Two years ago I started chasing this crazy idea of racing the UCI Masters World Championships. At the time I thought this would probably be the only chance I'd ever get to do so. It almost felt surreal as I drove to the course on Tuesday to ride with some USGP Masters buddies.
The course was amazing, but rain, followed by freezing temperatures was going to throw us the curveball. Sure enough, it dumped rain on Tuesday night and pretty much all day on Wednesday.
Thursdays qualifier was a tractor pull. I'm not great in these conditions but I'm better than most. I should have bought a lottery ticket because at number pickup I drew number one call-up, there's no better than that. I got away clean and after swapping position with Mark McCormack for a half lap, I pulled away and rode conservative to a 3rd place finish which would equate to #5 for the final.
As forecasted, the temperature took a big plunge Thursday night and we woke up to temperatures in the teens. The frozen mud ruts would play a huge roll in Saturdays finals. To my surprise the course on Saturday morning was extremely rideable. It would come down to a race of equipment choices and bike handling. Early frozen conditions dictated a dry tire to take advantage of the fast frozen conditions. But the temps were rising and the top layer of mud was beginning to thaw. I made the call to stick with my Challenge Fangos but just in case I sent a pair of Limus' to the pits with Ray.
As we prepared for our call-ups I got worried...it looked like I was the only guy going with a dry tire. At the whistle I got away clean but was swarmed as we entered the first patch of mud. I defended my line with wide elbows and a shove here and there. Through the first chicane a rider fell in front of me. As I got going again I noticed Richard Feldman had busted through the course tape, that would be the last time I would see him all day.
I'm not quite sure where I was at this point but the legs felt great and by the time we got over the first run-up I was within the top five and again battling with Mark McCormack. To my surprise the Fangos were amazing. The low tread profile allowed me to slid through the ruts while everyone else appeared to be getting flicked around as their blocking mud knobbies were grabbing the edges of the ruts. First time through the start finish and we had established a solid front group of about 8 riders.
As we approached Pit 1 both Brandon Dwight and Pete Webber went for bike changes. I immediately punched it to try to establish a gap. I guess the nerves of leading a World Championship got to me as I managed to bobble the next sequence of corners after the sand dune and the pair closed right in on me. On lap three it was my turn to take a bike at Pit 1 and that would be where I lost contact with Pete and Brandon. By the end of the lap I was 10 seconds off, 17 seconds by the end of lap 4.
After losing 7 seconds I thought it was time for a mud tire. Grip was going away in the corners so I called to Ray to switch my pit bike to the Limus wheels. I took the bike at Pit 2 with one and half laps to go. Unfortunately, it was the wrong call. The Fangos were way better and as a result I lost a further 30 seconds in the last lap. I was still well clear of Todd Bowden and McCormack in 4th and 5th. Easy cruising for the bronze medal.
The podium was really something special. There was talk that it wouldn't mean as much without the top belgians-europeans in attendance. I bet if you ask anybody now though if it means less they'll tell you otherwise. I'm mesmerized by that little medal with the rainbow stripes, but even more mesmerized by that blue jersey with rainbow stripes. Anne and I have already talked about the 2014 Worlds wherever they may be. Hopefully Belgium. This is definitely something worth chasing.
It's been an amazing season. I reached all my goals except one. I wanted that USGP cup to really say 1st place. Regardless, I've been chasing that USAC medal since I was 14 and racing the Junior National Championships in Boise, ID. I never even thought I'd have a chance at a UCI medal, yet there it is.
I've got so many people to thank I don't even know where to begin. On the home front Anne has been so supportive and the the encouragement from my family has been wonderful. Without Jay's passion for cyclocross and putting together arguably the best masters cyclocross program in the country this could never have happened. Trek & Bontragers support has been unbelievable and I've thoroughly enjoyed helping them establish a cyclocross presence. SRAM, Avid, Capo, K-Swiss, Challenge, Lazer, Oakley, Sidi, Saris and Mad Alchemy all played a major roll in providing us with the gear to do what we do. And it all performed flawlessly, all season long.
I was thinking about it on the drive home and throughout the entire season I only had one flat tire and only broke one shoe buckle. Those were the only failures all season long. You don't think those above companies make good stuff? Well that track record speaks for itself. Twenty four races and hardly an issue.
The team...Jay and Matt were awesome to travel and race with. We had this thing dialed after the first weekend. I'm so stoked to do it again.
Lastly and definitely not least was our support staff this season. Ray Smith went above and beyond to help me in Louisville (and Madison). He even took time off work on Thursday so he could work the pits for me. I'm so grateful. Then there was Rafal & Megan Doloto, Liz Reinkordt, Chris Brewer, Chris Wolff, Carl Hoffman, Greg Shimonek, Jill Tillinghast, Dave Randleman...god I'm afraid I'm going to forget somebody, all helped out in the pits or the start line at one point or another. Bill Marshall, Tom Price and Logan Von Bokel of KCCX always seemed to be there at the start line to grab warm-up gear. Bottom line it was a huge team effort.
I have to say thank you to the entire cyclocross family across this entire country. The support and encouragement has been overwhelming. It's been so much fun traveling and meeting so many old and new friends. Can't wait to do it again. 2012/13 season is just 8 months away (big smile)