PA State Championship "Australian Express" 06/17/17 by Chris Baccash

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The first race of the day was on the Schuylkill Expressway, 11 AM, sitting in traffic, attempting to pick the faster lane. Everything besides the traffic went as planned before the race. Number pinned, sugary foods eaten, all warmed up and ready to go.

 

I hadn't raced this course before so I discovered during my pre-race laps that the course was challenging, six corners on a one mile lap, to be done 35 times. Quick math: I only needed to turn my bike 210 times before the finish and not fall over. Two of the turns were greater than 90 degrees, and featured all of the hazards of suburban America-- pot holes, grates, elevated curbs, and off-camber-turn-exits into the aforementioned elevated curbs. Despite the technical details, the course was pretty. It was in the heart of a wooded, old, beautiful neighborhood, and a good portion of the neighbors were out watching the race, grilling and doing other summer time things.

 

Kids Race Right before our race there was a kid's race (4 to 8 year olds), mostly done on tricycles or push bikes. The kid's race one lap, mostly motivated to out-pedal their over-protective parents nervously chasing them around the course.

 

Kids love to ride bikes, but somewhere along the line that allure and thrill of riding a bike fades. I'm on a bit of a mission to help kids have more fun on the bike, and then maybe they'll keep riding their bikes. So on Saturday I lined up with the kids for their race, joked around with them and fake-raced them down the first stretch of the course-Hopefully I helped make the day a little more fun for them, but I was probably having more fun than them.  

 

Race time. I staged well, only one row back from the line (the race before the race happens to get a good staging spot. In a technical, fast-from-the-gun race, it can make a big difference).

The gun went, and we rolled. I raced the first third of the race aggressively, trying to keep myself at the front, out of the accordion ebbs and flows found in the back of the peloton. After 20 minutes of surfing the front, I moved back 10 or so spots to take-on some more sugary foods and rest in the pack. A break of 5 or 7 riders established off the front at this point. I saw it moving up the road, and the field completely strung-out single file trying to bring it back. Then after some unsuccessful chasing the field swarmed, indicating apathy and fatigue on the front of the main group, and the break got the gap it needed to stick.

 

Mid way through the race, the break was established, and the field is being controlled by their teams. Any attacks or attempts to bridge up to the break are shut down by the teammates of those in the break. Two riders crashed in turn four, and caused a field split. Those in the rear split attack hard around the crash to come back into contact with the front split, and we are all back together again. Otherwise uneventful.

 

The Last seven laps were a race of their own. Racers and teams not represented in the break (like me) want that break to come back, and the pace increases drastically. At some point around seven laps to-go; the break came back or fell apart. I don't know how, and I didn't realize this during the race. Key detail.

 

I am sitting about 10 back in the pack with five laps to go, right behind Steve Hall, Steve is a well-known pro in the area. He comes to the States in the Summer to race, all the way from Australia.

 

Emphasis on he comes to race. Fred Billet, a teammate and mentor of mine famously says, " A lot of guys show up and pin on a number, but never race." Steve isn't one of them, this guy races.

 

Out of turn three, the front of the field slowed (momentarily, like less than two seconds)-and this slight hesitation of the field was enough to change the game.

 

Sequence of events leading to the finish:

 

Right before this lull, I took turn three right on Steve's wheel and we had some extra speed relative to the field.

 

Steve picks up on the hesitation in-between turn three and four right away, and launches an attack.

 

I respond with no hesitation, and likely go cross-eyed trying to keep up with his attack. I don't remember making the decision to go with him, I just found myself chasing him.

 

Steve led a full speed blitz for half a lap into the straightaway and then flicked his elbow, signaling he wanted me to take a pull.

 

(An elbow flick is the international sign for "Hey, take a turn at the front so I can recover in your draft, please." But the intensity and paired body language of the elbow flick can imply other things, like: if you don't take a pull right now, I'm going to be angry and make every effort to ride away from you and ruin your day the next chance I get." So reading the flick the right way is important) 

 

Four to go.

 

I take a pull through the start/finish area and lead into turn one. The announcer refers to us as the lead group over the PA, and it hits me that there is not another break up the road... Steve and I are the break.

 

Enter nerves.

 

We trade one more pull each before I realize that I can't last another pull at these speeds. So I told him (likely screaming) "You can have the win, just let me sit on"

 

He nods.

 

Steve is a Pro, he rides his bike for a living, he had the fitness to motor around for another three laps. I knew this, and decided that riding this train to the finish line was better than all other alternatives. Lots of deals are made in breakaways, it's a 30 mph boardroom sometimes.

 

I look back at the end of the straight away, and the field isn't in sight. We've opened up a 20 second gap likely due to his teammates and mine destroying every attempt to bring us back.

 

 

 

Last 3 laps.  

 

I forced myself to chunk out the remainder of the race, turn by turn, to stay focused and keep the nerves at bay-one of the many mind games I play with myself when training or racing.

 

With two turns to go on the last lap, I pull around Steve to lead him out for the sprint. He had pulled for three straight laps at this point, while I "rested" and the pace had dropped ever-so-slightly.  (We averaged 27 mph in our break).

 

He takes the win, and I roll in for second, in disbelief of what just happened, and not realizing that I've won the State Championship.

 

I rolled one lap around, still in disbelief, trying to locate my teammates behind me. I found them, and then skidded into a roaring gauntlet of friends and teammates gathered next to the starting line, giving and receiving high fives, hugs, and helmet pats....This gauntlet was better than winning itself.

 

Here's Saturday's data if you're a nerd like me: https://www.strava.com/activities/1044063406

 

And a local newspaper write-up:  http://lancasteronline.com/sports/local_sports/grandview-grand-prix-brings-top-cyclists-to-lancaster-county/article_040dde8c-53b0-11e7-9757-936e627bf3e2.html

 

 

So how am I the State Champion with a second place finish?

 

Steve is an Aussie, and not a resident here, therefore not eligible for the PA State Championship.

 

Is this even a big deal?

 

For me, yes. It makes me extremely happy. It puts my name up there with some extremely talented racers. It makes the 300 training hours since January, and the three years before that "worth it." But the win means nothing without people to share it with, so if you're reading this, thank you.

 

What's Next?

 

Traveling to Chicago and competing in the Pro & CAT 1/2 Omnium at the Intelligentsia Cup, July 14th to the 23rd:  http://intelligentsiacup.com/