15
Feb
12

Success…. And Victory.

The Whareagle wins his first road race – ever.

***Well, it’s been over two four five! weeks now, and I’m sure everyone wanted a fast response, but honestly, I was solo for two weeks at home, and there were other things going on in my life, and I went to Fredericksburg with a friend for the next weekend, and, well, I kind of fell in to a depression, and the high from this race didn’t last nearly long enough. SO, that said, I’ll resume and hopefully finish this today. Thanks for your patience.

I’m going to open this with a monster caveat – this is going to be a LOONG post, so make sure your coffee is hot, your mouse scrolling wheel has fresh batteries, and you have the phone set to ‘airplane mode’, because this may take a while. I have a lot to say.

This last weekend, January 21st, to be exact, I raced the first event of 2012, the annual Copperas Cove Classic, this year, renamed the “Megan Baab Memorial”. Megan was a young, effervescent 19-year old racer who grew up  in the Texas Cup Series, but tragically lost her life in mid-December of 2011. The whole state mourned her loss, and a scholarship fund was set up by Andy Hollinger, the race promoter, with a portion of the proceeds from the race going to the fund. I drove down with long-time client Janna Doss, who was entering her first race. We discussed the usual pre-race nervous talk, with tactics, strategies, nutrition, hydration, offense, defense, etc. Well, I never knew that my own version of the race, separate from hers, would ever succeed so spectacularly.

Saturday dawned cold and breezy, and despite my planning, I did fail to bring an extra undershirt, and was about to wear my Mirage jacket, when teammate and Mirage President, Gary Dutschman, offered me a Helly Hansen undershirt that was perfect. Janna and I pinned each others’ numbers on, and we rolled out for the 7:30 start. I decided a while ago that I would start acting my age, and would race the 40+ category, seeing as to how I’d been beating my head against the Cat 3 ceiling for 6 years, and an upgrade was probably out of my range, especially given my inability to race on weekday evenings, which is where most North Texans get their upgrade points. Trying to do it on weekends only is just really difficult, and there’s always the nagging doubt about whether you’re good enough to stick it with kids half your age, with a lot more vigor under their legs.

I had a number of teammates from Mirage, known and unknown, in the group, and we really didn’t have a strategy, but they were all experienced enough to know to at least block or screw up pacelines if a teammate got away, and, well, as it turned out, that’s exactly what happened!

It was still about 41 degrees when we rolled out in a neutral start, and we were averaging about 11 mph. When the car let us go, everyone just stuck next to each other and kept this slow speed. By this point, I was truly shivering, from a combination of nerves and cold, and I ended up telling myself – “Screw this – I’m going to warm up!” So, about mile 2, I literally just rolled off the front –

and that pretty much turned out to be the whole freaking race!!!!!

At 3 miles, I wasn’t really racing, but I was definitely riding at about 90% of FTP, and when I looked over my shoulder, I had about a 30 second gap. By mile 6, it was about a minute, and there was one brave rider trying to bridge. By the time I turned off on to the loop, at about mile 8, the rider was about 30 seconds behind me, and the pack was at 90 seconds. I then thought about how much riding I had ahead of me, and how it might be fun to have a rider to paceline with, so I backed off, waited a few seconds, and when the rider caught up to me, we made introductions, guesstimated the gap, and started taking turns.

The rider, Jim Slausson, was a 47 year old from San Antonio, riding for Bicycle Heaven, and had about 5 years of experience as a racer. I mentioned that I knew Jimmy Vaughan, one of the owners, and we instantly established a good rapport. Now, here’s the interesting thing – we were both riding Cervelo Soloist/S3’s, we both had tubular deep-rim wheels, and we both had power meters, and knew how to use them. The only difference, physically, was that he weighed probably 25 more pounds than I did. On that course, which is one of my absolute favorites, due to the rolling terrain and the ever-present wind, plus extremes in the cold or the heat, we were set up perfectly. My pulls ended up being longer, his shorter, but together we stitched and weaved our way over the whole course.

At roughly mile 35, just before the right turn on to the worst part of the course – a 12 mile segment of caliche and pea gravel with divots and potholes galore – Jamie, one of my absolute most favorite officials, pulled up beside us and rolled down his window.

“Jamie – what’s our gap?” I asked.

He looked at me, gave me his huge, awesome, most genuine smile, full of white shiny teeth, and said, “SUBSTANTIAL!”

Jim and I then knew this really was going to be a special day.

We hit the gravel section with a semi-quartering tailwind, and lit up the speed to over 28 miles an hour. We passed a few of the 1,2,3’s who had been dropped, but we saw no one after the second feed zone. However, the section that closes the loop, between the entry on to FM roads, and the left hand turn that heads back to the Start/Finish, had some challenges of its’ own to throw at us. Specifically, there’s this one section that consists of two rollers over short bridges, then a climb/flat/climb/flat/climb/flat, to the crest. It’s maybe just over a mile, but usually, if there’s wind, it’s an area where riders get popped. Today, however, I worked pretty hard with Jim, and took him up about 2/3 of the way, before I heard a faint “EZ!” and I backed off. Fortunately, at the crest, Lee McDaniel, the event photographer, was there, and he captured Jim and I in perfect sunlight and image. It’s probably one of the best images I think I’ve ever had taken of me in situ.

Cresting FM580 before Topsey

We continued trading pulls and made the left turn home, knowing that the event was ours, but also knowing that we couldn’t back off too much, for fear that someone might be bridging. It was there, in the area before the final three hills, where Jim said to me “Just get me to the finish – I won’t challenge you.” I thought about it, thought about the ride up to that point, thought about the weather and how it had gone from completely cold to fairly warm-ish, how the wind had never really been too much trouble… and a story came to mind.

“Jim – what was that tennis player’s name who married Steffi Graf?”

“Andre Agassi?”

“Yeah – that’s him. Well, a couple of years ago, maybe 15, he was playing in a charity match somewhere, and was just beating this poor nobody up and down the court. The guy finally came up to the net and said, ‘Hey, man, I’m not feeling it – I think I need to forfeit.’ Agassi, who was really in the zone that day, told him – ‘No man, don’t forfeit… let me spot you a point, and LET’S JUST PLAY.’ So, they agree to that, tell the judge, and keep playing, and Agassi keeps beating him, so the guy says, ‘Dude – you’re killing me!’, and Agassi says ‘I’ll spot you a game. LET’S JUST PLAY.’ Meanwhile, since this was a charity match, and people were paying to observe, well, more people started showing up, and cheering both players on. This went on and on and on until no one was keeping score, Agassi was lowering his game to make sure that his opponent was having a good time, and THEY JUST PLAYED.”

“That’s what I’m feeling like right now.

We’ve won the race, it’s a beautiful day, I’ve made a friend and enjoyed a great ride at the start of the New Year.

LET’S JUST RIDE.”

“Dude – that’s the best philosophy I’ve heard since my own tale.”

“Oh yeah? What’s that story?”

“Well, I was riding with my friend Jason Sager, and I’d just completed a six week ride across America, when he said, ‘I can’t wait to do that ride with my son some day!‘ And I replied ‘Dude, I can’t wait to do that ride with you AND your son some day!”

It was at that moment that I realized the difference between Success, and Victory. I’ve been trying so hard to win, to be victorious, to be the first across the line, all these years, in two aspects of the sport (MTB and Road), that I forgot to open my eyes and realize that the GREATER Victory comes from being successful. Success is intrinsic. Success is knowing that you’ve given it all, left nothing behind, seized the moment, and pursued your goals. Success doesn’t depend on victory. Success is its’ own victory. Success is knowing that a sound mind, body, and attitude are better tools than a ranking on a sheet of paper. Success is…. Success.

We rode the final five miles in pretty much together. I gapped him on the hills, he caught up with me on the descents. I couldn’t and wouldn’t really shake him, we just opened small gaps and closed them. In the final 500 meters, I raised my left hand, grabbed his right, and we crossed the finish line together, sharing the win. It was the culmination of 2+ hours of some of the absolute best cycling I’ve ever experienced, and in the end, there was no cutthroat push or throw-your-bike-across-the-line. It was almost anticlimactic, but it was the absolute best way I could think to end it. I finished by making the cross sign and kissing my fingers  up to the sky, though most of you know I’m more of a Deist than a labeled Christian. I guess it was just a way to give thanks – for the blessing of the day, the achievement of this level of success in my competitive career, and the taste of victory, which may never come again. I certainly FELT like I had a guiding hand on my back….

Afterward, we gave each other pats on the back, circled back to the start/finish, gave interviews to the local paper, and watched the rest of the riders roll in. We got a few photos, and I looked around for Janna, who was finishing her first official race. Unfortunately, her day was not as good as mine, as she suffered a flat roughly 2/3 of the way through the race, but up to that point, she’d been in the mix with the Open Women’s division, which impresses me mightily! High-Fives and fist bumps and hugs were abundant, and I got a little emotional, remembering all the times that this course has vexed me, that I’ve sworn to quit, that I couldn’t share this with my wife and family… But it did feel good to finally WIN something! BOO YAH!!!

Always good to have teammates at the start – and the finish!

The trip back was full of recounted tales, texts and Facebook postings, and Janna was as stoked as I was about everything. I donated the winnings to Megan’s Memorial, clearing it with the other Mirage guys first (I ALWAYS pay out to teammates when they block. ALWAYS). The celebration at home was more muted, and that’s another story for another day, but I’m grateful for the way this ride came together, how it ended, and what it achieved. Success –

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