Sunday, September 13, 2009

Chappell Hill Classic

I raced to 2nd at the Chappell Hill Classic today. The category IV race was 62 miles. We left from the old-timey village of Chappell Hill which, to its credit, indeed has a bank, and made three large loops in the country. The course was moderately hilly. But only hilly, no real sustained climbs. It was enough, though. Whenever we'd pour it on for the hills, the pack would line up single file--there were plenty in the pack that would have preferred a pedestrian pace all afternoon to then try their luck in the bunch sprint. It wasn't going to happen.

At 40 miles in, from the back of the pack, I saw a two-man breakaway up the road. I didn't recognize either jersey and I wondered if they were worth joining. The problem with joining a breakaway is that you just as often end up bridging the entire pack, who've hitched a free ride on your wheel, up to the escapees. Fortunately, I spied the two jailbirds as we were approaching one of the longer hillocks. I didn't even get out of the saddle--I just motored along the shoulder and proceeded past the pack. They simply let me go. As the terrain leveled I had a little work to do catching the duo, but once I did, they understood we had an hour time trial ahead of us.

We three dropped our heads and settled into a smooth rotation. Breakaways often fail in novice racing because the escapees don't actually know how to work as hard as is needed to stay away, or they get selfish and ask the others in the break to work harder than they. But, our inexperience can also be a benefit to breakaways, because the chasing pack can often be just as selfish. So, if the escapees have strength and the chasers fail to work together, a breakaway can stick to the finish. As it did today.

One of the best feelings ever was passing through the feed zone, having passed twice earlier with the entire group, with just the three of us. It was silent and everyone was staring at us. The moto-referee would periodically ride up alongside our break and update us on our time gap. As we heard it lengthening from 1:00 to 1:20, we were motivated and poured it on. As our time in the wind wore on, though, and my guts started unravelling, he reported :45. 45 seconds is a respectable gap but not when it's closing fast. My legs still had strength, but I was losing steam up top. I drank too much water and started to feel unsettled.

With 4 miles to go I was desperate and imagined every hilltop to be the uphill finish. We had lost one of our trio at about 7 miles out and with 2 to go I was starting to fade. With a mile left, I was dropped too. I was so wrecked it felt like I was soft-pedaling but I was still making about 20 mph. I saw the pack behind me just like at Fredericksburg--40 pairs of fresh legs elated to see a failing breakaway. It meant 2nd place was back on the table. And then I saw my landmarks for the finish line: the old tractors, the street signs, the road veering right up and into the woods. I got out of the saddle and leaned over the bars. As a joke, I threw my bike at the finish and crossed with no one else in the photo.

Jason from Tyler, my tow truck, took first place. From halfway up the hill I saw him throw his fist in the air. I'm grateful to him for the draft and the train engine tow he gave me those last four miles. I finished in the money and in the points. Now I know what it takes to make a breakaway stick--going deep into the hurt locker, deep like Screech's locker in Saved by the Bell. I've never hurt so bad in a race. It was like every part of my body was walking barefoot in a hot parking lot, like I'm a giant finger that just got caught in the car door, like every eyeball of my being has been staring at the sun too long, like every muscle just drank too-hot hot chocolate.