It was a bizarre scene as I approached the finish line of the Hollenbecks Spring Classic in upstate NY. I was alone, and there were a lot of spectators at the top of the final climb, many of them clapping and shouting words of encouragement to me. I heard things like, “You’re almost there!”, and, “Keep going!” But it was the tone of their voices that threw me. It was like they pitied me.
When I finally did cross the line, there wasn’t much fanfare. In fact, there wasn’t much of a response from anyone except my dad. He EXPLODED and said that I was the sickest rider he knew. That made me proud.
About three minutes later, the peloton came into view, and the crowd went CRAZY as they witnessed an epic sprint for the line – for second place. Apparently, my dad, some members of my family, and a few race officials were the only ones that knew that, just a few minutes prior, I had won the race.
A couple hours earlier, our Cat 3/4 field was lining up at the start line. I reluctantly stopped talking with some friendly lady spectators (dangit), and squeezed my way through the other racers on my way to the front row. I was TOTALLY not nervous or anxious. Not at ALL. (Well, maybe a little nervous, since I was the only BTS/Spine rider in the race). The official was giving pre-race instructions, talking about the course, hazards to look out for, how many miles we were doing, yada, yada. I was barely paying attention. I was getting into the zone.
When the race started, I clipped in and just took off. I was just going at a tempo pace, but when I looked back a minute later, I realized that the pack was already a few hundred yards back. So I kept going. It wasn’t long before I started entertaining thoughts of an epic solo effort. Could it be possible? Could I solo the entire race from the start? It was something I had always secretly dreamed about on my training rides.
I kept riding with a little pepper, and just a few miles into the race, I was out of sight of the peleton. I looked back and couldn’t see anyone. I hit the first climb, a long one of at least a couple miles, and hit it hard. I figured I’d take it hard even if the peleton was with me, so if they catch me after it on a flat, I didn’t burn any matches I didn’t plan on burning anyway.
I got to the top, and just kept riding hard. I looked back a mile later, and again, no one was in sight. That’s when I figured it was GO TIME. I said a prayer, gave the thumbs up to the pace car, and just started going all out. I rode HARD, keeping as fast as I could on the rolling terrain, and hitting the longer climbs hard. I figured, as a climber, this is where I’ll gain time on the pack. I pedaled on the descents, and took the corners with some discretion. I approached the race like a TT. I wanted to be fast everywhere, no sprinting or super-hard efforts that would waste energy.
I tried not to move anything but my legs. I drank a ton, looked forward, prayed again, and ignored the onset of the pain. Spectators were cheering me on like I was a dropped rider from a prior race. They didn’t seem to have any idea that I was the breakaway! I told myself I was at the point of no return, I was so deep into this solo effort that I had to make it stick. There was no choice. If I let up, and the field caught me, I’d forever be wondering “what would have happened if I put it all on the line?” I tried to keep my head, and didn’t get anxious. I tried to stay calm and positive, even though the pain was becoming more and more difficult to ignore. Deep down, I knew I could do it, and I kept thinking about how proud my family, friends, and team would be if I did. When I saw the final climb, I was relieved. That is, until I started climbing. Then I was in a world of hurt. But I crossed the line with time to spare.
When the race was over, for both me and the peloton, we all the descended back to the parking area, where I thoroughly enjoyed some AWESOME homemade cookies and bagels. I had the typical post-race chit-chat with some really great competitors and their families. People were congratulating me left and right after they found out that I was “the guy” who soloed the entire race. There were a lot of positive vibes from a great group of riders. It was a great moment. The best part of the day though, was seeing my family after the race. Seeing their faces and how proud they were of me. We stopped in a small town on the way home and ate burritos and ice cream. I had a ton of calories to replenish.