With our full A-team present for Conference Championships, I was anxious. The point totals were close enough that I could still defend my Conference Champion title with a good weekend. I never thought I’d see the day, but we decided that my best bet for a win was to bring the race to a pack sprint. MSU would never let me get away in a break, so this was a logical conclusion. The tough part, though, would be holding the race together for 70 miles to reach that sprint. Baker, Herc, Tom, and Matt would set the pace at the front to bring back any of MSU’s attacks, with me hanging out at the back to help when needed, sit on attacks with potential, and stay fresh. We were in for a rude awakening.
Registration was laughable, with poor Chris Collins going crazy…. When some Aggies asked Sunday why he wasn’t racing, he answered, “I’m too busy putting on this event to race.”
“Well, Chad managed to race and win on his own weekend.”
“Yeah, and Chad’s a bada**, what more do you want from me?”
The course hardly exemplified the hill-country of Austin…try Walburg instead. Pancake flat with wide open fields all around, leaving any daring soul fully exposed to the 25-30mph winds. A cardinal sin of the Aggies, I know, but nonetheless I approached the t-sips before the race to get them on our side. They agreed. We started [late] with 9 Mustangs, 5 Aggies, and 2 Longhorns. MSU attacked as soon as the neutral rollout ended, and we were racing!
Our riders set up shop on the front and let the overzealous Mustangs cook for a while. I was really shocked when I found myself at the back of the pack, watching all of MSU’s strongest ahead of me. I even called out to Jason, “Hey Jason, I’m not used to seeing you from this angle!” He laughed and responded with, “Not today man, I was sick of that.” Everything was going to plan. The winds took their toll, though, and from where I sat I could see the pep slowly draining from my teammates. After pulling back two attacks, Todd and Morten got away–a dangerous attack. Sticking to the plan, we didn’t jump with it. We wanted to keep the pack together. I worked my way to the front to ask Baker if they wanted help…an exhausted nod told me all I needed to know. So I pulled for about 2 minutes or so at a good clip, trying to let our workers recover. Morten and Todd were only 10-15 seconds up. And then it all went to crap.
I pulled off, and Baker pulled through. MSU had been plotting while I was on the front, though, and were hoping that I would be tired after my pull. Collin and Jason went at the same time–a race-ending move if they made it up to the leaders. Baker jumped to pull me half-way up to Collin and Jason, then motioned that I needed to finish it off myself. Jason kept the throttle pinned even with me there, and the race blew wide open. Only two other riders made it up–Mclean of MSU and a Texas rider. I moved to the front to try and slow them down for the Aggies to regroup and come back up. I set a good tempo pace–fast enough to discourage most attacks and to hold the leaders at a good gap, yet slow enough to hopefully let my help catch back on. Not wanting the race to come back together, MSU attacked me for 30 minutes to keep the pace up.
Collin finally got away, the Texas rider got dropped, and Jason joined up with Collin. I was left behind with my MSU shadow rider–I later learned that MSU calls this “Haga Duty”. I got a good laugh when I heard that. Anyways, the two of them were slowly pulling away in the brutal winds and had gained a 30 second advantage over me when Jason flatted. I laughed to myself, as this was a hypothetical situation that Devin and I had gone over in our tactics-planning Google-chats. I kept chugging as the wheel truck stopped to help Jason, checking back periodically to see if he was going to catch me. The race has now reached mile 30.
So there you have it, Todd and Morten are motoring away minutes ahead, Collin is alone just a minute up, and Jason is somewhere behind me and my shadow. Let the time trials begin! I kept Mclean guttered, but guttering isn’t as effective when it’s only one person and he’s willing to ride through whatever trash you want him to. My plan was to ride at my own pace and hope that Collin and Todd burned up in the wind before the end of the race. At mile 50ish coming through at the end of a lap, I was informed that my gap to Collin was 1:15. I asked, “One more lap?” as I passed the officials and was answered with “Yes.” Okay, time to make this happen. I saw Jason riding the other direction in normal clothes…which answered that question.
Supposing that I had burned out, Mclean attacked at the start of that last lap. Knowing that he didn’t have the ability to get away, I let him dangle out there for nearly 5 miles before he gave up and came back to my wheel like a child that learned he’s not as independent as he’d like to be. I didn’t have the energy to counter attack. Morten came backwards from the lead break really fast…all he got out as I passed by was that he bonked. The lap was now 2/3 completed and Collin still was out of signt, so I gave up the chase and switched gears to winning the sprint for third. To make sure I had energy to win, I began playing ‘cat and mouse’ tactics with Mclean, including coasting at 10 mph and some toy attacks. I couldn’t draw him out, though, so I picked the the pace a little bit for the sprint. Right as we were getting into it, I heard Shane and Hatt yelling at me that there’s another lap…the officials screwed up. That pretty well set me off. Not only did I really not want to do another lap, but I had lost another minute to Collin by messing around for the sprint needlessly.
After shouting some sarcastic remarks about the officials’ ability to count, I settled in for one more lap of misery. And then I realized that in my anger I had neglected to grab a fresh bottle, as I was totally empty. I had also burned through both of my last two goos when I thought the race was about over. Terrific. (For those wondering, they said I only had one more lap because they ‘confused me for my brother’…which I suppose is easy enough if we’re wearing the same kits…but we weren’t).
All I could think about for the last lap was finishing the race. Tactics be darned, I just wanted it to end. My arms and back were aching from fighting the wind, which had strengthened as the day wore on. Thankfully my teammates convinced the officials to allow me a feed from the car, as I was about to start cramping. Testing the waters, I attacked coming out of the last turn 1.5 miles from the finish. Mclean was obviously hurting and slow to get moving, so I knew I could take the sprint if I got the jump on him. I kept the pace moderate leading to the finish. With 100m to go, I jumped and he went straight backward. 3rd place. 75 miles total at an average speed of 22.5 mph. I rolled over to the cars and just sat on the ground. I was totally drained. Only 4 racers of the 16 starters had the heart to finish that race.
Somehow we got to the hotel after dinner by 7pm, and I was asleep by 10. Those times that I get enough sleep are good reminders of how well it helps trashed legs become whole again.
The crit was to be at the JJ Pickle Research campus, but this year they wouldn’t allow us access to the empty parking lots inside…I guess that would be too logical. For the first time all season, the conference standings were posted. Jacque told me that she would not be dropping the two lowest scores of the season for all riders, which meant that I could only move up in the overalls if Todd or Collin DNF’d, and that I couldn’t move down overall regardless of the crit outcome. I then decided that I was going to enjoy the crit, and would absolutely not be doing a time trial again with MSU towed along behind me.
As expected, MSU attacked from the gun, but it was just Lalla. No worries. He slowly came back with the help of Baker and Herc. Then the fun began. My game plan was to hold the race together for as long as possibly by jumping on every attack immediately. This meant fighting off attacks from Jason, Collin, Todd, and Morten. For 20 minutes, I would follow every move from those 4 riders. When they sat up, I did the same on the front so that the pack could regroup. If they countered, I’d go again. Sometimes they’d stay away for half a lap, but with the ridiculous winds again combined with the course layout (narrow rectangle with barely any crosswind on the course), I could quickly catch them in the tailwind. I was riding with my head on the swivel, trying to hold off attacks from my position on the front, waiting for my help to arrive.
Finally, I couldn’t keep up with every move. Todd and Morten got away, and I didn’t fight it. Whereas I would have normally started my time trial to catch them, this time I let them go so I could focus on the two remaining heavy hitters and allow my teammates to regroup. Jason and Todd began attacking and counterattacking for some time, until finally Collin got away. I let him go as well, deciding that I could and would beat Jason mano-a-mano, an opportunity we haven’t truly had all season.
Jason tried time and again…solo, with his teammates, and even with the leaders once they lapped the field. He tried attacking off the front, from behind, off to the side. Most of the time he never even got clear, but those times he did I merely increased my pace a little in the headwind so that I only had to make up 2 or 3 seconds when the tailwind arrived. At that point, I opened the throttle up and yanked Jason back like an overzealous pup on a short leash. He sat up, as did I, and Herc and Baker reformed at the front of the group to set the pace. This happened a few times, and Jason became comically exasperated with my persistence. I was having a blast.
The only other interesting happening was when the leaders lapped the pack and they began attacking with Jason in tow to get him away. One time they did this in the tailwind, and we looked up to see a campus truck crossing the course blindly. Luckily we all were able to hit the brakes in time and avoid t-boning the truck at 30 mph…good job course marshalls.
In the last few laps, Jason came to accept that this battle would be settled by a sprint. Greg and Baker kept the pace high with 3 and 2 to go, but MSU came around for the leadout at the start of the last lap. I was perfectly content to line up behind Jason and his 3-man leadout train. They kept the pace high, and I was probably grinning at the back. Not fast enough, boys. We came around the last turn and they were slowly getting up to sprint speed. However, they didn’t drive it to the gutter fast enough and I came flying by on the right side. Jason never got by and I took the field sprint for 4th by two bike lengths.
I talked to Lalla after the race about the sprint. He said the thoughts going through his head the last lap went as follows: “alright, we’ve got this…keep the pace high…through the last turn…come on Jason….oh crap there goes Chad.”
And that’s how the season ended: with the most fun race for me in the whole collegiate season. I got 3rd in the conference with Todd and Collin taking first and second respectively. My race reports are long enough that I’ll leave the other race results to those who got them. I do know that we took 2nd in the conference as a team behind MSU and ahead of t.u., and that there were multiple other podiums this weekend and for the season in a few categories.