I learned how to race during the 2005 season. It was my third season racing and I had changed categories each year. In ’05, I was racing 35+B. The previous year in the Cs, I’d had a couple of decent results — top tens — but I didn’t know what to expect in the 35+Bs. My first race at Hillsboro, I lined up in the back and figured I’d try to pass as many guys as possible. I passed a few and ended up in the middle of the pack.
In prior years, I’d gone out and ridden hard but with little purpose. I had learned the names of few of the riders around me. I tried to beat the same faces each week. But it wasn’t until ’05 that I started to pay attention to the race around me.
I learned the names of my competitors and recognized their faces, bikes, and kits. I started understanding their strengths and weaknesses. I analyzed my own abilities. During races, I watched how people were riding each section of the course and related that to how it would affect me. Could I attack them there? Would I need to get in front so they couldn’t take full advantage of their strengths?
That awareness was the first step on my way to racing.
It turned out that ’05 was the first year I realized I could win. Late in the season, there was a course that many racers cursed. It was a decommissioned gravel pit and it played havoc on tires. Often the weather was abysmal. The week prior to Barton, I told a teammate that my strategy was to get to the front and stay there.
It sounds like bravado, coming from someone who hadn’t yet finished in the top five. But Barton appealed to me. I found it sublime. The fact that others hated the course only increased my advantage. I lined up with the intention to win the race — the first time I had ever done so.
Here is a snippet of the race:
I’d been out front for a long time, maybe 30 minutes, but Grant was bridging. We had taken the bell but the laps were running ten minutes. We have a lot of racing to go. We are coming up to a long flat stretch into a fresh breeze. I let Grant come around just after the cement barrier. He looks at me as he comes around, perhaps wondering why I slowed. I get on his wheel and ride it until we dip into the mud covered rock garden.
Grant gaps me through the bog. I’d been riding it poorly all race but I’m not worried. I know there will be a moment to attack him. I get back on heading up a rise. Grant knows I’m there and I want him to feel me. I’m right up on him, pressuring him in every corner.
Bam. He’s down and I jump. This is it. Another curve and I drop down the loose chute and safely take the turn on sand, gravelly pavement. I stomp on my pedals and sway back and forth out of the saddle through the woods. As I skip onto the cement pad through the car port, I feel my rear tire is soft. Through the next rise I know that it’s soft but not losing air fast, if at all.
On the other side of the ditch, I see two juniors just coming out. They are both running the distance to the dike, side by side. This is a difficult decision. Each previous lap, I’d remounted after the ditch and ridden to the dike for the run up. I want to preserve my rear tire and decide to run it.
I’m off the bike, through the ditch and on the juniors quickly. I pause, and catch my breath. The three of us block the path and Grant comes up but doesn’t try to get around. At the dike, Grant and I scramble up in front of the juniors and remount simultaneously. As I sprint out of the saddle, my rear rim thumps on the ground at each stroke. I’m jarred and bounced and defeated.
Grant moves smoothly in front. I desperately try to stay with him. In the bog before the final run up, he’s already five seconds up. Eppick passes me. I have nothing going up the hill. They cross the line in front.