Winning off the front, from a solo attack, with 4 laps to go, at a regionally contested Crit. Does it get much better than that?
Luke Hall, Chris James, Jake Young, and I decided to go down to Bentonville/Rogers for the two-day Natural State Criterium with large payouts sure to draw racers from all over the region. We borrowed an F-150 from Shane Grau, a 4-bike Kuat rack from Zach Dubas, and slept in Luke’s parents’ basement. It was certainly a team effort to put this trip together!
After showing up Friday, we pre-rode the course and were all having some nerves. The course was extremely narrow. There were 8 corners in .9 miles. There was one sharp downhill that bottomed out at a corner and immediately spiked upward after the turn. It was certainly a single file corner and we hoped that the other racers would realize that as well. Fortunately, that corner stayed safe all evening.
After settling into a rhythm, the nerves left the system. My plan was to stay in the front 5 and make it into any breaks or create a break after the final prime. The race was strung out in single file the whole time, and no breakaways had stayed out for long. The bell rings to announce the final prime lap with 5 to go. Toward the end of that lap I followed a move with a total of 4 people to contest the prime, sat in until just across the line, then launched my attack! We had maybe 3 seconds on the field at that point and I yelled at my companions to go with me. That final prime occurring with 4 laps to go was earlier than I had hoped it would be and I wanted help to establish the winning break…
No one chose to or was able to come with me. I looked back finding myself alone with a decent gap and decided to try to make the most of it. After crossing the line with 3 to go, I was feeling good. Then someone yelled at me “15 seconds”! I found out later this was Chris James who unfortunately was pulled, but was now providing tremendous inspiration to me on the sidelines! 15 seconds, I could pull this off I thought. There are some teams back there but they may not get organized. They may be tired. They might not have enough room to work well together. This sometimes works in the Tour, why couldn’t it work for me?
I come around the corner with the BBQ and beer tents and get a rush of cheers. I come around the last two corners into downtown Bentonville where people are lined up on the rails giving me another adrenalin boost with their cheers and cow bells. Then shortly after crossing the line with 2 to go I hear “20 seconds!”. I had left a little bit of gas in the tank with the memory of getting caught on the last lap in Tour of Lawrence still fresh in my mind. It was time to empty that out now. Then with 1 to go I hear Chris say “25 seconds!”. Holy cow, this race is mine!
Still, I wanted to leave nothing to chance. I throttled the watts after each turn and into the straight away. It wasn’t until getting around the final corner to within 50 meters of the line that I felt ok to let up and raise one hand in the air. I’m too chicken to raise both and give any solute like the pros do. Later I found out that I won by 18 seconds! Jake finished with the lead group in the top 15.
Somehow I figured that I had time to get back to the truck for a recovery drink before my podium picture, but didn’t make it back in time. So I got up there on the podium alone, just like I was in the breakaway, for Chris to take my picture.
Afterward it was fun to watch the spectacle that was the Cat 3 race. A guy from Montreal decided to treat the race like CX Worlds and go ballistic from the gun! The field of 60+ was strung way out immediately. Over 75% of the field got dropped at various points and would be pulled before the end of the race. Luke Hall managed to stay with the leaders to the end and snag 8th to get in the money.
I wasn’t always this fast and it comes quicker to some than to others. This is my 3rd summer racing in Category 4. Between family, work, and sleep, I have around 7 hours a week to train. Coach Jim Whitaker of VeloTek Performance Coaching has helped me maximize the gains I can get from the training hours I’m able to put in. He has also put this amazing team of amazing people together called GP VeloTek. Everyone’s collaboration and support from training camp to race day help make these victories special!
Special thanks to North American Aviation who picks up the tab for our out of town lodging. Trek Bicycle Stores of KC supplied the winning ride, the sickest most aero road machine known to man, a 9 series Madone!
This is one victory that I will not soon forget!
Photo by Jared Sluyter of Sluyter Photo.