Race Report :: 2002 Wheels of Thunder Criterium

1st Place!
Date: June 1, 2002
Event: Wheels of Thunder Criterium
Category: Masters 35+ 4/5
Time: 40 minutes
Place: 1st!
Field: ~50

Did I mention that I won?!?!

This is my first big time Cat 4 win of the season!

Now, those of you following my race reports might jump up and say ‘Hey! Didn’t you win the previous Tuesday night twilight criterium?‘. Well yes, and that race does count. But, the twilight races don’t get the field sizes and level of competition as the weekend races.

And I won!

But, the day didn’t start out on the right foot. Or the left now that I think of it. What was the problem? Well, it began with both races having rock star start times. The first at 12:25pm and the second at 2:35pm. All the time in the world to get ready. Plenty of time to sleep in, to get some breakfast, gather the gear, head to the race, warm-up…

That was the plan and I was following it to the letter. Then, as I was driving to the event and only 5 minutes away, I realized that my shoes were sitting on my living room floor. Duh! I just laughed. All the time in the world and I forget my shoes. I laughed about it some more. I thought about all the races I ran out the door to make in time. And then I took the next exit and headed back for the shoes.

At home I found them just where I had left them. I scooped them up and headed back to the race. The clock was ticking. It would be close. And it was beginning to feel more like the pre-race ritual I am used to.

Upon reaching the event I could see the starting line filled will racers. Not a good sign. Warm-up was over. And then I heard the whistle. There began the Senior 4 race. Oh well. No more stress over that race. Time to focus on the Masters race.

I was pumped up and felt strong. I made sure to eat and get a good warm-up. I also watched some of the Senior 3 race. You could see how the strong winds were playing with the racers. Soon it was time to lineup for my race.

The whistle blew and we were off. The pace was quick. Partly because there were several racers from the International Christian Cycling Club which presented the event. They obviously wanted to look good at their event.

I kept up at the front of the pack. No yo yo for me this race. The bell for the first prime lap soon sounded and the pace picked up. I positioned myself near the front from the start and held myself up there. As we rounded the last corner I kept on a wheel until I could no longer risk being pinched. Then I jumped and tested my sprint. The ICCC rider I was tailing also jumped as I started coming around him. It was now a drag race towards the start/finish. He was putting in a strong effort, but I started pulling past him as my revolutions picked up. A final surge and I shot past him and took the prime!

The next couple of laps settled down a bit. Then one of the ICCC riders sprinted off the front. There was no response from the pack and he started gaining a gap. Then a prime lap bell was rung and he was almost a corner ahead. Nobody wanted to chase him down. Then another prime lap bell. This would be two free primes for him. In addition, one of his teammates was trying to block. It was obvious and we just cruised around him. But it did slow some down. I was getting irritated by then and decided to go for him. If anyone chased, great, but if not then I would get him myself. I jumped hard and this spurred a few others to chase me. We finally rounded him up and the pack gathered up again.

Several laps later the same ICCC rider broke away off the front. But this time one other rider jumped onto him. Then another bridged over. Now that there were three I knew it was dangerous to let them go. So I jumped and bridged up. When I caught them they were riding independently. I looked back and saw that we had a good gap on the pack. I yelled that we had enough for a break and to get in a pace line.

Amazingly, they did. And we began a 4 man pace line and started putting some time on the pack. In the group was my friend Steve and he was riding strong. The ICCC rider was pulling but starting to show the wear from all his previous efforts. The fourth rider, I wish I could remember his team, was also pulling strong.

We were soon into 5 laps to go. But, we were losing time to the pack. Our ICCC rider was fried and barely pulling. I looked back and watched as the pack’s hunger drove it closer. They were not going to let us stay away. And soon, at 2 laps to go, we were sucked up.
But I was not going to let my earlier work be lost! I jumped in behind several of the lead riders in the pack. We cruised around the course and now we were into the last lap. The pack was beginning its weaving and maneuvering.

On the really windy back side of the course my friend Evan made a sprint on the inside. Only a move Evan would do! But, I had to respond since several others jumped after him. He quickly faded but his surge gave a couple of others some momentum. I moved in to draft the lead rider on the inside. But another rider dropped in ahead of me. Fine, I don’t mind being 3rd!

It was myself and the two riders ahead that were on the inside line. Off to the left and back a bike length was another line of riders. The speed was picking up and we were now heading into the last corner.

Carving out of the corner we now had the long, almost 350 yard, stretch to the finish. The wind cut across and into our faces. Timing on the last section was critical. A solo sprint too soon would easily blow up. Too late and the risk of playing catch up.
The lead rider veered to the right and started hammering along the gutter. He was now a bike length ahead of the two of us. I was right on the tail of the rider ahead. Should I go for the other rider? Do I stick with this wheel? When should I jump? The options were flying through my head.

Then I got the prickly feeling of the pack coming up behind me. No more time to think. Time to go! I jumped up and put on the gas. As I came around I glanced up towards the finish. Heck, it looked like it was a mile away!

Too late to worry now about that. I was up and out of the saddle, head down, and cranking up the speed. I could see the rider next to me trying to match my attack but he was drifting back. I could feel my legs starting to reach that pure high speed cadence zone where its like hitting overdrive in an automatic transmission. Smooth and fast.

The finish line was coming up fast. I could no longer see anyone to either side. So, I glanced back to my right. Nobody! I glanced back to my left. Nobody!!

I was in the zone, home free, and sailing through the finish line! It was tough not pulling a Cippolini and raising my arms in victory. So, I popped a tiny wheelie over the finish line :’)

Cheers!

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