Our race started amidst a little chaos. Lang and I rode to the race along The Strip and turned off a little too soon. I made the mistake of wandering into the Mandalay Bay hotel/casino to ask for directions then continued to wander around through their restaurants and casinos, fully kitted up and wheeling my bike, for about 10min trying to find my way out. Not pro. Then Joe got stuck in traffic on the way to the race and arrived with race wheels and a replacement buckle for Lang's shoe about 1min before call-ups began.
I got a call-up and had a good start but then pretty quickly dropped about 30 places when I realized I had NO idea where the course was going and I couldn't see the barriers. There were a few guys who nearly ran head-long into the wire fencing through the first few turns, and it took me about 20min to get comfortable on the course. There was very little pedaling in the pack, maybe ten hard strokes at a time before setting up for another turn. The pavement was squirmy with all the oil drippings, and a few turns had little ripples that would toss the back end off the ground if you weren't pedaling smoothly.
Once I felt like I figured out some move-up spots I went to the front to swing the axe and go for primes and/or a break. That proved pretty fruitless. I had a much shorter leash at this race and couldn't just launch off the front willy-nilly without anyone caring. It was also tough to get away because the straights were so short you couldn't take a big charge and create an instant gap. I tried maybe five times nonetheless, but was starting to work myself unnecessarily and conceded to sit in a little longer.
With around 20 laps to go I countered a string of attacks with a clean, hard attack. I was away by myself for maybe four laps and won a $100 prime in the process. Then one rider bridged up, then another, and another... pretty soon we had a break of six guys with about 30" on the field. I felt pretty destroyed and was trying to simultaneously drive the break and feather my effort to keep from blowing up.
With three laps to go it was clear we would stay away, and Dan Bowman (Kelly) started attacking. I went with his first move and the two of us were away with a decent gap. I thought that was the race actually, as he and I seemed to be taking the hardest pulls and definitely put all the chips in on that move. But coming into the bell lap the group came back together, and was briefly countered by a La Grange rider. He dangled until the final positioning began, and with 500m to go it was Bowman on the front, Eric Barlevev (Mtn. Khakis), then me. I wasn't feeling too snappy, and rather than go for a long sprint, I was planning to sprint through the final turn and try to pop around on the home stretch.
Bowman opened up the sprint at about 300m and took a late-apex line into the final sweeping turn to protect the inside line from getting chopped. Unfortunately it was a little too fast and a little too late-apex and he lost it half way through the turn. Barlevev set up for the turn better than I did and was already on an inside-line; he made it around Bowman without changing his line and immediately opened up the sprint. Since I was already drifting wide I had to pop the bike up, grab some brakes, then turn-in again to avoid Bowman+bike (video here). By the time I got back on the gas Barlevev already had two bike-lengths on me and it was over. I rode it in for second, but the race was over in the final turn.
Again, a close finish, again, a podium, and again, not the top step. I'll save the could've/would've and just say that I'm happy to keep the momentum going through the final race of the year and have another good ride in front of the right people. Another $900 to the prize pot is also a nice consolation prize. This was the last race of the year for me and it's nice to pull off a result with sponsors and future team directors watching. Following the race I had no fewer than three directors approach me about next season, so that's a good sign.
Lang recovered his nerves from the last few weeks and had a solid mid-pack finish. I'm pretty psyched for that because it was a very sketchy race and no one made it through who wasn't working hard and taking the corners hot. We also had some solid finishes in the USA Crits overall. HB finished 16th in the team competition out of a whopping 147 teams. I finished up 7th in the individual classification, and tied for 3rd in the lap-leading competition (with 22 laps). I think we can be happy with those numbers, especially considering we contested only half the events and had just 2-4 guys at a time.
It hasn't quite set in yet that the season is over, and I'm as motivated for racing and training now as I was back in February. As I looked out the plane window on the approach to Seattle I had a wave of nostalgia wash over as it set in that the season is actually done and I pulled off one hell of a year. I've had an incredible amount of support from so many people this season--from sponsors, teammates, and team management who took care of the bike racing logistics, all the way to family, friends, and classmates who took care of me at home and at school. To all those people I want to say a huge THANK YOU, I credit my success WHOLLY to your help.
Stay tuned for news about next year, I should know within the next week or two where I'll be heading in 2010. Here's to a few more of these pictures next season, though maybe a few more on the top step.