The Top Step

After several recent second places finishes, I finally got to stand on the top step of the podium at this past weekend’s Nebraska Omnium Weekend’s cat 3 criterium in Ashland, Nebraska.

The race featured eight corners and an uphill finish. Pre-riding the course, I found that turns six and seven were very tight, requiring some technical skills to carry speed through them. I made a mental note of that, and decided that the race would likely be decided early-on by a breakaway as a result of these back-to-back turns.

I got the hole shot at the whistle, and led the peloton through corners one and two. The attacks started shortly after. I patrolled up front until three got a few seconds gap on the field. I jumped and got across. Two others joined me. Our group of six was too big to maintain any efficiency, and the fresh legs of the peloton wasted no time to bring us back together. On the next lap, I got away with John Heinlein III (Loon State). We rotated through smoothly, but after 3 laps, our lead was only held by seven seconds. Meanwhile, sixteen year old Joshua Rinderknecht (Rasmussen) was attempting to bridge up to us, but was stuck in no man’s land for a lap until he was joined by Austin Stephens (Univ Colorado). With two chasers,  Heinlein and I sat up and welcomed their assistance to our group. There were ten laps remaining.

Rinderknecht was mostly gassed from his solo effort to come across earlier in the race, and quickly conceded that he wouldn’t fight us for the podium. The kid had heart though, and contributed with a few pulls of his own.

With Rindernecht out of the mix, that meant that I would have my hands full with the other two, Heinlein and Stephens, and both were legitimate contenders.

Railing corner 7 with Stephens, Heinlein & Rinderknecht on my wheel (credit: John Petersen)

It came to the bell lap. Heinlein pulled us up the penultimate hill and through the start/finish as the bell rung. I was on his wheel, followed by Stephens, and Rinderknecht. After rounding turn #1, Heinlein made a tactical mistake when he reached for his water bottle. At that moment, I recalled reading Steve Tilford’s blog a while back about how many times he’s attacked when someone reached for a water bottle. Had I not read that post, it’s hard to say whether I would have acted at that moment. Regardless, I punched it with nearly everything I had as soon as Heinlein’s water bottle left its cage. Stephens was quick to respond, and we ripped through two corners, clearly separating ourselves from Heinlein. When I eased up a bit, Stephens came through with a blistering counter of his own. Now I was in the red, and was forced to chase him down through corner five, and down two blocks and a tail cross-wind. He had a few seconds on me, but I managed to close it down just enough to make up the difference in technical corner six. Stephens then attacked again coming out of corner seven, which was a good idea because that turn usually resulted in some separation anyway. But the problem was that it also required maintaining a strong effort over two blocks of a false-flat with cross-head wind to contend with before climbing the final hill. Having won the time trial by eighteen seconds earlier that morning, Stephens still made it interesting. I knew that it was imperative that I got on his wheel as quickly as possible, so I put in an effort out of corner seven, and slipped in behind to recover a bit before the finish. Rounding corner eight, Stephens then charged up the hill, but his effort came up 50m short. With his power faltering, I jumped around him and soloed across the line for the victory.

After several recent second place finishes, this one felt great.

Personally, winning is not as much beating the competition, as much as it is getting it “right” for myself. It’s simply a terrific feeling when everything comes together in one race. I wish everyone who has ever cared as much about something as seemingly trivial as amateur cycling could experience this feeling. For after the initial investment in equipment, the team kits, after all the hours spent toiling away on the rivet, studying and discussing racing tactics ad nauseam, and pinning on oh so many numbers that your jersey is in tatters.. it’s just nice to have that single moment when it all comes together. At least once. It’s exhilarating.

The moment it all came together (credit: John Petersen)

Thanks to the support of my spouse Katherine, my teammates, and to Harvest Racing and the Trek Bicycles Stores, who have put me on equipment, gear, and nutrition from our other sponsors Bontrager, SRAM, Capo and Skratch labs, to help make this moment possible.