I gotta say, I’m feeling exhausted. In truth, I had really underestimated the physical and emotional toll that is stage racing. The prior couple of weeks I took off racing to focus on winning Joe Martin. I imagined riding my guts out on the time trial and having to defend the GC. No matter how much daydreaming and visualization that occurred beforehand, I was not prepared for the shock.
I’m not saying it wasn’t fun, because it seriously was a blast.
Jack Funk and Chris James and I got down to Arkansas early on Thursday so that Jack could race for DNA Racing in the Amateur Men’s 1/2 race. The elite men start off with a time trial as well, but it’s a different course on the other side of Devil’s Den. It’s got multiple switchbacks and constantly changing gradation. Chris and I got to see the Women’s Time Trial World Champion, Linda Villumsen, and Hayley Simmonds, the Women’s Time Trial British Champion, both of the United Health Care women’s team. It kind of felt seeing a rockstar or a famous actor. Over the next couple of days, I got in some short workouts really tried to focus my energy on the knowledge that all the hard work is already done, now it’s just time to put it into action.
On Friday, MK and Marianne got into town, so Chris and I planned an 18 mile ride that we hoped would put us right around an hour. Unfortunately, we ended up way farther north than we had planned and had to be rescued by our wonderful teammate Molly, who had just gotten into town. No use burning up precious energy. I went to bed early that night, after teammates Kyle, Tim, and Andrew showed up. The plan was to get up around 5 am to get in a light meal before the time trial. We were all pretty close in starting time. I slept well, thanks to my bed buddy, Jack, who was exhausted from his 106 mile road race that day.
In all of my years of competing in different sports, I can’t remember waking up with butterflies. Eating was hard. Remembering all of my stuff was hard. Thanks to Chris, I had everything I needed for the whole day of racing, because we were not going to make it back to the hotel in between stages. I hoped to use the trainers in the CycleOps area, but apparently they never showed up that morning. It kind of made me nervous to not have a structured warm up, but at the point, there is no use in fretting over what can’t be changed. I had a few harder efforts and then before I knew it, I heard my name called over the speaker. I made it to the start line with 45 seconds to go and it felt like it took forever just to take off. The time trial was a blur after that, honestly. All I remember is that after every guy I passed, I just looked ahead and used the next guy as a carrot on a stick. I started my Garmin a bit late, so I wasn’t able to compare my last effort this spring to the Joe Martin one, but I’m pretty sure I hit my goal of 9:20 on the TT Strava Segment. My power goal was to hold 400 watts up the climb and that’s exactly what I did. It kept getting tougher and tougher to hold 400 up the climb, but after cresting the final hill, I buried my head and sprinted for the line with everything I had, just hoping that it would be good enough to at least put me in a good position going into the road race. Tim followed shortly after, so I didn’t get to see him come up, but I went down part of the hill to watch everyone else. I got really nervous seeing other racer’s form. Was I that smooth, or look that strong? I saw Kyle grinding his way to the top, fighting gravity and time and then I saw Brad, his legs moving like a machine, charging to the top. Now, it was the waiting game.
The worst part about the next hour was the waiting game. There is zero service in Devil’s Den, especially when your service provider is Sprint. After searching all over for just a couple of spare bars of service, we decided to move onto the road race starting area to catch some rest and maybe some cell phone service. By the time that we had made it to the highway, we had service and the results were posted. I had the lead in the general classification by 29 seconds! Rest felt impossible. I wanted to call everyone I knew and research all of the data I could find and just figure out a strategy. I got 15 minutes of shut eye when we got there and then it was time to start planning and prepping for the road race. Luckily, this was Jack’s 12th year racing at Joe Martin Stage Race, so he had some great insight into what it means to be a GC leader and how a team handles that responsibility. We had a pow wow before and got the nitty gritty of what our roles should be going into the road race.
Joe Martin’s road race is brutal. There is a quite a bit of climbing and some really fast downhills. I hit 47mph at one point. The Wall, an appropriately named climb in the middle of the course, was going to our first deciding point, hopefully filtering off others and making it a less risky road race. We had a group of seven after it was all said and done. Unfortunately, that’s a bit too big of a group to get well organized and we ended up getting reeled back in by a chasing group, which brought us up to 20ish people. I spent a lot of time on the front and in 2nd and 3rd position. The last thing I wanted was get stuck behind someone and lose control of my position if there was an attack. Brad Wiltfong threw out an attack that lasted 15 kilometers. Every time that someone tried to bridge, GP Velotek was right there to latch on their wheel for a free ride. There was a hard fighting team out of Little Rock that had a man in 6th place after the time trial in the morning, they seemed to be our tactical rival. Brad was caught a mere 700 meters from the finish line and the pack ended in a big sprint. There wasn’t enough time between riders be able to add on time, so my lead time didn’t change after the road race, though there was a shake up down the line. Kyle moved from 11th to 8th and Tim moved from 22nd to 17th.
The nice thing about racing bikes all day is how much you can eat afterwards to replenish what had been lost. My nutrition that day was the definition of a smorgasbord—quinoa + rice, salmon, strawberries, salad, and pizza. After eating, it was time for early bed to be up by 6am for food before out 9am criterium.
Going into the criterium, my only thinking was to stay safe. As long as I didn’t crash out, I was sure I could finish with everyone and still win the GC title. To say I was nervous on that starting line, was an understatement. As soon as we started racing, we were firing on all cylinders. The criterium was only 30 minutes long, so it’s important to put as much pressure on as you can for all 30 minutes. I heard my parents after the first corner and immediately felt a sense of relief. This was going to be their first race to watch and I knew it was going to be a show. When we hit the first hill on the first lap, I knew my legs weren’t feeling as snappy as usual and I could only hope it was the same for my competitors. I found myself on the front the majority of the time, with a little bit of respite coming from Brad and a couple of other competitors. All I knew is that I didn’t want to fade back into the pack and possibly miss a big move. Once again, if that meant leading the whole thing and finishing in the bunch, then so be it.
With a couple of laps to go, Brad moved up and made an attack. If he could get the win and get a time bonus, maybe he could get back into the top 10. I kept leading the pack, although this time with less speed so Brad could get away. Anytime that someone tried to bridge, I would attach myself to their tail and try to get some rest in their draft. It really felt like there was no relief. With one lap to go, Brad had still not been reeled in and everyone was content with me leading. I only remember the lead up to the hill hopping on a wheel and praying my legs wouldn’t give out on me. Brad won the criterium with a 10 second time bonus and a 6 second gap, moving him up to 7th place. Mission accomplished. I knew I had not lost time in the pack finish, even though 2nd place on the GC got 2nd in the criterium, which is a 6 second time bonus. When it was all said and done, I had won the GC by 23 seconds in one of the hardest fought races I’ve ever had.
There are so many people to thank for all of their support. Throughout the weekend, I started to feel like a miniature of the rockstars that we saw on Thursday. At times it was overwhelming and I know I couldn’t have done it without the support of my awesome team, sponsors, and parents. Thanks to Julie and Jack Funk, MK Thompson, and Marianne Melling for the encouragement, support and wisdom of past races. Thank you to Will and Molly Benton for being the most excited racing family I know. You guys know how to make someone feel on top of the world. Thanks to Chris James for being so levelheaded and a great support for the whole weekend, I know I would have forgotten so many things without his foresight. Thank you to my teammates Brad, Kyle, and Tim—you guys really make this team special. I heard so many compliments on how well organized and smart we are as a team. Thank you to Revolution Racing for putting on the Spring Fling this year, it really helped us develop those team tactics to take on the road. Thank you to North American Aviation, without your support, we would have been sleeping in Walmart parking lots. Thank you to Trek Bicycle Stores, you guys keep this team going like a well lubed machine with tubes, tires, and well, lube. We are proud to represent you in local and regional races. Lastly, thanks to my parents for being the loudest voices at a criterium. That was huge for me on Sunday.