We awoke to sun shining, birds chirping, and cows mooing on Sunday morning at our host family’s ranch. We were all tired from a hard day at Snelling on Saturday, but after a delicious farm breakfast and leisurely team ride, we were all excited to race bikes again.
The plan going into the race was to ride aggressively, since we had the numbers, and to win from a break. We had picked potential break-mates for a few of us and had our strategy down pat, but we also made secondary plans for a bunch sprint if that’s how things were heading with a few laps left.
I was still spinning on the rollers, with the team sitting around Roman as we reviewed the plan, when we looked over and saw the field lined up and the marshal giving directions. In what seemed like 90 seconds flat, we were all at the line and waiting for the whistle. The race went ballistic from the gun, with hard-charging attacks by TMB, Marc Pro, Clif Bar, and others. Roman rode very aggressively for us at the start, and Reese, Brandon, Walton, and Travis also took turns covering moves and initiating a few counters of their own.
I’ve got to say it’s been amazing riding for a team like Mike’s Bikes, with such a great group of guys that you can trust both on and off the bike. Being able to sit in for the first part of a race and watch as countless attacks go up the road, knowing that you’ll always have a teammate in the move and another ready to cover anyone trying to bridge, is such a good feeling. So sit in I did – for about 15 min – until I started following a few moves myself.
About halfway through the race, I decided late to go for a prime, pulled past a Clif Bar rider, and then got smoked by Dave from Sierra Nevada. He sat up for a second, but we decided to press on and try to make a move stick. Justin Rossi (Marc Pro) quickly came across and we worked for a few laps to establish a gap. It disappeared as fast as it came, with riders from smaller teams in the field not wanting us to stay away. That was fine by me, as at that point my legs felt pretty gassed and I was hovering at 320W average.. I sat in for a while, following only the most dangerous moves and generally focusing on recovery while my teammates did a stellar job covering everything.
Next thing I knew, I looked up and saw 07 on the lap counter. “I guess I better get my ass in gear” I thought, so I got up in the top 10 wheels and stayed aggressive. With 5.5 to go, Brandon had just been brought back and I saw Rossi countering into the alleyway. I was about 20’ from his wheel, but knew I had to go for it and spent ¼ lap just trying to get across to him. Once I did, I looked back and was stoked – Tyler Brandt was chasing and the field was way behind. Neither of us wanted company, so we smashed out a couple 400+W laps and got 20+s on the field. We exchanged pulls every half lap, with Rossi taking the finish straight into turn 2, and me taking it down the back and around the courthouse.
With 2 to go, it was pretty clear we could stay away but we had to take a few hard pulls to make sure the gap stayed steady. Out of turn 1 on the final lap, I attacked, if only to keep the pace up, and hammered through turn 2 on the gas. Rossi caught me halfway down the back straight and I was stuck on the front going into the alleyway. The field was still charging hard so we couldn’t play too much cat and mouse. However, out of the final chicane into the long finishing straight, I saw an opportunity as we sat about 8 feet apart, side-by-side. I jumped at 300-400m and never looked back. Rossi chased hard and started to come around, but I got him by half a bike length for the W! It was a great boost of confidence getting my first crit win on my first weekend of racing this season – nice to find that the winter training has paid off (and that work travel hasn’t had too much of a negative impact).
Huge thanks to the team for riding so well all weekend and keeping it fun all weekend! Pretty cool to know that 3 or 4 of us could win on a given day.