Race Report - US Pro Criterium National Championships

Crit Nats 2015.jpg

Criterium Nationals has always been a special event for me. Winning the national championships is something I've dreamed about ever since I started racing a bike, and I get very worked up about this race because of how honored I would be to have the opportunity to wear the Stars and Stripes jersey if I could win it.

This year's race was earlier in the year than in years past and a lot of guys hadn't even raced any national level criteriums leading into the race, including myself and the rest of the team.

We started the day with 5 guys. We had The Gingers (Kevin and Conor) as well as Drew, James, and myself.

On top of the pressure to win the race, I was a bit nervous going into the day because I hadn't yet started a race with the team in 2015.

We sensed that with the pending threat of rain and the races proximity to the TTT nationals, that were happening the next day, that it would make for an aggressive race from the start.

What we didn't expect was that this would ultimately land me in what was the races winning breakaway after only a few laps into the race, and to our misfortune I was alone in the 15 man group. Right before the first few of us got away Drew had initiated a dangerous move that temporary got some distance, but once it was caught it sparked another dangerous move that Conor had to bury himself in order to shut down. The break formed after this from a separation in the field and I was alone up there racing against 14 other guys, and most of them with 2-3 teammates. It wasn't a good situation for me but as the laps counted down and my memory for racing crits came back to me, my confidence improved and I felt that I had what it took to turn the odds in my favor.

Early on it was more nonstop attacks in the break. No one seemed happy with the group being so big and I couldn't seem to find a way to get on the leading edge of the curve, which forced to chase down or bridge across to all these threatening groups containing every team except us.

In those moments I knew that it wouldn't take more than a second of hesitation on my end for one of those 4 man groups to get serious distance and for my dreams of winning nationals to be over, because with all teams being represented instantly the break would have no more incentive to keep riding and we would have been brought back by the field. At the same time, I knew that I was working 4 times as hard as anyone else in the move and I was riding in a way that was extremely unsustainable. It was a difficult situation, I just hoped that someone would make a mistake and we'd lap the field, or that on the next attack I'd be ready and I'd cover the move that would ultimately break free from the group and take it to the line.

After an hour in the break and about 1:20 into the race I got that chance, and I covered a move that had all the teams, but soon after the group formed we were brought back by the break and I was immediately forced to cover the counter attacks. The pain of my repeated efforts started to catch up with me.

I'll never forget the next two laps for the rest of my life.

As I felt myself sliding closer to the back of the group, I heard the voice of former teammates Mark Heckman and Adam Myerson in my head repeatedly screaming "whatever you do, never, ever, get dropped from the break", which was a lesson I learned after a scolding I got as a neo-pro in 2009. Before I had time to settle down I was just fighting to stay on the wheel as they guys in the group made one more big push to split us apart.

Before I knew it my race was over and all I could do was watch Drew as he made a heroic attempt to save the day by bridging from the field to the breakaway after getting word that I had been dropped. As I sat watching the team racing, trying to make sense of what had just happened to me, I was so proud of the guys.

I'm not trying to put a warm a fuzzy spin on the race because Drew ultimately suffered the same fate as me, though he did manage to hold off the charging field to finish the race. We fought so hard in spite of the odds and although on paper it looks like we came away with nothing, I know we almost had it. Sometimes you lose big. Sometimes you lose the biggest in the races that you want to win the most. For a minute there I asked myself "what am I doing, this sport is just too hard". But as I saw the pain and focus in the faces of Conor, Drew and James as they tried to recover, I remembered something that a winter of training prompted me to forget, and that is that you're never going to win big if you aren't willing to put everything you have out there and risk losing it all.

I spent my entire winter building, working for the opportunity to cross that line with my arms raised. I guess at some point during one of the hundred times winning that race played out in my head, I must of forgot what to do if things didn’t go to plan. We got beat in a way that may look really bad to some, but as I sat there watching my teammates I saw them take risks that only people who know how to win are willing to take, and from that I am happy.

I know if the team keeps racing like we did at nationals that sooner rather than later our day will come and we'll be the ones telling the story of how the race was won.

Thanks for reading,

Isaac Howe