This past weekend, I returned to where it all began. The Ronald Reagan Criterium in sunny Dixon, IL, the childhood home of the last great Republican president.
Last year as a somewhat fatter Cat 5, I raced twice and got dropped twice. This year I came in with a season of racing under my belt, waning fitness, and a recent upgrade. My fitness has gone into the dumps recently with my work schedule being what it is. Sometimes life gets in the way of bike racing, and you have to pay the price. I signed up for the 3/4's race and 4/5's race. I went into the day with low expectations and was just there to enjoy some cham-time and turn the pedals in anger for one last time before things get cold. Zens and I met up around 11 and headed out to Dixon, making one last fateful stop at the Dekalb Oasis for some Panda Express (excessive foreshadowing).
We arrived in time to watch the 5's race. It was a nice feeling getting to watch someone race before my race...haven't had that experience in a while. I got in a good warmup and felt great heading into the 3/4's race. I expected to be nervous, but was really not. I figured things might be faster than normal but I had also heard that 3's brake less in the turns which is helpful for me. Both of these things were true. The race was fairly small, less than 30 starters I think. I was hanging in just fine, sitting midpack, for the first 10 minutes of the race. I was surprised at how good my legs, lungs and head felt, especially with the small hill that was added to the course this year. At around 11 minutes in, coming through the start finish, I knew something was wrong. My legs felt dead and my stomach felt alive. Lets just leave it at: the Panda won my 3/4's race. I was sad to DNF less than half way through the race, but seeing as I had a race more fitting to my ability later in the day, it was not too tough of a decision. I got to watch my teammate Brandon grab an impressive 3rd place. It's awesome to see such a hardworking guy finally get results in a big way.
We had to wait until 5:30 four the 4/5's race. By that time I was feeling a bit lethargic and bored. But I was somewhat motivated by the fact that most of the people I would be racing with already had a full race in their legs while I had just a warmup. I staged well in the second row and the race went off on time. The race started off fairly slow but was quite smooth for a 4/5's race. The wind was blowing hard in our faces on the backstretch up the hill, so it was difficult to find a place to move up. My race was pretty uneventful. I sat in the top 20 the whole race and tried to stay out of the wind. Coming into the 3 laps to go, I narrowly avoided a crash right at the start/finish line that only took out a couple of riders. I ended up sitting next to my teammates Zens and Dan. Zens said that it was time and set the team strategy in motion (which I was not a part of). Zens and Dan started moving up the outside on the hill to try and meetup with Brandon and eventually lead him out. I was feeling quite good at that point and jumped on Dan's wheel. Dan got pushed out slightly and narrowly avoid a cone which I actually ran over the base of. Happy to not have crashed, I had lost Dan's wheel and a lot of speed. Zens and Dan had successfully made it to the front and Zens laid it down with 2 to go and eventually brought the pack up to the break. Coming into the final two turns I came up the outside, past a shelled Zens, and was gaining position, but there was not enough room in the turn. I scrubbed speed to avoid a "front-yard" ending to my race. As I looked into the next corner I saw two Spidermonkey jersey's flying through the turn in perfect position. It was truly a thing of beauty. Our team tactics had worked...or something close to it! Brandon sprinted for a 3rd and Dan came in right behind him in 4th. I subscribe to the school of thought that sprinting at the back of the pack is pointless and dangerous. So I took an easy roll into the line extremely happy with how I had raced.
What a fantastic day for the Spidermonkeys and a great way to end my season. I am excited to take a break and then get back into training mode for a full season of 4's racing next year.
I will post some reflections on my first season later this week or next so check back for those.