I’ve had a goal for winning the Masters Race at Cyclocross nationals ever since I finished on the podium in 2010. After finishing third last year, I came into this season focused on winning this year. While the juggling act of 1.5 jobs, two kids, and training has proved difficult this season, thanks to coach Ben Ollett, I was able to get in some top quality training in preparation for the North Carolina Grand Prix and then again in preparation for Nationals. I knew after two solid results at the NCGP that I was in good form, and that if I could keep it together and stay healthy, I could make a run at the top step in Austin.
When I awoke on race morning, it was misting and a balmy 38 degrees. We headed to the course and I picked my lines on a course that was slightly damp but not super muddy. Full of nerves, I headed to the line focused on one thing – getting myself across the finish line before everyone else. My plan was to ride a conservative first lap and gauge what was happening and then attack at the barriers. To my surprise, we were informed they’d shortened the course and removed the barriers, just before we were staged. The whistle blew and I clearly had a lot of adrenaline, as I got the hole-shot and established a small gap. We hit the off camber section, and none of the lines I’d ridden during my pre ride worked, since the course was muddier. I found myself dismounting and running sections I’d had no trouble riding earlier. I panicked momentarily as we headed for the first set of steps. I still had a gap. I pounded up each set of steps as fast as I could. I love to run so I decided to use the steps as a place to attack. I came through the start finish with a gap of about 8 seconds and feeling strong. I rode the second lap with more composure than the first, attacking the straights, finding better lines on the off-camber areas, and sprinting up each set of steps. I came through the finish and saw three to go, still feeling good. I started to wonder if this dream I’ve had was going to become a reality. I headed into the third lap still feeling good, again riding the off camber sections even better than the last lap. As I went past the pit, they yelled that I had a 15 second gap – “No mistakes , keep it together, “ I thought. As I headed into the off-camber hill just before the last descent before the finish, my bike slid out, and I crashed. As fast as I could get up, my gap decreased, and as we headed into 2 to go, the gap was down to 8 seconds. I panicked, got angry, and dropped the hammer. I focused on riding smoothly, on crushing the steps, and staying focused. As we headed into the final lap, I could see I’d increased the gap to around 15 seconds again. I thought, “9 more minutes of suffering and this is yours.” As I headed past the pits for the second time, I could see my gap was bigger, and knew I just had to ride smooth and I’d have the win. I came through the last off-camber section elated, and smiling. All I had to do was make it down the hill, and onto the pavement. Evidentally when I crossed the finish line, I gave the best post-up of the day… I was elated to capture the win, and incredibly excited to have my wife and sons there to be a part of it. The smile on my face sums up the sheer joy I felt as I finished.
As I look back on the race now… I still can’t stop smiling. I feel incredibly honored to be a part of the Philly cycling community, and am so thankful for all of the texts, posts, and calls I’ve gotten… it’s left me blushing! While I’m looking forward to a little time off the bike and some quality time with my family, I’m already looking forward to next season and to setting some big goals for mountain bike season!
Thanks go out to Cyclocross Magazine, a publication worth subscribing to, for the finish line photo – Nikki will be in the next issue.