On the third of five laps of the 65 mile road race the strong guys got very active on the narrow, rolling stretch of road on the backside of the course. In a couple of attacks, a group of ~7 had been established off the front featuring three of the biggest names in the field. I was disappointed to have missed the moves, but happy that Spencer had made the selection. The peleton strung out and splintered as riders tried to attack and bridge up. With Spencer up the road I was in position to do zero work in chase groups and I ended up getting a nearly free ride up to the breakaway.
With two laps to go a group of ~12 came to the bottom of the biggest hill on the course. Robin Carpenter (Swarthmore) went to the front and hit the gas. I wasn’t comfortable, but I knew I could hold his wheel. With Stuart McManus (Harvard) on my wheel we reached the top of the hill with a substantial gap. Robin pulled off and I took a long hard pull to show that I was ready to work and make the break happen. Stuart looked and sounded pretty toasted and Robin and I split the work ~60/40. He was clearly the strongest rider and wasn’t afraid to take punchy pulls up the rollers to remind us of it.
When we started the hill on the last lap my legs were starting to feel lactic-acid-deep-fried. Robin again led the entire way up the hill and this time I had to dig pretty deep to stick it. As we cruised over the rollers, Stuart seemed to be coming on and doing more work while I was fading. At one point I got gapped while digging for a gel in my pocket and had to go fully into the redzone to catch back on over a steep bit. After a very painful stretch we reached the predominantly flat/downhill part of the course and it seemed our lead was safe.
I knew we were getting close to the finish, but I didn’t have good landmarks for 5k to go, 2k to go, etc, and unfortunately I ended up taking the last pull downhill into the finishing kicker. I knew there was trouble when I flicked my elbow and for the first time all day no one came around. I sat up, flicked again, and still nothing. Turning over my left shoulder I saw Stuart and Robin jump simultaneously. Robin exploded up the road for the win and I couldn’t close Stuart down before the line. It was still an amazingly fun race and a result I was thrilled with… afterwards Zack informed me I might be interested to see the ITT results and I was almost speechless* to see my name on top. Robin hadn’t done the ITT and Stuart was down a bit which meant I was leading the points competition…
Getting the yellow jersey had been a “pie in the sky” training goal for the year, but going into the crit the possibility was a stressful reality. Robin was 2nd in the points competition and I knew in a flat sprint he could easily finish 1st with me in 21st and that wouldn’t cut it. If it came to a sprint I would need help, and if I could get into a smaller break to lockup a high finish, I needed to do it. Spencer and Joe offered to setup a lead out if it came to a sprint which calmed the nerves a lot and let me focus on riding smart and trying to get away. Luckily the course had a serious hill on it which I knew would suit me compared to a normal flat crit, even though the finish line was at the end of the flat stretch.
The first half of the race I mostly sat in. When dangerous guys went to the front I made sure I was in position in case something went off, but I was still focused on conserving. With ~15 minutes to go a two person break was in the process of getting reeled in and I was starting to feel really good. I noticed a lot of huffing and puffing in the pack and decided it was time to try something.
I didn’t want to ride alone so on the next two climbs I rode off the front without fully “attacking” to try to invite a strong rider to join me and go for the win. The 2nd time around, with four laps to go, Erik Levinsohn from Williams came across and went past me like he meant business. I held his wheel until we were at the top and then took a hard pull down the hill and through the flat. He led up the hill again, and when I turned to look at the top, the pack was way back.
Having mismanaged the break the day before (largely because I was just so happy to be in it!) I was very focused on riding smart for the win. I started timing my pulls so Erik would have to share the work on the flat and I eased off on my efforts when I was at the front, especially down the hill. I knew he was a climber more than a sprinter and thought that he would try to get me on the hill. When we came through for the bell, I made sure he was on the front to start the climb. He took the bait and nailed it up the hill. When we got to the top he signaled for me to come through but I sat on.
As he led into the descent the goal of winning an A race was starting to come into focus: find the right gear for the sprint, jump at 200 meters, stay focused, stay low. We rolled into the flat, I found my landmark and jumped to his outside – as I came around him I knew it was over.
This weekend meant a lot to me personally, but the results are truly the team’s. I’d never set foot on a starting line before Rutgers two years ago and pretty much everything I know about bike racing I learned from people on the MIT Cycling Team. The incredible success of our women has been a huge motivator and positive example. Racing, training, being pushed by, and developing with our current crop of strong guys is what made this possible. In particular races last summer with John and Spencer stand out as when we all started to realize we could make good things happen in hard races. This weekend, Spencer’s presence in the break made it possible for me to get there with “fresh legs”. Spencer and Joe’s willingness to provide a leadout in the crit was enormously helpful, selfless, and appreciated.