“I think I’m calling road season quits”. I sent this message to several of my friends after some disappointing results at the Driveway. My head just didn’t seem like it was in the right place. Oh, you want my wheel? Here, take it. Oh, you want to push into my line through this turn? Alright, just don’t bump into me. Somehow, I had lost the aggressive race mentality that I had had earlier in the season. The season, by the way, has been incredibly long and full of difficulties for me. From a strong start, to breaking bones, to broken bike parts, I haven’t felt consistent all year. Because of all of this, I considered not even racing Tour of Austin, and simply starting base miles and mountain racing.
Somehow or another, I ended up registering myself for the weekend long event, and I sure am glad that I did.
Day 1: The Driveway
The Driveway played out as it typically does. The 4/5 field felt somewhat aggressive and scatterbrained, seemingly unable to decide what kind of race it wanted to be. We were on the full course running clockwise down the corkscrew—my second favorite course. Those of us in the front of the pack would gain some ground in the chicane and more technical sections, but slow as we hit the straights. Within seconds, every single lap, we would be swarmed by the pack once again.
With about four laps to go, a break began to form at the front. Having noted Matt being on the front for a good bit of time, I assumed that he had made it up there. Wanting to give him a chance, and wanting to make everyone else work, I didn’t chase. Neither did anyone else. What’s more, Matt actually wasn’t in the break, and it continued to drift ahead.
When it became increasingly apparent that the break was going to stick, Paul Abel from UT and I frantically jumped to the front in an attempt to bridge. A decent number of guys from the pack had managed to tack onto our surge, but none of them seemed willing or able to pull through. For two laps or so, Paul and I traded pulls and very nearly made it up to the break. Unfortunately, I blew up at the start of the final lap, unable to push any further. I let up on the power, drifted to the side of the road, and eventually found a nice spot in about 30th place where I’d be able to roll into the finish happy to have not been dropped after my silly tactics.
Rounding the last right hand turn before the chicane, my eyes fell upon chaos. All over the left side of the road, people were skidding, flipping, or bailing out into the grass. Someone had crossed wheels on the left side, effectively creating a roadblock. Luckily, I was on the inside line and was able to sneak past. Thanks to someone’s mistake, I was able to roll across the finish line in 10th place, happy to be unharmed.
Day 2: Belterra
I had been told repeatedly that the secret to Belterra was staying near the front and making sure that the pace stayed high on the climbs. With any luck, this strategy would shatter the field in a lap or two. My climbing fitness is of moderate caliber, so I knew that I’d be able to hang on to top 10 through the tough parts. But how would I ensure that the pace would stay high? Enter Matt DeMartino.
The long climb on the first lap was pretty tame, the only aggressive moves stemming from fighting for a draft. Down the descent, through the sharp turns, and up to the start of the second lap, the pack stayed together. Then, out of nowhere in the second or third lap, Mr. DeMartino decided to come out to play on the long climb. He absolutely drilled it on the front, trading attacks with some other frisky riders. When we made the U-turn at the top of the long climb, I was astonished. The pack had shattered, leaving a group of 15 of us in the front. For the rest of the race, Matt and a few guys at the front would trade attacks, further lengthening our lead on a disorganized chase group.
When it was all said and done, I got a bit sketched out in the final right hand turn at the bottom of the descent, so I wasn’t as aggressive as I should have been while positioning for the final sprint. Despite this, I ended up with a 9th place finish, with my awesome teammate finishing right behind me in 10th. Later that evening, I found out that I was sitting 5th overall—much higher than I ever thought I would be.
Day 3: Stigma
I lined up for this race full of apprehension. This course, while different from last year’s, has a terrifying history of crashes, broken bikes, and hospital visits. Matt had come down with West Nile Virus and would be unable to race that day, and I had recently discovered that the two “one-day license” racers currently on the podium were alleged Cat 2 racers in Mexico. Needless to say, I was nervous.
My plan was pretty much identical to Belterra: stay near the front, follow any moves that the leaders make, and don’t crash. I started on the front line, but quickly lost position in the first few laps, most likely due to nerves. During a pass on the finishing straight, I heard friends on the side of the road reminding me to move up. So, I sprinted close to the front and forced myself into a small slot as the road started to narrow—a strangely aggressive move for how timid I usually am.
Not 30 seconds after I moved up, a crash happened right behind me. As soon as the leaders heard it, the hammer dropped hard. After about 30 seconds of holding onto the move for dear life, I turned around and realized that the entire field was gone, leaving a group of about 16 of us to contend the finish.
The pace never seemed to drop, and my legs seemed to finally feel the last two days of racing. On climbs, I’m generally able to push myself pretty hard to stay on a wheel. On the flats, I tend to have a lot more trouble putting out as much power as the heavy hitters. So, I spent the rest of the race hiding in the draft of the leaders. Once I got guttered in the last lap, it was game over. I only ended up in 14th place, but I was happy with my ability to hang with the front group as I had the day before on a completely different course.
After a whole weekend of racing, I finished 8th overall. While I wish I had performed better on Day 3, I am proud of my results and extremely happy that I chose to race. Thanks to everyone who encouraged me to race, and especially thanks to Matt for burying himself for me during Day 2.