Registering for this one was a last minute decision. Having a significant portion of my life consumed by it was not. With the pressure on for The Dirt Field, it was the focus of more conversations than I can count. We discussed the entry list, the course features, the final 2 kilometers, how training in the preceding week might affect performance, what type of gas to put in the car, race strategy, sock choice. No stone was left unturned. Then, about a week out, I realized that I’d need to find some kind of training ride to do that day. Might as well race, right?
It wasn’t quite that simple – this would be a better story if it were – but it’s not untrue. In reality, I wanted more from Black Hills. Despite not doing badly, I was disappointed in myself for thinking of giving up so quickly and felt like I should have done more. I wanted to prove to myself that I could keep my head in it, but Jeff Cup was the only chance for a few weeks. And then there was the matter of upgrade points. I’ve resisted discussing exactly how much I want to earn my Cat 2 upgrade for fear of public failure, but there it is. I can’t even explain why I want it so badly, but I do and there’s no turning back. All of these factors were weighed against the risk of showing up to the race and getting hurt, wasting energy and resources to go and not achieve anything, and a streak of utter failure with road racing. When you train for 60 minute crits, a 60 mile road race is daunting. But it was there, my teammates were going, I’d already talked over every single aspect of the event, and, at the end of the day, it’s still a competition.
But I only had a few days to stress about it. I like my method.
The race plan was simple: my sole teammate and I would wait for the finish to burn our matches, letting teams with bigger numbers do the chase work. I was anxious and it showed on the first couple laps, as I sat on a break attempt or two and stuck my nose in the wind too much. A few reassuring words from Pierce brought me back to Earth and we settled in for the long haul. Around 2.5 laps in, Bike Doctor’s rival sprinter flatted, ending his day. Apparently the wheel truck didn’t even stop for him. Without that wheel to mark, I would be relying completely on Pierce for the rest of the race. A lap later Pierce flatted. It was the end of his day and it took my head out of the game. If my ride home hadn’t been feeding for the Pro/1/2/3 race, I might have pulled the plug right then.
I stayed in, hoping to coast in to a safe finish. On lap 5, that didn’t seem very likely. The field was a little sketchy all day, and the 5th trip up The Hill felt a lot worse than the preceding 4. Fast forward to lap 6 and I’d somehow managed to stay in contact with the lead group. It hurt and my legs were starting to feel rubbery underneath me, but to not shoot my bullet in the finish wouldn’t be right. I began a half lap of negotiations with myself and ultimately determined that no matter how understanding my friends and teammates might be about a lackluster finish, I would still walk away disappointed f if I didn’t leave everything on the tarmac.
And that nearly happened. With Bike Doctor’s sprinter out, The Bike Lane leadout compromised, and no clear leadership in the field, the final 2 kilometers were some of the scariest I’ve ever raced. Despite being in the first 20 wheels, I couldn’t see the front of the field. People were bumping off each other left and right, and a whole lot of guys that don’t normally contest the gallop found themselves sniffing the line. I found daylight off to the side just outside of 200 meters to go, jumped into it, and did my best to whirl my little rubber cankles around to get something resembling a sprint. It was good for 2nd in the field, which landed me on the last step of the podium. I’m happy with it.
Now begins a very much ancitipated rest week. It’s definitely a lot easier to go into it without the weight of a disappointing performance on my shoulders. And to have learned a few things about myself to help my game moving forward is a good feeling. April Fools may have been Sunday, but the first Tuesday in April is Root Beer Float Night. Jeff Cup may have been worthwhile, but you can’t beat corn syrup with a big heaping helping of sugar.