The 1994 US Military (Europe) Cycling Championships
The US Military Cycling Championships were 3 days of racing. The first day was a 30km (18mi) Time Trial, which I had a chance to do well in because time trials are essentially what we train for in Triathlons. Just you against the clock.
The second day would be a 50km (30mi) Criterium which is a race of multiple laps of desperate sprints around a short viciously curved course. I had not a prayer in the "Crit". Training for a long sustained full intensity effort is far different from training for a race of short sprints, glued together by wrestling in a tight chaotic pack. The third day was a 100km (62mi) road race where I did have a prayer, but only that.
In a Time Trial, they start a rider every minute, so you have no real idea where you are relative to most everyone else. I had had a whole year to flagellate the crap out of myself for losing to my training buddy by only one second in the '93 Time Trial. One goddamn second to a guy when I'd had no idea how he was doing against his clock. I seethed for months over that. This year, goddamnit, I was either going to beat the training buddy or die trying.
From start to finish I rode that Time Trial like a man possessed by the devil. Full out all the way. I didn't ease back the intensity for even a second. I poured it on and poured it on and gave it every thing I had. Every couple of seconds my mind was screaming "ONE SECOND, ONE SECOND, PUSH GODDAMNIT PUSH!!!"
No one was more surprised than I that not only did I slaughter my training buddy, but I just plain ol’ won. It is always an auspicious moment among the triathlon crowd when one of our community serves some humble pie to the snobby cyclist clique.
For the not-a-prayer criterium, I traded in the hellishly skittish Time Machine, for the trusty and true Road Warrior. A criterium is nasty, brutish, and short. It's usually done on a short circuit and because there are rewards for being the first guy each lap, each lap ends in a sprint. The whole thing is a bunch of sprints glued together by short recoveries while each rider fights for a better position in the pack. If you are not fighting for position each second, you're falling back in the pack because everyone else is trying to worm their way forward.
I’d done very few real bike races. As a result, I didn't “read” packs well, hadn't learned to fight for position well, and couldn’t sprint to save my life. You are a product of your training and us triathlete types don't work on sprinting.
I rode the race like a weenie, conserving energy while attempting to not make it too obvious that I wasn't really trying. Then about at the 3/4 point in the race, the hellish sprint after sprint started separating the men from the boys. I took that as my cue and pulled out of the race. A man's got to know his limitations.
The third day was the road race and I had high hopes that the other guys were a little more tired that I was, having just goofed around at the crit. This was day three of racing, so fatigue was becoming a huge factor. Of course the strong cyclists train for multi-day races. To a cyclist a 3 day event is 3 days of cycling. To a triathlete, a 3 day event includes 2 days of beer drinking.
We started the 3rd day road race in nasty rain and wind. In ‘93 in this same race on this same course, I'd gotten knocked off the road on the back stretch by a wind gust. I'd been trying to ride at the very edge of the road to get some shelter from a 30deg headwind. The gust knocked me off the road, into the ditch and then ass over teakettle. Well, wouldn’t ya know it but there I was a year later, drafting tight on someone's left shoulder right at the edge of the road, in the same exact place I'd got knocked in the ditch, and.... once again a big gust of wind blew me off of the road. Oh for christ's sake.
But this year I managed, by sheer meanness, to stay up and hop back up on to the road.
At about the 40mi mark, a lead pack had formed as the slower riders dropped back into slower groups. Not being very skilled at this pack thing, I was trying to keep a decent position in the lead pack so I’d be ready for an attempt by some of the stronger guys to break away. Amazingly, people were flatting left and right. I mean a zillion flats. So many that the sag wagon, with our spare wheels (unlike me who didn't own a spare set) was swamped.
We were zooming through the miles at a hellacious pace. I was staying tucked in tight, carefully conserving my strength for the vicious break-away effort that was soon to come. Things were looking good. I was starting to hope that maybe I could place if I spotted the breakaway surge when it was still a gleam in some goober's eye. Then it was just a matter of putting it to the firewall and seeing what these guys were made of.
Then my rear tire blew. “SHIIIT”!
A buddy flatted a heartbeat later and hollered for the sagwagen that wasn't there. I popped my front tire off, raced to him, put it on in seconds and he was back in the race. He blew my tire with 300m to go.
It turned out that the abandoned air strip that made up part of the course was starting to deteriorate and the asphalt was breaking up into sharp little cinders. I had a dozen razor sharp little pyramids of cinder working their way through those two flat tires.
One medal and $160 worth of flat tires. Call it even.