On a 95 mile course, the there is usually an unspoken consensus among the pack to “take it easy” for the first ten to twenty miles. Afterwords, things generally start to pick up. Of course there are always those few brave (naive?) riders who attempt to establish an early break in hopes a group might eventually bridge up to make their efforts worth while in the end. Such was the case with Jason Sager and Max Miley in this race. With Sager firing the first shots, the two were quickly out of sight while the pack carelessly conserved their energy for later in the race.
The feature of this course was a half mile hill dubbed “the beast” by those who raced a similar course back when this venue was called “The Beauty and the Beast”. With Sager and Miley still out after nearly nearly 30 miles into the race, it seemed like a small break might be able to bridge up to form a sustainable group for the rest of the race. So I attacked before “The Beast”, and hoped just one or two others might join me in a small chase group. Barry Lee and Scott Kasin followed and we made good time up the hill, distancing ourselves from the pack.
After the climb came a flat and smooth stretch on Hwy 69 that allowed the pack to catch us. However, wat caught us was a noticeable smaller pack of 14 instead of the 20 starters, of course two of those were still up the road.
About a mile after we turned off 69, we saw Sager on the side of the road, waiting to get a flat wheel replaced. It was unfortunate for him that his lead car did not have any wheels. Despite having around 70 miles left of the race, Max Miley kept up his pace and managed to remain out of sight. The next time up the “The Beast”, Sager drove the pace a four of us were again working off the front. Sager said that before he flatted, he noticed Miley fading a bid and suggested that he would be within eye-shot very soon. He was absorbed shortly after, and just a few miles later, our group was caught by the pack.
Sager told me that if we keep punching it, the pack will crack pretty rapidly. Sure enough, Sager punched it a few minutes later. With a good 40 miles left in the race, there seemed little sense in chasing him down at this point. Sager kept a strong pace and was soon out of sight. The pack did nothing to respond, and we were getting reports that he was four minutes up the road. Four minutes! With less than fifty miles, that’s enough to make a scared pack chase, even if it’s just one person. Eventually, we were catching glimpses of Sager cresting hills on the horizon and it wasn’t long after that that we saw him coasting back to the pack. It was pretty obvious that he chose to be caught, most likely because he didn’t want to ruin himself for the mountain race the following day. At this point, my confidence level was rising; after you’ve been racing a few years, you start to pick up on things people might do depending on how they feel; the pack might have chased Sager if they were feeling stronger, people might have tried to counter-attack after he came back, there were rolling hills everywhere and no-one was doing anything. I’ve noticed this before in other races, and this is when you know your time to make a move is nearing.
After an uneventful climb up “The Beast”, we rode an abridged section of 69 to make an early right turnoff to take us onto the 13 mile half-lap before we finished the third and final full lap. Sager attacked halfway up the last climb of “The Beast”, I pursued, and was followed by Herring Gas. We opened up a pretty serious gap on the hill and were momentarily out of sight by the time we turned onto 69. While on 69, it looked as if the pack was gaining on us, but Sager suspected they were starting to crack, and claimed they would fall apart once we hit the rolling hills. At this point, there were about 12 miles left on the race. We traded pulls on a ‘give what you can’ basis, interested only in maintaining our break.
Following the hills immediately off 69 came some long and steady grades between 2-3 percent. I pulled through to the front on one of these and shortly the two behind me called to let me know that I had gapped them and that I should come back to maintain the speed of the break. So, I slowed to let them catch back on, but at the same time realized that I could easily gap them on the next shallow hill. The lead car told us that we had eight miles before the finish and that the pack was fading.
We approached an incline, almost identical to the one I previously gapped the two on. I waited until we were about halfway over it, and knowing exactly what I needed to do, turned up the throttle to 100% and heard the same cries as before. This time, I had no interest in maintaining their breakaway because I knew that if I was going to win this race, I was going to win it solo.
The road flattened out considerably and I tried to keep as strong and smooth a pace as I could, rationing out whatever I had left over the next five miles to the finish. With about three miles to go, the lead car rolled up next to me and the passenger said “you’ve got it man, they’re not going to catch you!” I said “what about the pack?” – “They’ve given up”. – “What about Sager and Herring Gas?” – “Their spirits are crushed. Take it easy, you’ve got the race in the bag!”. I looked down at my heart rate monitor and saw I my heart rate was pumping at 177 BPM, right at my lactate-threshold. I usually can’t even talk at this heartrate, but I guess things work a little differently at the end of a race.
I eased up slightly but didn’t want to worry about conceding any time to second or third place … just in case I got a flat or something. During the last four miles, I took up the habit of looking behind me to make sure no-one was gaining on me. Once the finish line was in sight, I zipped up my jersey, raised my arms and saluted my victory.
Though I won the race, I feel compelled to remark that Sager completely owned this race; he was the strongest racer on the course, was in every single break; and could have won if he decided to stay out and work his solo effort.
I’d like to thank my grandparents George and Margie Holt for their excellent hospitality in Tyler, Mike Nelson for reminding me just a few days before that the real race starts after the first 90 miles, and my team Northwest Cycling Club, and all its sponsors.
- Lakefront Road Race
- 2004 Texas State Championship Road Race