I’m tucked in the draft of the pack. Not one person’s wheel, but the whole pack. There are perhaps seven, maybe ten people behind me and another twelve or so in front and one on either side of me. Crossett sits a few spots up, while Nate is on front giving everyone hell. Both are teammates and so they aren’t a danger. Besides right now I’m content to let the pack pull me along.
Two laps ago Nate pulled me for over a mile, the whole group strung out single file behind us. We started to get swamped with 400 meters to go so Nate pulled off and I tried to sprint from too far out. I crossed the line sixth and pointless. I sat up and waited for the pack to surround me. Which is how I found myself tucked in the middle.
I know this isn’t the right place, but it feels safe. Last week my mind was scattered. I over reacted to every twitch of the wheel next to me and I didn’t feel safe getting close enough to the wheel in front of me to reap any benefit. It was deeper than that too. Last year, my mind would flitter between my computer, and the bikes of the people around me. This year I’ve been a bit better, focusing on their movements and my position. Which is better than judging the bike choice of the person next to me. Last week was a return to that scattered mind. Which only added to my fear.
Today I’m back on. The last week of racing has reawaken my legs and while it still hurts my relation to the pain has changed. I’m where I want to be mentally.
With two laps to go its time to get off the back and move up. The pack comes through the start/finish and a rider goes off the front. That creates a brief moment of panic, which I use to move up a few wheels. By the time we’ve reached the back stretch I’ve found Nate’s wheel with a Junior firmly connected to it. I’m still not feeling good enough to give him a bump, so I just sit there, close hoping he gets nervous before I do. We go back and forth like this for the entirety of lap.
He loses focus as we come close to the barriers on the home stretch, giving me just enough room to get into Nate’s slipstream. Nate takes a look over his shoulder and I nod, letting him know I’m right there. We don’t talk, just sit and keep pedaling. Nate hooks up to Crossett’s wheel and we’re set up. I take a deep breath and start preparing myself to hurt.
In the last series of S bends Crossett get’s frustrated by a woman’s weak pull, she’s trying to set up her team by controlling the pace. The three of us come around her and Crossett drills it. I take one last look over my shoulder, the pack is strung out in a long line and we’re closing on the guys up the road. Suddenly I’m filled with patience. A quality I lack. That lack of patience is what sent me off the front last week, and all the weeks during last year’s races. Today I’m going to sit tight.
At the straight away Crossett gives it one more dig before he starts to fade. The pack is no longer strung out and I can hear them bearing down on me. The collective sound of their movement sounds like an on coming train. I know the next few moments are going to be hard. That knowledge makes me smile. Crossett pulls through and Nate digs. 300 meters to go Nate pulls through as we catch the break. Adam from BBC starts his sprint. I come off Nate’s wheel and put my head down. I’m free of thought — just acting. Ass out of the saddle hands in the drops and body slung low. I can’t see Adam – I have no idea who is near me. I just see the line. Only one other thing registers. Nate and Crossett are screaming my name. I do everything I can to make good on the work they’ve done for me.
I’m not going to catch Adam, but I don’t give up. At the line I push hard with my right leg and push the bike out in front of me. A move I’ve practiced on maybe a hundred sprints on my training rides, and uncountable times in my day dreams. Just after the moment it felt like a silly move. Until I look at the results. Throwing for the line, just like I’ve seen the Pros do a thousand times was the difference between second and third. The difference between giving up on myself and believing in myself.
I prefer believing.