Sunday, September 2, 2012

Closing Out the Race Season

The past few weeks denoted the respective series finales for both the ABRA Criterium and Road series. For me, I was targeting a series win in the criterium series, as I was sitting 4 points from the lead in the 3/4 category heading into the final race. Although I hadn't planned on targeting the criterium series at the start of the year, it was exciting to once again be in contention for a series championship jersey. To prepare for the California Grand Prix, the final criterium, adjustments were made in my training plan to become more focused on the high-intensity efforts of such a race. This meant weeks of jumps, sprints, and even intervals on the trainer! in August! As brutal as they were (especially the trainer intervals), I could tell all the work was paying off.

Heading into race-day, there was a lot of chatter and support within the team on how to help me win the title / race. For this - I can't say enough how awesome it is to be a part of a team that is dedicated to help out. Our pre-race plans were pretty simple, to cover any breaks that look threatening and kick up the pace on the bell lap, in attempt to lead me out. The race was a standard, four corner criterium held in downtown California, PA. As we lined up, Jeff Koontz (the series leader) and I wished each other luck and soon enough the race was underway.

Right away, the race got interesting. I literally mean right away, as one of the riders to my left completely screwed up clipping in and almost fell into Jeff Gernert and I. Although I didn't have to put a foot down, I got stuck in a serious delay and was forced to start the race towards the back of the field. I spent the next few laps slowly working my way back into the upper third of the field, where I wanted to be. While doing this, an early breakaway of two formed, containing arguably two of the strongest riders in the race. Both with teams smart enough to block. Certainly, had I been in better position early, I would have had a chance to make it a break of three.

The break stayed away for a few laps. Eventually, it started to become clear that the field was not closing the gap down, as it had opened to 15+ seconds. Feeling strong, knowing that the past months training had prepared me for bridge efforts. I made a hard move in an effort to jump to the break. It started off really well. I opened up a huge gap on the field on the backstretch and was slowly closing in on the break. Coming through the finish I got a little extra jolt of energy listening to the commentary from J.R. encouraging me to dig deeper. I got about 30 feet from the break before my legs started to fatigue. So close. Not risking anything, I sat up, and let the field catch me. Although, the bridge failed, the field started to up the pace once I attacked and it wasn't long before the break gave up as well.

The rest of the race was pretty un-eventful. There were prize primes, which I wasn't interested in going for. At some point, the field had caught up to Shawn and Jeff, who had been caught up in a crash that occurred earlier in the race, which was unfortunate as both were primed to be ready to provide lead-out assistance when needed. As the number of laps ticked downwards, the pace started to pick up. With 5 to go, the points prime was called. The prime was for 2, crucial points in the series standings, which I expected the field not to contest. I assumed my competition was going to make a move at it, but, having gapped the field once earlier in the race, I was pretty confident I could do it again and take the prime.

I made my move about halfway through the back stretch, coming in hot into turn three. Nearing it, I yelled out to the guy up front that I'm taking the inside. For some reason, this really pissed off the guy 2nd in line, and he proceeded to block me into the turn and further, tried to run me off the road in between turn 3 and 4. Really annoyed, but too focused to argue or vent back, I kicked through turn 4 and made an effort to go for the prime. Unfortunately, coming into the sprint, I saw my competition come off my wheel and pass ahead. I tried to push harder, but after doing all that work I couldn't make up the gap and lost 2 more points. Couldn't say I was surprised, but disappointing nonetheless. Although I can't say for certain, its very possible if I don't lose speed having to deal with someone trying to ride me off the road, then I could have had better odds of making the sprint.

Immediately after, I came back into turn 1 really fast. It was here where things continued to go downhill. I hit a small pothole really hard with my rear wheel while going through the turn. In doing so, my tire did not seem to be rolling properly. Worried I had flatted, I slowed, looking back to see if indeed, a flat had occurred. It didn't look like it, but something wasn't feeling right. At this point the field had come through and I needed to re-focus on the race. I fell into the back half trying to get up to speed again, but I was hurting badly from the sprint effort on the previous lap. Being stuck near the back only made things worse, as I had to fight the slinky effect through each turn. That is, slowing, followed by a light sprint outwards, to which, I was quickly losing the ability to do.

With 3 to go, I couldn't hang on any more and I fell off the back. This was pretty disappointing, as at that point I knew I had pretty much lost my chance at the series win. It was here I also could hear the sound of my rear brake was rubbing into the wheel, which no doubt was caused by hitting that pothole.

In the end, I finished second in the series, an accomplishment I'm still proud of, even with how the finale played out.