After three weeks of crits it was time to get back to some good, old fashioned, long, hilly road racing. I decided to head over to Cheney and compete in the State Senior Road Race Championship. Denise and I packed up and headed over Saturday afternoon. When we arrived it was sunny and 80 degrees, a nice change from the wet weather on the West side. We watched the 2nd half of the 1/2 crit and then headed to the Northern Lights Brewery in Spokane for dinner and a couple of brews. I knew the weather was going to start changing overnight but I hoped it would at least be decent for racing. When I got up at 6:30 and looked out the window I thought I was back in Seattle. It was only about 52 degrees and wet. I guess we dragged the weather across the state with us. Oh well, maybe the rain would hold off until we were finished.
The Cat 3 race started at 9:00 and and we were scheduled to do one big 72 mile loop with just under 3000 ft. of climbing. Parts of the course were the same roads used in the road race during the Frozen Flatlands Stage Race so I knew some climbs were a little more than the"rollers" they described in the flyer. I figured those climbs would be where a break might be able to get away. As we rolled out it was more of a group ride atmosphere. There was a lot of chatting and we were only going about 15 to 17 mph. It wasn't raining and the road was fairly dry. When we were only about three miles in, Tom from Garage decided to jump off the front and no one went with him. Everyone seemed content to let him go since we still had 70 miles of rolling hills, wind and possibley bad weather ahead of us. Every so often a couple of guys, including myself, went hard for a few to see if we could get guys motivated to try to haul him in. He had two strong teammates with him and they had no interest in helping out. Tom never got totally out of sight but he did establish a healthy little lead. I knew it would be difficult for a solo break to survive for so many more miles to the end alone. The rest of us pretty much rolled in a single file line for the next 25 miles. There were a couple of strong HB riders that I hadn't even seen near the front for the first 1/3 of the race. I was wondering what they were up to. Then all of a sudden they arrived at the front with their other teammate, Keiichi, who had been doing a lot of work up front. We hit the first sustained climb of the race and both Mark from HB and Daniel from UW shot off the front. David from Fanatic and I quickly jumped on Marc's wheel. I looked back and was really surprised that no one else jumped. Daniel really put the hammer down and got a gap on us. David shot around me and I grabbed his wheel. Surprisingly, Marc dropped off. I looked at David and asked him if he wanted to do this. He said, "Let's go" and the two of us got a gap on the main pack as we got near the top of the climb. Tom was still way out in front and Daniel now had about a 10 second gap on us. We had to work really hard but after about five minutes we were able to catch him. Now we had a nice gap on the main field and it was time to see if we could catch Tom. I was hoping he would see us and wait but he just kept plowing on. After another five or so minutes we finally caught him. He looked over and said, "It's about time!" I looked down at my Garmin and realized he had been on his own for almost 30 miles. I asked him how he was feeling and he said he was still doing OK. We looked back and realized that this could be the break that might have a chance. I told them we should get going, doing short hard pulls and then drop off to the left. Tom asked if he could rest on the back for a while and we had no problem with that. OK, only 40 miles to go. Can we do this? We had a nice pace line going and everyone seemed to be committed. I knew that David and I were the lucky ones because Tom and Daniel each had guys back in the pack that I figured would work to keep us out there. We slowly started to increase our lead. I still wasn't convinced we would be able to pull this off for 40 miles if the pack got motivated. We hit the 2nd short climb and all stayed together. On the downhill section I got out in front and got us up to 40 mph and we kept it going for about three miles. The pack must not have been able to get organized because when we took a breath and looked back we now had a lead that felt more comfortable. . After a few more minutes one of our follow cars gave us our first indication on how we were doing. We had a 1:08 gap...Not bad. With about 30 miles to go, our break started having some issues. A couple of the guys were getting tired and would drop back when they were supposed to pull. Pretty soon Daniel and I were trading off and doing pulls of about a minute each. I was feeling good so I didn't care but I started to wonder if this would come back to haunt me. The next time Daniel and I switched, I looked back and told others that we still needed help if we we were going to pull this off. We needed everyone to pull. We had a short, heated discussion, and we asked them to at least take short 5 to 10 second pulls to help us all out. That was the end of it and we got back in a rhythm and we were all working together again. About two minutes later it started to rain. Then it started to pour. This was as we headed into a very long, straight section of the course, about three miles long, and when we got to the end we looked back and the main field was no where in sight. This gave us inspiration and we figured that our gap, along with the rain, might suck the life out of the pack. The weather got miserable but we kept hammering. I was still feeling good. The follow car came up and told us we had a 2:40 gap. NICE!! We were increasing our lead. He told us he would update us as often as he could. Right after that David asked us if it looked like his rear tire was going flat, it was. He knew he had to make a change but if he did he would never be able to catch back on. He kept plugging away for another few miles but finally had to pull over and get a new wheel. I felt really bad for him. He had been working just as hard and was now going to be caught in "No Man's Land" by himself. We kept going and a few miles later we were told we had almost a 3:00 minute lead. Wow, with only three guys we were still increasing our lead. This was the first time I thought that we were going to actually pull this off. No matter what I would get at least the bronze in this State Championship race. This gave the three of us even more motivation and we picked up the pace again. I looked down and we still had 15 miles to go in the pouring rain. It was going to be a long 15 miles. We came to what I think is the hardest climb on the course and we decided to just cruise up it together and then hammer hard again on the downhill. Once you get to the bottom of this hill there is only 10 miles to go. This section was mostly flat with a few small rollers. We were now completely soaked and I was starting to get a little cold. With eight miles to go we were told we had a 3:20 gap. I couldn't believe we were still gaining time. We kept rotating though and we finally saw an orange sign ahead. We thought it was the 1K mark but it was for 5K...crap. Just then the car came up and said we were now at 3:40. "You guys got this!" The three of us finally realized we would not get caught and sat up. We had three miles to go and we were totally relaxed. We continued rolling slowly towards the finish, talking about the day. We were having a good time and I was thinking how funny it was that in a few minutes we would all turn on each other and plot our strategy for the finish. I had been in the mind frame of thinking that I would get at least 3rd no matter what but then I thought, why the hell I shouldn't I be the one to take the gold. It was time to start playing the chess game. I think our speed got as low as 12 mph at times. We finally saw the 1K sign and for the first time in a while no one would get in front. It was three guys riding side by side in the middle of a rain-drenched road. The 200 meter sign came into view and I started thinking about what I going to do. If no one jumped at the 200 meter mark I was going to try to surprise them and be ramped up to go. We hit the mark, no one jumped so put my head down and and started mashing the pedals. It was all or nothing for me. I'd be either first or third. Could I hold a 35mph sprint for 200 meters??? YES I CAN!! They were both on my wheel but couldn't come around. HOLY SHIT!! I just won the State Championship road race. I pumped my fist (more than a few times) and sat up. Tom, amazingly after being out front all day, managed to beat Daniel by a nose hair to take 2nd. What a great day. The finish was three miles from where the start was and I had told Denise that if it was raining to just meet me at the lot where she could hang in a coffee shop or something like that. The best thing of the whole day was that decided to go to the finish and she was there to see the win. She was yelling louder than anyone out there. It was awesome!!