By Ben Rathkamp
Friday, May 7th. Madison, WI.
The weather sucked. It was like the NW in march, 40’s and rainy. So, I guess you could say it was like we had home field advantage. Maybe that contributed to the ass whipping the WWU nationals team dealt out today. The course was tough, too. Lots of sharp rollers and one large climb. We did 5 laps. 8000 feet of climbing total. The rub was that at the end of the last lap, which is at the end of the climb, we take a turn off the course and climb some more, effectively doubling the climb. Pretty intense.
Colin Gibson from Whitman and 3 others got in the early break. We were content to let it go figuring that it was too long to stay away. We, and everyone else was wrong. We never saw the break again and Colin ended up in 5th. Steve and Ian were super diligent about staying up at the front. I don’t know how they do it, but they seem to always ride 4th or 5th wheel. They are good bike racers.
The pace was pretty quick up the big climb each time. There was one guy who would go to the front and pretty much rip the climb apart every time. It was clear that he was the strongest guy out there. That was why, when he was about attack and I was building up momentum following someone to the front, I followed him off the front. I knew that there was no way I could stick his wheel on the climbs but I couldn’t just let him ride away, right? That would be stupid! So I rode with him and took maybe 25% of the pulls and he dropped me like a stone on the big climb. All I could do was wish him luck. After a few minutes, one of the other guys who was obviously stronger than anyone else and had attacked on the big climb caught me. I got on his wheel and pretty much did the same thing as I did with the first guy. I rode his wheel, then wished him luck when he pulled away from me on the climb.
At this point, I so tired my mind started to wander a bit. I had some serious doubts about my legs, my life choices, my sanity and my present condition. At times, I wasn’t even sure I would be able to make it all the way to the top of the final climb. There was a little tunnel vision at times. A few head droops. Maybe some drooling, Etc. I figured the field was going to come screaming up on me at any time and breeze right by me. But I made it to the half way point of the final climb before the turn without any one catching me. Then, like a coast guard inflatable motor boat coming to the rescue, I saw my teammate Logan Wetzel ripping up towards me. I figured the field must be right behind him so I sped up as fast as I could to try to lead him out to the final steep section of the race. But he was like, “take it easy! We’ve got a 30 second gap! Try to hold out and finsh ahead.” What I didn’t know earlier when I was all doom and gloom was that there was no “group” anymore. All the racers were strung out on the final climb and they were all questioning their life situation. I wasn’t the only one who thought death was knocking on their helmet. A few more riders caught me, before the finish including a certain Orca by the name of Ian Crane, but I managed to finish 12th.
38 people finished the race. 38 DNF’d. That’s quite the ratio.
Time to rest up for the Crit tomorrow and the ttt on sunday.