Collegiate Nationals: Road Race and Crit Recap

by Cody Foster

Well like always, ten days before the race I was staring at the weather for Madison, WI. Checking it at least multiple times per day. In that ten day period I saw snow, rain and cold for Madison.  I knew the weather was going to be cold, It really seemed like it would be cold and wet, and absolutely miserable (like 2010 nationals). But I was looking forward to escaping the Texas heat during dead week anyhow.

Wednesday evening, after Shane and I finished our short drive to Madison, we arrived to our host house, where we hung out and got to meet our kind host. Tom Matush, a former 7-11 rider, who spent a few seasons racing all the spring classics in Europe. For dinner he made an incredibly tasty homemade pizza from scratch, with whole grain crust, without a doubt the best pizza I have ever had. Shane and I went to town and helped him finish the entire pizza in one sitting.  After a good nights sleep, on Thursday Shane and I did a pre-ride of the road race course. It was still just as brutal as I remembered it, the conditions were definitely pretty nasty like last year. I was trying to mentally convince myself that I like cold and rainy conditions, which didn’t really work. On Friday morning, I was nervous from the second I woke up, and eating breakfast felt like I was forcing my breakfast down into a stomach that really didn’t want to have anything to do with food, this would come back to haunt me later in the race.

Well now to the road race, we really really lucked out with the weather, it was a beautiful 43 degrees the morning of the race and it warmed up quickly after we started to 65. I was excited for a good day of racing and couldn’t wait to get rolling. Once we started our “neutral start” rolled down the finishing hill (20% grade), the whole peloton had to burn its brakes to come to a stop for two minutes until the race actually started. I really don’t like stopping, and especially when the stop is right on a climb up a hill when you get going. After we climbed up the short climb, we took a right turn onto the road course and the 6 mile descent began. I always get a bit nervous on descents, but once I got the feel for my bike I was really enjoying leaning my bike over and hitting all the corners hot. Racing down a descent with 120+ other guys is really a true thrill, but the risk factor was also present in my mind, and I knew that a crash could happen anytime and I would have to have an escape plan.  On the descent on the second lap there was actually an ambulance parked on the right side of the road after a blind right turn, assisting a rider who had crashed on the inside of the turn. This caught me a little off guard, and everyone had to make a last second high speed swerve to avoid smashing through the back of the ambulance.

Other than random cars parked on the descent, the first few laps went without incident, a few attacks but nothing substantial. The peloton was going at a brisk pace up all the climbs, but I felt like I was hanging in just fine. Shane was also looking good and he was maintaining a great position in the peloton. The MSU guys were near the front setting the pace on all the climbs, it was cool to see the SCCC doing work at nationals. Meanwhile, I was glad to ride behind them and watch.

On the third lap I decided I felt so good that I would go on the long climb on the fourth lap and then hope for a break to catch me. As I made my way to the front before the climb I put down a steady but much higher tempo, I was really surprised that no one bothered to follow me. When I looked back at the top of the climb there was one guy about 15 seconds behind me and the pack was out of my sight. When I heard the announcers calling out my name, and everyone cheering I felt a boost of power. I knew I would have to be smart about the energy I expended, and I didn’t expect to make it the entire last lap by myself. I decided that I would start picking up the pace even more and I would hit every corner in the 6 mile descent as fast I could (partly for a thrill but mostly for tactical reasons) so I could rest on the flat and rolling parts of the course and wait for a break to catch me. When I was by myself I was taking the very best lines I knew. I tried never to touch my breaks on the descent, which I never really needed to because I had a lot of wind in my face. I really started thinking that once the break would catch me I’d let them pull me into the finish and I’d attack on the final climb and hopefully get away. After I made it to the bottom of the hill, I rode on the flat section of the course for about 2 miles by myself. Then, as I predicted a break caught me, a very aggressive three rider break.  There were only nine miles and two short steep climbs plus the long grinder climb followed by the short steep kick-in-the-butt finish climb.  On the second to last short steep climb I starting feeling something I didn’t want to feel, it was like every pedal stroke was sucking the power out of me. Before I continue on and describe all the horrible feelings of bonking, which I am sure everyone of you has experienced. I would like to take a moment to make my mistake a teachable moment for everyone who does longer races. Please bring more food than you think you can ever possibly need, and eat it. I raced with two bottles of an electromix drink, a bar and three energy gels. This was not near enough for the 72 mile race.  Definitely not enough when you factor in 8000 feet of climbing. I have made this mistake more times than I would like to admit. Anyhow, to finish the story of my demise in the road race, Out of the break of four, me and another guy hit the short steep climb with a lot less vigor than the other guys in the break, we were dropped from the break. After we went down a short descent down to the highway the pack had joined us. I desperately tried to suck down my last gel before the final climb, but it was too late, the damage was already done. My vision was blurring, and I knew that no amount of strength could get me up this climb at race pace, I climbed so slowly I was zig zagging up the hill.

When I crossed the line, I went to the car and became a food vacuum. Literally inhaling all of the food I brought with me. Shane and I have certainly had better days on our bikes. We packed the car with a pretty sour taste of Nationals RR in our mouths.

Sorry about the longevity of the road race report. I will try to pack more details into lesser words for the crit.

The crit began Sunday at noon, Shane was getting so nervous for the crit that he was making me nervous, during our warm up we watched the D2 mens race and saw a break of about 8 guys that went off the front and eventually splintered  in the last few laps and got swallowed a few laps before the sprint. I told Shane just to sit and wait for the sprint, I really expected it to be a sprint finish and so did everyone else. The course wasn’t super technical and there was no wind. The race was fast from the gun and it was pretty hard to move up for the first few laps. Shane was always near the front, like a good crit rider should be. When he floated back I tried to make my way up to the front. I followed a few attacks and pulled through once or twice but I didn’t do that much work, I was saving it for the end. When the break rolled off, I guess it was about half way through the race or maybe a little bit earlier, I wasn’t too surprised nor was I really worried. But after a few pauses in the pace and people screaming “25 seconds to the break” lap after lap, I knew we were in trouble. It was a break of four guys and Marion was doing a good job sending their guys to the front to make sure a chase couldn’t be smooth.

Anyhow with 5 to go, Shane and I were a little further back than we needed to be. I knew we would get back up there, I was just a little bit worried. By the time two laps to go had rolled around the headbutting and the bumping, shoving and grinding of the peloton began. I pushed my way to third or fourth wheel and I held it. With one lap to go, it kinda felt like I was playing human pin ball, just bouncing off of people, blocking people and trying to maintain my position. With two corners left I accelerated over the incline ahead of the Marion leadout train. I bombed through the last corner so fast I was a little too scared to check who was on my wheel. I put my head down and sprinted the last 300 meters uphill and into the wind. I watched Shane and another guy come around on my inside. Then two more guys who were sitting in and sprinting right behind them. I was crossing my fingers for Shane, but I couldn’t really see how he did. Right before I crossed the finish line a Marion guy sprinted right into me and his spokes shaved off a part of my left shoe and his skewer caught my rear carbon tubular wheel, luckily the wheel isn’t totally trashed.

As you all know Shane finished an impressive sixth (only inches from 5th) and I ended up 11th. A very fun trip all in all. Wisconsin a very beautiful place and probably has some of the nicest riding you will find anywhere. Now I am back in College Station and beyond relieved to be done with finals.