by Rob Amatelli
As I walked to registration at the 2017 Snelling Road Race, 5 laps of a 12mile course through rolling terrain, rough roads, gusty winds, rabid dogs, and swarming bees, there was a buzz in the air; coming not from the bees, but from the 1000 or so enthusiastic amateur bike racers of varying age, gender, and capability, all excited at the prospect of winning a Northern California Classic, a priceless Velo Promo T-Shirt, and all the prestige that comes with.
After picking up my number at registration and getting back to my mother-in-law's shitty hand-me-down car that I lovingly refer to as 'The Hooptie', I got pinned and kitted up for a spin. All went well except for peeing on myself a little bit during a nature break, but hey, pros pee on themselves too, right?
Fast forward to the start of the race and I plopped myself right up front with my Mike's Bikes teammates, Oli, Cox, Sparkelz, Beardo, BBQ, Apple, and the Magpie. Behind us were 70 other racers from more than nine different teams all with at least five teammates. We had a few laughs at the start line before following the moto referee through town on a quick promenade to the course.
Five minutes on we arrived at our destiny, er destination, which could easily be mistaken through the eyes of 40 something year old men as a Northern European Classic. No longer were we mortal men, we were now gladiators of sport, athletes of superior quality and form, easily mistaken for the heroes of the pave and the hellingen of Flanders on a quest to make their mark and earn their spot in eternity at the top of the results page on the Masters 35+ 1/2/3 list on USA Cycling's website. Yes, this was the stuff of legend.
The racing began immediately with attacks flying off the front of the race as every racer tried to separate from the field. Counter-attacks rang out like machine gun fire. There were screams coming from the captains ordering their troops into battle. "Hold that wheel!" they'd cry. "Left, on the left!" the panic in their voices palpable. Every breakaway attempt seemed to be the one that was going to stick, and those who missed out would have their dreams of triumph struck down and crushed.
Our Mike's Bikes squad was strong and disciplined, making every group attempting to breakaway as well as instigating moves of our own. Unfortunately with bike racing and war, there are casualties, and we lost valuable men that day. One of our strongest lieutenants, Todd Markelz, was struck by shrapnel, a nail piercing his tire and impaling his $2k carbon rim. David Allen, aka Beardo, selflessly sacrificed his race by giving Todd his own wheel in an attempt to get him back in the race. Sadly Todd never made it back but he did soldier on and finish the race, as would be expected by any hard man of sport; you simply don't quit. We also lost Apple and the Magpie to the treachery of the race. We were down to four men against seventy.
As the peloton smashed over the broken roads towards the end of the first lap two rabid, barking dogs appeared form nowhere, threatening to strike, seemingly unafraid of a herd of eighty cycling brutes traveling thirty miles per hour. After the dogs we came to an orchard where swarming bees circled the roads and pelted the cyclists. This. Was. Biblical.
Approaching the bridge towards the end of the 2nd lap, Chris Coble, quite possibly the single strongest man in the entire field, made a forcible move over the short rollers. I was in position to follow along with a few others. The group behind scrambled to get on terms with the pace he was setting. As he eased up and turned around to admire the wreckage he had caused I sensed the opportunity to take an advantage for our team. I kept pushing and leapt away from the group, forcing the other teams to carry our men if they wanted to rejoin the front of the race. I glanced back and saw no one was coming. I pushed on alone. The mission was to stay out front for as long as possible to give our men more rest and the best chance of winning.
With more than 2 laps and 55k of racing left, I knew the group was going to eventually bring me back and that the energy I was using to stay away would ruin my own chances of winning, but this is a team sport and to ride as a team you must be willing to sacrifice yourself for the success of the team.
Before long I finished another lap. One to go.
I dared not believe for a moment I would make it. Through the headwinds I approached the feed zone and saw Beardo cheering me on. Belief started creeping in. Just then, as I crested the roller and began the charge into the crosswinds, near disaster struck as a bee somehow flew inside my protective eyewear and lodged itself between the lens and my eyeball. I panicked and ripped off the shades. The pivlock arm released and my eye shield tumbled to the ground. Disgusted, I spiked the remaining pivlock arm in my hand to the ground and swiped away the bee that had stung my eyelid twice and nearly ended my race. Stung and without eye protection, I had 20 minutes of racing left. I had to make them count.
I told myself if I made it to the bridge and over the little bump and could still not see the field, then I would allow myself to believe. After riding through the orchard and the swarming bees, this time with no protective eyewear, I make it to the bridge. I make it over the rollers and through the penultimate turn onto the gnarled pavement of Figmond. The wind is blowing cross-tail. This is good for me. I am catching the field in front of me. Two miles to go I look over my shoulder and see a little black dot. One mile to go I peek over my shoulder again. The black dot is bigger. Coble. He is coming. I do the math and know I have to ride it to the end. I make the last turn and see the finish. The race is mine. I finish anonymously with the stragglers from the field in front of me, my victory salute pointing to head and heart unseen and un-captured by film to show my grandchildren as I spin my tales of lore and legend from when I was not young but not old.
No one strikes out alone with nearly 60k to go and makes it on their own strength. Behind me our diligent and disciplined men, Oli, Cox, and BBQ, thwarted all attempts from the other teams trying to bridge. None of us were the strongest in the field, but together our collective strength as a team was enough to win the day.
Chapeau Team Mike's Bikes.