With the pressure of being the defending Athens Twilight winner the team and I had some targets on our back (both figuratively and literally with #1 on my back). We had a full squad of 6 riders for the 2014 edition and we were ready to fight for another victory in the biggest crit in the USA. Wearing #1 and getting called up to the front line in front of 30,000 screaming fans was something I will never forget.
The race started super-fast as usual and many teams were looking for a breakaway. During the first 20 minutes, guys from every team were attacking and we made sure to cover as much as we could. Then, a dangerous 2-man breakaway got up the road with a decent gap so we brought a couple of guys to the front to help chase it back. Just as we were starting to make some real ground there was a terrible crash in a corner on the backside of the course. Crashing is something that is certainly part of crit racing, but Athens is a short fast course with one especially tight turn, which is of course where this crash occurred. For some reason there was insufficient communication between the officials at the start-finish and those on the course, so despite a rider being down, we kept flying around the course at full speed. Coming back around full circle at full speed we all of a sudden came through that same corner of the crash and right in the middle of the road is an official on a stopped motorcycle trying to protect the downed rider. Talk about chaos. Another large crash ensued and even took down the motorcycle this time. At this point it was fortunate that riders took it upon themselves to stop the race to prevent any further chaos. We are also happy to report that everyone involved in the crashes is making a speedy recovery.
Of course, the problem with a chain of events like this and then a neutralization of the race is that your body feels like it should be done racing, so it’s always quite a struggle to resume racing at full gas. The 2-man break apparently felt the same way as they were pretty quickly brought back after the race was re-started. In the final 10 laps we had a few guys trying to escort Isaac safely into position as it was pretty apparent that Athens would come down to a field sprint this year. Unfortunately , with 3 or 4 laps to go a big reshuffle occurred at the front that separated us and prevented us from properly setting up Isaac for the sprint. Such is bike racing. From highs to lows and everywhere in between and all in the span of 90 mintues!
We will definitely be back next year to try to win the biggest crit in the US again, but until then it’s off to the next race and the rest of USA Crits Speedweek.