Nationals is always the peak of the season. Having raced in Augusta last year I knew the road race was a good course for me. It has nonstop rolling hills and the heat makes it a race of attrition. This year would be my first as a U23, so I put no pressure on myself. The field is filled with professionals and 22 year olds who have years of experience on me. I was there to learn and hopefully help Tyler get a result. The race started and it was nervous from the beginning. People were doing hopeless attacks while the big teams just sat in, watched and shared a laugh. I made my way to the front and just stayed there to be safe. After two laps the attacks started rotating from the bigger teams. I saw how riders were getting tired and immediately new that this race would result in a breakaway. Attacks from teams like Livestrong, BMC, Garmin and Cal Giant were extremely dangerous because they would be happy with any of their riders making the break.
After some more attacks from the bigger teams, I made a selection that lasted for about 5 miles and once it was caught I knew the winning move would go. People were getting too tired and the weather was only getting warmer. As we entered the feedzone Lawson Craddock of Bontranger Livestrong attacked to bridge to a solo Garmin rider. Another Garmin rider was on his wheel and I followed. I knew this was the start of the break that would stick. It was Lawson, two Garmin riders and me. I was gassed from all the work I had been doing, but I knew if I didn’t work they would start attacking me. I rotated through until three BMC riders, two Cal Giants, a Juwi and a Hagens Berman rider joined.
The first lap in the break was nearly unbearable but it eventually slowed down a bit. I rotated through just enough to keep people happy but took advantage of any opportunity I could skip a pull. Team cars kept driving up to their riders to dump water on them, give them ice, feeds and also adjust well timed mechanicals. It felt very much like a pro race.
It became evident who the teams were working for because Livestrong, Garmin and BMC each had one guy who just sat on. Once this happened I knew things were about to get crazy so I sat on too. With two to go Lawson attacked. Everyone followed. BMC countered and everyone followed again. Lawson attacked again and I started cramping. The break started to ride away from me but I wasn’t going to give up yet, I rode as hard as I could and took advantage of the down hills to make up time. Eventually I caught back on and survived another attack. However, once Lawson attacked again I had nothing left to respond. I waited for the Juwi rider who had just been dropped and we set a very easy tempo together assuming we would get caught. Eventually Evan Huffman bridged with 2 riders in tow but I was eventually dropped from that. I was suffering, could barely pedal from the cramps and just tired to survive. However, I was surprised I wasn’t caught yet so I just kept riding at what my body allowed and eventually was caught by four more riders, three miles from the finish. I could tell they were fresh and I worked with them just so I wouldn’t get caught by the field. At the base of the climb one rider attacked, and I just set my own tempo. I was gaining on them, but looked back to see the field closing in behind. I started my sprint really early to ensure we didn’t get caught and was passed at the line but still finished 18th and was the 2nd nineteen year old.
I was happy with my result against such big teams. One week before the race I was sitting in a lecture hall taking final exams. In no way did I have a clean run into nationals but with the help of the team I was still able to make the most out of my week in Augusta. I definitely need to figure out why I have been cramping this season but either way I am amazed at the progress I have made in twelve short months. I am especially grateful to all our sponsors and everyone who makes this team possible. With another half of the season ahead and three more seasons as a U23, I am very excited for what lies up the road.