handful of us were willing to work back up to this young man before it was too late. It happened on the second lap with fifteen miles to go. There was already a lot of damage done. My legs were screaming but I told myself to shut up because there was a lot of racing left. Several attacks later, trudging up many sticky hills, my legs were cashed. I left everything on the course in a last ditch effort up the final hill, finishing third. I took the GC, Will Peterson took 5th overall, and Tim Jansen just below him at 7th.

It was truly an amazing experience. I had the “on top of the world” feeling after the race.  This race was the most challenging race behind Joe Martin the week prior. It’s an accomplishment that I will hold onto forever and it makes me very excited for what’s to come.

I first want to thank my incredible teammates. Luke Hall and Brad Wiltfong. It may not seem like it, but I look up to you guys. You two push me beyond my capabilities and make me better each and every day. I’m grateful for your knowledge, experience, and tips on nutrition. Tim, Will, Alex, Chris, Brent and Jake. Thank you all for your selflessness, kindness, and expertise. This weekend happened because of you guys. You pulled for me, sheltered me and covered attacks at the right time. Amazing job. I’m lucky to have such wonderful teammates. Thank you GP VeloTek, River Rock Family Dental, North American Aviation, McGrew Real Estate, Anderson Rentals, and PT’s Coffee for making the Grand Prix happen. It has quickly become my favorite race of the season. Thank you North American Aviation for your support which enables the team to travel to great events like Joe Martin.  Thank you Trek Bicycle Stores for providing the gear and equipment that keeps me fast and looking sharp. Thank you Jim Whittaker, MK Thompson, Zach Dubas and Julie Funk for your love and devotion to the sport. I’m forever grateful for your kindness, friendship, and support.  Thank you to all the volunteers that help make this race happen. You kept us safe and are more important than you realize.  Lastly, I’d like to thank my girlfriend, Nikki Ingersoll, for supporting me every weekend and putting up with all of my nervous complaints on race day. I love you.

Photo: Dani Peterson