You roll up to the start of the Philly Cycling Classic (the premiere one-day race in the United States) with Freddie Rodriguez. Freddie, a three-time US National Champion, has just signed with Exergy. The whole race is televised and there are 300,000 fans lining the course. You are about to have the best ride of your life. And in about four hours you are going to realize for the first time what’s it’s like to be a pro, as well as what it’s really like to be part of a professional racing team and organization. And it’s in part because you do the wrong thing, because for the last time of your professional racing career you race like an amateur.
The race starts. You feel good but you have never done a race this long, 250 kilometers. After the first 23 kilometer lap, a break forms, following the move you roll up with it and look back, the peloton lets you and five others go — “The plan was to get in the break for whatever comes later; however the race plays out having someone up the road is best.” Tad Hamilton, your DS, pulls-up next to you in the team car, he says take it easy, he says save yourself, he says don’t go for the KOM points.
It’s a fast course except for the two KOM climbs; Lemon Hill and the 17% Manayunk Wall.
The split is up to 7.5 minutes and you feel strong. A few laps in and still in the breakaway you go for a KOM, it’s easy and after the sprint you easily make it back into the breakaway. Tad pulls up again, you tell him you feel good, you tell him you think you should keep going for it, for the KOMs. You do and you win the next 9 out of 10 sprints. Every time you jump you know you’ve got the legs, you know you can win. The one sprint you don’t win has more to do with skipping a wheel than a lack of power. You are absolutely present. You think about nothing but the rotation and your position in the rotation and the next KOM.
You exist from one sprint to the next.
Manayunk Wall starts with a chicane, there are corners and bricks, it goes from of couple of hundred meters at 8% before kicking up to a couple hundred meters at 17% until it levels off and you sprint.
Lemon Hill starts with a left-hand corner, you need to be first wheel because it sweeps quickly uphill and to the right for the sprint.
You are a single point out of the KOM lead. The split is up to 10 minutes until with two laps to go it begins to lessen. 9 minutes. 8 minutes. You realize now the break is moving considerably slower than the peloton. Your sprints still come easy (and successfully) but rotating and pulling through begins to hurt. A KOM win begins to feel tight, maybe even unrealistic.
You get word that Andres, Paco Mancebo and Frank Pipp, in a chase group, are only a few minutes behind. They bridge so fast and so hard they drop Pipp, and you, and the rest of the breakaway on the way up Manayunk. Seconds later you are absorbed and swallowed and relegated to the peloton now averaging 60KPH — “Had I conserved, I might have been able to match pulls in the break with Mancebo and Andres, I might have been able to stay with them and ride for Andres.”
Mancebo and Andres get caught with 3 km to go. Alex Rasmussen wins. Carlos Alzate gets 10th in the sprint. Freddie, his first race back, finishes 12th.
You have just had the best legs of your life and your best day on a bike, but it’s not your best race, not even close.
“Ultimately, you learn to trust your director.”