We kicked off each day getting Liz a Carl set-up for the Women's and Cat 2/3 races. Liz rode awesome finishing just outside the top ten each day and Carl had an uphill battle starting from the 17 or 18 row (!) each day. He put up the good fight but the deck was stacked against him. Our other buddy Greg had a couple great rides in the 2/3's finishing top 40 each day. Next up was Troy who had two really solid top 10 rides in the Masters 45+ races.
The Masters 35+ race was going to be interesting. The high winds were bound to play a factor, as was the sand, and some fresh legs who hadn't raced yet at the USGP this year. Most notably last years multiple time race winner Michael Wissink. It's nice being called up, especially now. With the #2 bib I pretty much have my pick of the front row. After chatting start line strategy with Ray Smith I decided on 3rd lane from the left which put my on the inside of the first corner but far enough from the barrier so I didn't get squeezed into it. The day one plan was to follow the wheels and see what played out.
At the gun, I got a great start (finally) and slotted in about 4th or 5th wheel. I believe it was Jay Moncel that took the hole-shot. Richard Feldman took up the chase immediately and I grabbed his wheel. Towards the end of the lap we had a small gap on 3rd and then I stuff my wheel and went down at the base of the short run-up. My bike fell really awkward and it took me a bit to get off it. Brian Conant squeezed by me while the rest got bottled up behind. Brian and I set about chasing down Feldman and were soon joined by the days big threat Michael Wissink. Wissink didn't waste any time and was soon driving the pace. Conant let a gap open and that was that, 1st and 2nd were up the road. The race for third was getting interesting. I got rid of Conant through the technical section and got a good gap but he was quickly joined by CJ Faulkner and Jeff Weinert. Remember that wind I was telling you about? This group of three began to bring me back in the open bits. Not only did they have the strength in numbers but Brian and Jeff were both racing on file treads which were super fast in the sand and straightaways. My only hope was to put as much time as possible in them through the technical sections where my Challenge Fango's gave me a good advantage. I rode the last lap as hard as I could and just held onto 3rd place by a mere 3 seconds.
I was pretty disappointed to have once again missed the front of the race because of a crash. This marked the 4th race where Feldman has finished one place ahead of me. He was now 32 points clear in the series. A gap that seemed to be too big to close. But, I had to check myself, can't be to bummed when you're standing on the podium at a USGP!
|The Front Row|
#4 Brian Conant (hidden), #6 Andrew Messer, #3 CJ Faulkner (hidden), #1 Richard Feldman, #5 Grant Berry, #2 Mark Savery, #10 Jeff Wienert, #9 Matt Tillinghast (hidden)
|Michael Wissink with the win on day 1|
|The Cronus gets a podium spot too|
The plan for day two was simple, get a good start, maintain my position on the open sections and push the pace in the technical bits. I was going to race it Ricky Bobby style, "If you're not first, you're last".
I got an awesome start, my best of the season, and slotted in second wheel behind Jeff Wienert. The legs felt great and my breathing was well under control. The pace almost felt easy as I sat on Wienert for the entire first lap as a group of 5 formed up behind us including all the major players. Seven guys was too many variables for me to have at the front so I figured it was time to go. I went to the front and upped the tempo. The pace split the group and it was down to myself, Wissink, Feldman and Grant Berry. On lap three, Feldman took over the pace making and the tempo dropped noticable. At this point I knew I had really good legs and I wasn't going to let this one get away from me.
Over the next two laps I sat on Feldman and Wissink's wheel and bided my time. Grant was bouncing off the back of our group no doubt feeling the effects of his effort the previous day. With one to go it was time. I went back to the front and upped the pace. I got a small gap over the flyover which forced the others to work that little bit harder to come back. Feldman came by and surged on each open straightaway but he couldn't maintain his pace and continually looked back to see if I was still there. I knew he was tired. The last time by the pits he absolutely drilled it and I really had to fight hard to stay on his wheel. As we entered the final technical wooded section before the finish I sat on and tried to get my heart-rate down. I only had three chances (corners) to make it happen. As we approached the first corner the gap was too big. On the exit I closed down the gap leaving a bike length of space as we entered the last section of sand. I rolled through cleanly and was right on his wheel. As we approached the second corner I surged towards the apex and got my bars even with his. Feldman turned in, we touched and he had to put a foot down. I accelerated hard, hit the next off camber 180 smooth, accelerated up the embankment and kept driving. I heard somebody yell I had two bike lengths so I kept driving. I knew if I had at least that I could hold him off down the finishing straight. The gap grew and I was clear for my first USGP win. The last lap was fastest lap of the day.
It was a pretty memorable weekend of racing. My good buddy Nate Woodman scored his best USGP result too with a 14th on Day 1 and 17th on Day 2. Teammates Matt and Jay both kept it in the top 25 each day as well. Jay had his best results of the season (21st and 25th) while Matt was just a bit off struggling in the sand (23rd and 19th).
To win at the same venue that will be used for the UCI Master World Championships this January is a huge confidence booster for me. I feel like this course suits my style really well. The hard choice now is whether or not to go to Bend for the USGP finals. To win the series I now have to win both days in Bend and have Richard finish outside the top two on at least one of those days as I'm 22 points behind. And the only way for me to lose 2nd place would be if the 3rd, 4th or 5th place riders win both days so it's pretty solid either way.
But...I've got a couple weeks to figure that out. Next weekend is the Nebraska State Championship followed by the UCI Jingle Cross weekend. I'm really looking forward to both of these as they are two of the funnest race weekends out there.