Sunday, June 1. ABR Masters’ National Championships, Winfield, IL. Category: Masters 30+/40+ combined. Weather: 78 degrees, 9 mph winds. Course: 4 corners, large (80 ft vertical) hill, 22 miles, 58 riders, average speed – 26.5mph, average pulse 171 bpm, max pulse 192 bpm. Sprint speed 36mph.
So… now there are three ‘national championships’… – ABR (American Bicycle Racing) decided to run their version of master’s nationals this last weekend in Winfield, IL. For the USCF (United States Cycling Federation) their version of Masters’ nationals will be in late June in Kentucky, and then Category 1/2/3 and Pro (ageless) will be in Downer’s Grove, August 17/18th (my favorite race.)
I didn’t really care about it being ‘nationals’ or not (except for the cool jersey you get to wear for a year as ‘national champion’) and just showed up for this race only 15 miles from my home, more excited about being able to race with my friend and 2nd season racer, Matt Dula.
I was chagrined to find that it was a course I’ve done before with a significant hill – and that every lap I would be forced to go up it. Matt was diligently warming up on his rollers in the parking lot by the train station when I arrived – his daughter Rosemary had taken second in the teen girls group earlier, medal dangling proudly from her neck.
I took a warmup lap, climbing the hill, following the sharp left at the top.
It hurt. I hate going up.
The race began. I was conservative. I focused on my strengths: drafting, tucking in on the downhill, pedaling some corners and cutting up the inside on others. Mostly I followed Walden Rule #2 (shift, dammit!) and shifted down for the climb. Each lap as we approached the daunting hill, I clicked my left shifter down from the big ring to the little ring, while double clicking with my right hand to bring my gearing on the rear cog into a relatively appropriate range, spinning over the top.
Early in the race I told Matt to do the same, and for the next 15 laps or so we both were amazed by the glaciating masses drifting backward on the uphill, calving riders trapped in their big ring, struggling to adjust to the steep incline – as we both buzzed around these riders, finding opportunities to sling forward 5 or 10 spots each lap. I had mounted the camera to my bike but totally forgot to use it except for recording one lap behind Matt to capture his technique.
Suddenly it was 2 laps to go: ‘my time’ and I’m sad to share that I was a terrible helper to Matt in his first Cat 1/2/3 race, (and he was staying the pack without any difficulties). I should have had him follow my wheel as I set up for the sprint, but suddenly I was in the zone, instinctively following those race eddies and slotting up into the front – and all I could do was say “hey – time to move up” as I passed by on my way into the top 12. Meanwhile a breakaway of 2 bided their time out front.
Unlike last year’s races, I felt complete control over my placement – not too far up – but not too far back. I could have easily shot to the front of the pack (and then some) up the hill with 1 ½ laps, but I refrained and saved my strength. I felt that roiling, powerful energy of my sprint legs ready to be let loose and merely sidled up to 10th over the top and then followed a wheel down the hill to the finish line as they rang the bell indicating one lap to go.
Lots of movement took place in the first two corners, but I just ping ponged forward to maintain my position as other riders shot forward and others fell back. I maintained 10th place at the base of the hill sliding to 8th halfway up, and then 6th at the top – but still I had not used much. As we headed for the final long downhill corridor, preceded by a hard and tight left turn, I stayed on the inside, knowing that the outside curb on this downhill corner was a death trap (I had warned Matt earlier).
The field spread wide around the corner, and a just to my left a rider accelerated hard coming off the corner. I accelerated and followed his lead. He was fast, and the wind on the downhill section must have had a downdraft to it – I didn’t really feel much protection from my leadout man as we sped down the hill, heads down against the wind, and running first and second, we surged away from the mustering field.
I waited and waited and as we neared 100m to go, accelerated up the inside – but my leadout man had some in reserve and matched my move and I only made up a half a wheel on him before the line, finishing in second in the sprint, fourth overall.
Still – I felt good. This was a tough course and I really had no true difficulties. Matt and I chatted and then returned to the finish area for the awards ceremony. This is where things got a bit funny. I was not familiar with the rules of this ‘other’ cycling federation, so when I filled out my forms in a rush, I didn’t bother to ponder a potentially important question: “age?”. I had written 39.
As the announcer was beginning to separate the 30+ masters results from the 40+ masters, Matt and I had the same thought simultaneously: are you a masters 30+ or a masters 40+ according to ABR rules? (under USCF rules, my racing age - set on Dec 31st of the coming year - is 40.) So I wandered over and asked the officials whether I should be a masters 30+ (the category they had me registered in) or a masters 40+. They consulted the referee and then decided that my ‘racing age’ was 40 and hence they had me in the wrong group. I was unsure whether this would help or hurt my results.
After some deliberation one of the refs motioned to me and let me know, “you probably should have just let sleeping dogs lie – you were just about to be crowned the masters 30+ national champion, but instead you came in fourth in the masters 40+ - the top 5 places were all masters 40+…”
I laughed and then joined my fellow racers on the podium for the awards ceremony as Mike Dienhart took some film with the helmet cam. Again I walk away from the race with confidence – my sprint was there, I was able to make it up a significant hill, and I was able to move into position for the sprint exactly where I wanted to be.
My next race will be back with the Pro I/II’s – in Sherman Park on the 14th. We’ll see how my fitness lasts for the longer, faster races…