The build up to a stand alone race like the World Championships was this year is a torturous path. Last year we had the benefit of racing the week following the National Championships. You knew your level, having just tested it, but this year we had three agonizing weeks between the two. I tried to stay focused, doing workouts indoors and out as the weather called for. Knowing my stiffest competition would come from Boulder, I watched their weather as closely as I did my own and Louisville's. Were they getting the upper hand?
There are basically two types of racers, those driven by an insatiable desire to win, and those that are driven by self doubt, ever wondering if they're good enough. As you've probably figured out by now, I'm the later. Constantly worried if I'm doing enough, doing the right thing, not falling behind. Each ride seemed like a study in over-analysis.
But you can only do what you can and as departure day grew closer, I was quietly confident that I'd done everything I could had. The plans were laid, it was just a matter of following through.
Race day came quickly, Anne, Rafal and Megan flew in the night before and arriving late, they graciously took a cab from the airport and let Tom and I sleep in the adjacent hotel room. Race morning was an easy, calm affair. It felt just like being at a USGP with our start time slated for 1:30. I knew exactly how to prepare. Two hours before the start I decided to test the course. I'd made the decision the night before to start the race on my Challenge Fango's. Hoping that the icy conditions would hold and the low profile knobs would slide through the ruts. All the while though having two pairs of Limus' in the pits just in case. My pre-ride laps were crazy. Within a lap and a half my wheels would barely spin. The mud was freezing to everything. I left a muddy mess of a bike for Tom and Rafal to clean before my start as I jumped in the van to get into my race kit. To add to the motivation, the fine gents at Capo had overnighted me a pair of prototype full-zip warm-up tights. If that won't energize you a bit, I don't know what will.
By the time I exited the van, my bike was almost spotless. I hopped on the trainer and finished my warm-up. Like clockwork, 20 minutes before the start it was off the trainer, and time to roll to the start. Guys were cued up, ready for call-ups.
Webber...Webber...? I couldn't believe my eyes and ears. Was Pete really going to miss his number one call-up for the World Championships? Dwight...Dwight...? And Brandon too? The UCI officials gave each of them one last call until finally it was my turn. First guy into the box. Pete would eventually roll up to the front row, but Brandon didn't make it in time and slotted in behind Pete on the second row. As I looked around, inspecting tires, sure enough, everyone else was on mud tires. No worries, I was the only guy that chose that route last year too and it worked beautifully.
At the whistle it was chaos. So many guys started insanely fast. I quickly found myself in what felt like 10th. I steadily went about picking guys off, taking the lines that I wanted. By pit one I was sitting at least 5th. Then the tires kicked in. On the first rutted section, I floated through and across the ruts at will, gliding into the top three as others got flicked as their aggressive knobs caught the edges of the ruts.
The tables would soon be turned though as we reached the very heavy tractor pull section. I could feel my tires slipping instead of propelling me forward and I began to lose ground on the leaders. Mike Yozell dropped his chain but the Spanish Champion Marco Prieto passed me. Still 3rd. Into pit 2 for my first bike. I was keeping Webber and Prieto in sight but they were riding hard. Through pit 1 and Webber took another bike. At first I thought there would be no way of keeping him close if he was getting a clean bike every half lap. How were his pit guys getting the bike clean in such a short amount of time?
The course was melting quick and as I grabbed my next bike at pit 2 I signaled the guys to switch my bikes to mud tires, I was losing too much ground through the thick mud. It was perfect timing too. Because for the next two laps Tom and Rafal didn't need to worry about cleaning my wheels. It was about this time that Webber and Prieto started to have their issues. I had just passed Prieto when I came up on pit 1 to see Pete turn around and run backwards in the pit. At first I thought he had ridden past his pit guys but it turned out to be much worse. As he hopped on his "clean" bike, he immediately tore his derailleur off. The mishap left him scrambling to find his bike which was already being rushed off to be clean.
At the time, all I knew was I was now leading the World Championships with a clear track in front of me. I pushed as hard as I could. Ten seconds, 20 seconds, 30 seconds, the gaps behind were growing. As I rolled under the finish banner with 30+ seconds in hand I knew all I needed to do was ride clean and the race was mine. One last time through the pits and the deal was done. The last 1/3 of a lap I'll remember for the rest of my life. I couldn't believe this was happening.
The following hours were a blur, Anne running to the finish line, tears in both our eyes, interviews, teammates, fellow racers, anti-doping, and then almost missing the podium because of anti-doping logistics not getting me back to the venue.
There are so many people to thank, that played an integral part in making all this happen I dare not start. But there are a few that must be mentioned. None of this would ever have begun had it not been for my rock, the love of my life Anne. My Mom and Dad who 30 years ago introduced me to cycling, I don't think they were expecting the kind of impact it would have on a child's life.
Without my good buddy Nate Woodman, I'd never even thought of racing cross nationally until he urged me to jump into the fray. Cross has been a lifelong love of mine but he opened my eyes to a much larger community.
Jay Thomas, we sat in a car and talked about the team he wanted to build on a drive to St. Louis. After the first season, Matt Shriver jumped into the mix too and made the program bigger and better. Only with the support from Midwest Cycling and Trek could this of happened.
|Tom and I (Rafal! Where are you?)|
1 World Championship
Thanks for the ride my friends.
|PARTY TIME! Watching the big boys on Saturday|