With less than three weeks from the 2012 Boulder Roubaix, in which I will participate yet again, I can't but reflect back on what was one of my greatest days on a race bike. Unlike this past weekend, where Josh F, Thomas N, Rob B, and I all raced together --AS A TRUE TEAM -- the 30+ 1,2,3 Bariani road race in the central valley of California, my efforts at last year's Boulder Roubaix were the efforts of one man on his bike. There is something extremely gratifying in racing by yourself. Yet, this past weekend, I got a chance to experience what true teamwork can yield in competition and how in so many ways it is ever more gratifying.
At only 60 miles, the Bariani road race is similar to the Boulder Roubaix course in Colorado, save the extensive sections of dirt of course. The course is relatively flat, quite windy with a few small hills to keep you on your toes. The California course does share some actual similarities with the one in Colorado, however: the roads are terrible, littered with holes, gravel, large areas of water and at time very narrow. As it turned out, the road conditions, the lack of a open road finish, and some stiff winds in the last few laps, became a big factor on the finishing lap.
Over the course of the race, Josh was the protected rider. He has already proven this season that his sprint is strong and decisive with a 3rd place finish a few weeks back. Rob and Thomas are riding really, really strong and so there position was to chase down breaks, position the SV team toward the front of the race throughout, and most importantly ensure a spring finish. And did they ever. Lap after lap, all three of us worked hard to ensure no team could get riders off the front for too long. I personally had to chase down a potentially winning break with the help of some really strong Marc Pro Strava riders and a few others. The 4th or 5th lap effort was so severe we actually split the field and at that point lost one of our own.
Once the break was caught, the focus was once again on moving Josh up toward the front of the reduced but still 50+ strong peleton. Remember, the race started with over 90 or so racers; a much too large of a field for a narrow course and a yellow-line maintained race. On the final lap, the named teams were perfectly positioned while Rob and I moved Josh slowly and painfully towards the front of the group. On the final climb heading toward the finish, things started to get ugly. Some riders were illegally moving up the outside of the peloton toward the front of the group, while others where simply being pushed across the yellow line as riders bumped shoulders and vied for position. Rob was one of the guy who got a bit caught out on the left side, while I was fighting to move Josh up the right side. Suddenly I can hear the agony of two guys locking there bars, causing one of the two riders to hit the deck.
While the plan moments before was to create chaos by sending Rob, who is climbing like a billy goat right now, off the front or to the front to elevate the pace in advance of the final turns to the finish, the bee hive caused by so many racers and such a narrow road caused more damage then we new. As we peaked the top of the small climb heading straight into the wind, things started to open up. Rob and I both began to push it as hard as we could. By the time we reached the final left turn before the finish line, the peloton was truly blowing apart with the top guys in the field seating up a fast finishing sprint. As I begin to yell Josh, Josh, I feel a small push on my left side. Yes! He is on my wheel, and I am 3rd wheel from the front rider. Perfect. Now it's time to dig in and push as hard as I can. As I begin my final burst, which honestly was not much at this point, I begin to feel the top guys start winding up their sprint to the finish. I am now gassed. I try to pull off to the right and look up for Josh. At this point, I am so sure he is going to be in the leading position or two to win or podium in our first team race together.
As I watched each rider go by, I realized Josh is not on my wheel or coming by. As several riders buzz by, I decide to start sprinting. I honestly didn't know what else to do. And I had nothing left. I tried so hard to jump on a wheel but as you can see in the video, I literally had nothing left. I was lucky enough to hold onto to 10th place.
Turns out, the rider who crashed on the final hill/bump coming into the final part of the course, fell into Josh's rear wheel. He managed to push the rear brake caliper into the wheel and effectively 'put on the brakes.' Josh's race was over. Both Rob and I had no idea, but in the end were very pleased Josh was okay and he finished the race unscathed.
All in all, this first team race for me was a truly rewarding race experience. Unlike the Boulder Roubaix, which for me was and will be yet again a solo effort of man versus man on the road, this past weekend's Bariani race taught me so much more about true bike racing. I am honored and excited to be racing with Rob, Thomas and Josh this season. While we don't have the largest or organized team out there, we do have heart and the legs to race and the passion to win.