June 19th was more than just another race day on the calendar. It was a chance for the Aetna-Expo cycling team to chase it's fourth straight race win. And, it was Father's Day which gave each of us a little extra motivation to make our families proud.
Sitting around a breakfast table a few hours before the starting whistle the Aetna-Expo racers and families discussed racing tactics, team goals and who could eat the most pancakes (that contest was won by seven year-old Ethan who still had room for donuts). The race on Sunday morning was a new addition to the calendar. A short criterium meant the team would be completing 40 laps on a half mile circuit. Each lap featured four corners with a sharp downhill turn into the finish straight making for a very fast and technical race. With four racers our strategy was to place one Aetna-Expo racer in a small breakaway, two teammates covering counterattacks and one sprinter waiting for opportunities at the finish line.
The race started quickly and off the line many competitors immediately entered threshold zones. Aetna-Expo teammate Dave Hildebrand moved to the front of the field and regulated the attacks by chasing anyone who represented a threat to our strategy. At top speed the technical corners were difficult to negotiate. At one point I watch Jeremy Brazeal balance his bike against the curb but stay upright and power into the next corner. Moving into position I began looking for opportunities to attack. With the blistering pace my first attempts were not successful. Back in the field I repositioned myself for another attempt, but then things went bad. Dave's bike was taken out. Bit's of carbon fiber bounced through the main field with a familiar sound that makes all racers tense. Exceptional bike handling skills (probably from years of mountain biking) kept Dave from loosing some skin, but his race was over.
After the incident the main group slowed down to reorganize. This created a perfect opportunity for an attack. Breaking away with another racer we quickly organized our efforts and began building a lead on the main field. It was going to be a long effort with 35 laps still to race. I began focusing on the months of training and team preparation. Adding to my energy was the excitement from the race announcer, screams of encouragement from my family and Dave threatening me from the sidelines. With the laps ticking away we our lead slowly grew until we could see the back of the main field just ahead of us.
Knowing we would safely finish the race ahead of the main field I began assessing my opponents strengths and positioned myself for a last lap attack. I surprised him with an early sprint and gathered a few seconds lead but he was quick to respond and began closing the gap. Pedaling through the last corner I used my last bit of power to hold off his counter attack and take the win. Just behind us Aetna-Expo teammate Todd Bowden had latched onto a riders wheel trying to bridge across unsuccessfully, he was able to sprint away to grab the final step of the podium (3rd place) and Jeremy finished a strong 7th.
The plan worked perfectly and although we had some mishaps the Aetna-Expo team came together for the team win and continuing the streak, 4 for 4.