I was excited to head down to Bend with the team and race with the best (old) amateurs in the country. I had trained and raced well over the past month and felt ready for battle. Unfortunately I had a little stumbling block. Four days before heading down I caught a cold. I can't remember ever having a cold during the summer. It started with a sore throat and quickly developed into a full on head cold. I was pizzzzed! I started taking anything that anyone had recommended for ridding my system of this junk. I was debating whether I should even go but I figured that I caught it early enough that I should be contageous anymore and hopefully I'd be done with it by race time. I also found out that one of my teammates was cold stricken as well so at least I'd have someone to share in the misery.
We got down there Tuesday night and hooked up with the rest of the team for dinner at 10 Barrel Brewing. I was actually feeling pretty good (after a few beers and plenty of cold medicine) but ended up having a horrible night of sleep.
I woke up Wednesday morning feeling better but still not anywhere near 100%. After a big ass breakfast we headed up to Bachelor to recon the road course. It was in the mid 80's and felt good......until we climbed about 6000 feet. I figured the altitute would get to me a little anyway but it literally felt like my head was going to explode. I slowed up and soft pedaled back to parking lot. What the hell was I doing here?
After the ride we headed to a nice little Mexican joint in downtown Bend and then spent the rest of the night getting everything ready for Thursday's road race.
What a difference a day can make. I had the first good night of sleep in about a week and woke up feeling OK, still not 100% but good enough to give it a shot. Alex, Nikos, Jason and I didn't have to race until 3:00pm and I was hoping to that I'd even feel better by then. I just stayed hydrated all day and hoped for the best.
Nikos, Jason and I still needed to pick up our race packets so we all headed up early. I was more nervous for this race than any other I've done over the season. Racing under the weather in a regular weekend race is one thing but when racing in a National Championship race you really want to be at the top of your game.......Here we go!
We got staged with 105 of our closest friends in the parking lot of Bachelor. I was not going to try anything heroic. I just wanted to stay near the front and hope for the best. Last year we did laps on the Archie Briggs course which is only around 2500 to 3000 feet. This year we were doing one lap on the 84K Bachelor course which started and finished around 6500ft. We were told we would roll neutral until the right hand turn to Sun River. We made it there and for some reason were not let go. Pretty soon I noticed we were rolling "neutral" at 47mph! The smell of burning carbon was in the air. Guys were trying to rush to the front in anticipation of being let go but it didn't happen. It was starting to get sketchy when our lead car kept trying to slow us down. I have no idea what was going on. This seemed to go on for ever. It wasn't until half way down the hill we were finally let go and the pack quickly accelerated to 50+ mph.
As soon as the road leveled off a bit a solo rider took a big dig off the front. I didn't think much of it until I looked over and saw my teammate Jason make the move to bridge. He told me he was thinking of going early and well....The two of them got a gap and a short time later two others bridged up to them. Team strategy is a lot different that in a local race. Most teams have three or four guys at the most. Since we had the full road, 105 guys and everyone wanting to get on the podium there wasn't a lot we could do to help control things. No one else wanted to go so pretty soon the four of them disappeared up the road. One of them was Brendon Sullivan, the defending champ from last year. I was hoping that would be a good thing for Jason.
Meanwhile back in the main pack we cruising along at a pretty good clip. The road was mostly flat with just a few short rollers. The only thing that made it remotely hard was working to keep my ass up near the front. Every once in a while someone would go to the front and set tempo but no one made any big effort to bridge to the four that were up the road.
At about the 20 mile mark we had our first little climb of the race. It wasn't a big deal but it was good to see that I was able to stay near the front. I don't think anyone got dropped. It was pretty evident that the rest of the field was going to wait until the final climbs up to Bachelor to make their moves.
Pretty soon we saw the sign that told us that the first feed zone was just ahead. We had people in the 2nd feed zone so I just moved to the left side of the road to get out of the way. I think there was one person on the side of the road when we got there. That meant it could be a mob scene at feed zone #2. I was actually surprised at how fast the next feed zone came up. It was not what I expected. I figured it would be on a slight incline but it was seemed to slightly downhill. I was still on the far left side of the road and ended up having no chance of making over to grab anything. I don't think a single person on our team did. I had a brief moment of panic but I soon realized that I probably still had enough to last me until the finish.
For the most part the first 2/3 of the race felt like a brisk team ride. The battle was about to begin and I could tell guys were getting a little anxious. There was a lot of surges up both sides of the road by guys trying to get to the front. The whole race was going to boil do to the last 14 miles.
Apparently somewhere on the backside of the course a large tree fell over the road just after we passed. A couple of gals off the front in one of the women's fields had to dismount and hop over it. It was large enough that it could have injured or killed a lot of riders if the time was wrong.
I can't quite remember when it happened but we finally saw one of the guys in the break up the road. I was glad to see it wasn't Jason. A short time later we saw another. Holy Shit!! It was just Jason and the defending champ left. Could they pull this off?
The first short climb didn't really do any damage but that was about to change. When we reached the first sustained climb the pack started to implode, explode, and any other plode you could imagine. I was actually holding my ground but was starting to feel the affects. I didn't try to push too hard and actually just focused on staying on my teammate Nikos' wheel. I managed to stay with the front 1/3 of the pack and was pretty happy (although my brain and lungs were starting to turn to mush). The road levelled out a bit and I had time to recover.....if that is what you want to call it!
Just about the time I started to feel somewhat OK the road kicked up again for the last climb towards the finish. I remember seeing the 5K maker and thinking, cool, only about 3 miles to go. (The longest three miles every) We started up and the attacks started. With my cold and the altitude I knew I wasn't going start suffering in a mid evil kind of way pretty soon. I just didn't want to get blown off the back. As soon as the attacks started race go completely blown apart. It looked like a string of ants heading back to the hill. It wasn't that steep but man, it hurt so bad I wanted to just sit up and soft pedal my ass to the finish. I pushed as hard as I could, barely able to take another breath. 3k to go!. So far no one had passed me but I also wasn't passing anyone either. I was soon in a group of five and we we started trading pulls. I don't think I've ever been in a race where I was dreading my turn to be at the front so much. At one point when I was drifting back after my pull I looked back and saw a group of twenty guys trying to work there way back to us. I didn't want that to happen so I gave it everything I had when I got back to the front. I took another quick look back and WTF!! Now there was a motor home in front of these guys motor pacing them up the hill. They were closing on us fast. They caught on a short time later and then another car came by and towed two riders right by us. This was BS!! 1K to go and the road finally flattened out a bit. I was now with a group of about 15 guys and even though it wasn't for a spot anywhere near the podium I still wanted to finish well. We all sprinted it out through the finish and I could barely stay on my bike after crossing the line. I'd ended up in the finishing in the front half of the field. Given all I'd been through leading up to the race I was actually pretty happy.
It was mostly great just to spend time with teammates in Bend. We gorged ouselves with a a large dinner and plenty of beers at the Deschutes Brewery. That was the end the road racing season. Time to change my mindset and get ready for a new season of cross.