The last time I did the Wente Road Race was 2 years ago when I was Cat 5; that day ended in me being dropped from the pack on the 2nd lap, soon making me loose my lunch on the I-580 overpass. You could say this race and I have some “history”.
I was reminded of this experience, the night before, when I woke up at 4:30 AM, and during my lonesome and sleepy drive to what would I was expecting to be an excruciatingly painful day of racing. 8 am saw me kitted up and hitting the start line solo, bearing the DDA flag.
These past few races I’ve done by myself have been different from all those of my previous E3 races in that my usual band of misfit teammates, Eric, Casey, and Curt, had recently made the transition to the p12 field, and I was still in the 3s trying to scrape together the remainder of my points. Going from racing with teammates to being suddenly a Lone Ranger is a hard transition. In order to be effective, your racing needs to be very specific and conservative; your matches need to be burned at the right time, or else you’re just smoke in the wind; there’s very minimal room for wasted energy. This was something that I had come to learn the hard way. My last few races my results weren’t reflecting the fitness I felt I had, I had been letting myself get caught chasing breaks, or covering attacks from teams with more numbers, and being worn down in the finish.
This was all fresh in my head as we rolled out of the business park at 8:05 to start the race. I decided that my tactic would be to conserve. I knew how hard this race could be with the hill and the brutal winds, my plan was to sit in and follow wheels, and save what I had for the finishing hill. I’ll be the first to admit that I usually hate this type of racing. When I come to a race, I don’t want to sit for 60+ miles at talking speed then go for a field sprint, with no one wanting to commit to any moves or breaks because they’re afraid that putting their face in the wind will hurt their chances for the already minor places they’re racing for. When I come to race, I have the expectation that it will be exciting, a challenge of physical fitness and mental fortitude where the best man wins. But this is obviously not the case in most races, and I had found that racing with this expectation and being stuck in this mindset was not only killing my chances at winning, but appears to have gained me a reputation by my teammates and fellow racers of being a workhorse who until recently could only manage minor places on the podium. The aggressive style of racing that I had come to enjoy last year and the beginning of this season was managing me some top 5s and podiums, but riding solo this wasn’t enough to clinch the deal, the top step on the podium still managed to elude me. What I had failed to recognized till now was a classic cycling rule that it wasn’t always the “best” man that won, but the smartest.
So when a break of 2 rolled off during the first lap during a brutal cross winds section, I sat in comfortably, knowing that I didn’t have to chase that down. I put no obligation on myself to chase back that break, even as it went clear out of sight and stayed away for what looked like was going to be the entire race. I knew that even if I was racing for 3rd, I could still get the last remaining points I needed to get my 2 upgrade. This was a little hard to stomach truthfully, I still didn’t like the idea of sitting instead of contributing to a chase effort, but I knew that this was, despite my doubts, the smarter thing tactically to do, and as a solo rider in a field with some stacked teams, I let this responsibility fall on their backs.
For the majority of the race, the peloton rolled on comfortably. Drawing on a few unfortunate River Ride experiences, and the teachings of the River Ride elder Casey Fallon himself, I shifted my position in accordance with the strong winds to ensure that I was getting the most draft possible and stayed within the top 10 to cover any dangerous breaks that would roll along. I choose my shallow 23mm aluminum Race Rims due to their handling in the cross winds, their snappiness and lightweight were also added benefits when it came to climbing and getting out of the saddle.
Coming into one lap to go, going up the finishing straight, the sight of two men crept into view, and soon we recognized that what we thought was going to be a day long break had been brought back. The field was now all together. The excitement of racing for 1st that had left our spirits earlier had returned, and surged its way through the peloton, resulting in riders to lash out in attacks with this new-found energy on the main climb. I followed and bridged to a few riders up front, but our group of about 8 was caught not far from cresting the top due to the merciless headwind (we were racing through a wind farm populated with proud turning windmills… just for reference).
The rest of the lap rolled on with the occasional attack and bridge but nothing stuck. Going into the final corner I knew I had to be up front, as the narrow lane, and still together peloton would be chaos once we hit the wall. I didn’t want to get boxed in and stuck behind riders blowing up as we bottlenecked into the 90 degree turn, so | slipped out of the slipstream of the pack and made my way up the inside to the front and positioned perfectly before the turn on the front. We made the right hand turn and hit the wall, from there we had about 1.5k uphill till the finish. One rider kicked his legs and tried to go long about 1k away from the finish. Looking back and seeing riders jostling for position and fighting in the crowded pack, I knew that this move could go to the line. I dropped the hammer on the gears and followed the rider as we made our way up the wall with the crowded pack struggling behind. About 300 meters from the finish the attacking rider despite his best efforts, couldn’t ride the redline anymore and blew the engine, and like blasted pistons shooting from his tailpipe, another rider surged around him to make his bid for the win. I looked back for a brief moment, taking mental note of the distance to the field. This was it, the field was struggling behind us about 2 seconds back, it was either me or him. Pushing down on the pedals with all my might I made my way to the riders’ back wheel, and with the finish line in sight, I tucked in my sails and made a close hauled run with the wind to stake my claim in victory. As my eyes turned to tunnel vision and my legs began to go numb, my brain began to deliver its’ last bit of motivation to get me to the line. Flashing through my dark and barren space of a mind were images of months of relentless solo training, the feeling of disappointment in defeat, the emptiness of exhaustion, the anguish in muffled races, all these pent-up thoughts, feelings and emotions had come together to do their job in driving me to the line. I had become so used to second best, my inability to ever achieve a win in my cycling career had made me accustomed to being content with the lesser places on the podium, and for a split second, I thought what I was seeing was too good to be true. Going over the white finish line the echoes of cheers and my labored breathing had drowned out just for a second, to allow myself to hear the voice in my head say,
With the pack still racing for 2nd behind me, I purged my body of all those emotions and doubts with a commanding yell of sheer excitement and disbelief. I’d won my first bike race, a goal of mine I’d had written down when I first started riding as a Cat 5. Not only that, I conquered my fear of the Wente Road Race in the most absolute sense of the word and along with it, my doubts and insecurities in my abilities as a rider. After coming in 2nd and 3rd for so long, and finally being able to step on top of the podium, in a classic race that I had dreamed of winning for ages, I really could have thought of no better way to finish out the Cat 3s. This was by definition picture perfect.
The next day saw Tyler and I race the E3s Town Center Crit, and as my upgrade hadn’t gone through yet I thought I’d lend my hand to try to help him score some points. Being outgunned and with Tyler cooked from his podium in his earlier race, I did my best to race at the front, finishing off 3rd in the final sprint. As my last race as a 3 I had nothing to complain about, and watching my teammates Casey and Curt slay themselves to finish in the main pack of the p12s, I was excited that I’d soon be joining them. (finishing was an accomplishment in its own, just ask the close to about 20 riders that got pulled)
Watching the sunset on the Sellands’ patio I scarfed some pizza with my teammates and other fellow riders, reflecting on what was for me my best weekend of bike racing to date. It seemed that everything in that moment, sitting with my teammates and thinking back on my races, was a perfect embodiment of why I raced my bike. The ability to look back on your performance and take true pride not just in the singular moment of your race or win, but in everything, all the sacrifices that go into it, serves as confirmation that what you are doing is right, enough to keep you going through the desert of DNF’s and DFL’s till you find that oasis that is a successful break attempt, or field sprint, or just hanging in there longer than you thought you would. This realization of self-satisfaction rarely comes along organically in everyday life, and for those out there who are as self-loathing as I am, it’s extremely rare. And when this success is shared with your teammates, whether it be a win or just surviving a race, not to sound overly cheesy, but those moments are the moments that I race, and continue to race my bike for.