Going into this weekend was probably the least anxious I´ve ever been for a race. I came to the realization that it would be my last ever NICA race so I decided to make the most of it by having a good time instead of stressing. I was really looking forward to racing at Boggs since that´s a place I´ve always been curious about. Furthermore, Peter´s descriptions were really intriguing so I was a bit disappointed when the race got moved to Six Sigma. Pre-riding the course, I realized that I practically knew it by heart. It was a bit disappointing that it wasn´t someplace new but I was excited to be racing on such a familiar course. It brought back lots of racing memories throughout high school making it the perfect way to cap off my NICA career.
On Saturday, I woke up naturally around 6:30 feeling well rested and calm. After a quick warmup, Tristan and I lined up at the start. Neither of us had a callup so we got there early and ended up a reasonable four or five rows from the front. During call ups, the reality of the impending 2+ hours of intense physical strain sunk in giving me the perfect dose of nerves and adrenaline.
Soon enough the Stoke Captain was counting down and we took off. Immediately we were shrouded in an impenetrable cloud of dust. I couldn’t see ten feet ahead of me. I was being passed right and left as people frantically scrambled to reach the front of the pack. Somehow Will had fallen behind and I saw him pass me as well. As the climb steepened the dust started to settle revealing a big bunch up that was probably inevitable. I should have just gotten off and run it but charged with adrenaline, I was determined to stay on my bike. I got cornered and I was forced to dismount. Unfortunately everyone else was already running and I got passed by Tristan and another 5 or so racers. I smoothly remounted and I got around most of them in an attempt to catch Tristan but I got caught behind Joshua Falcon from Oakland Composite.
Tristan sprinted ahead to catch a pack ahead of him. Joshua was going at a reasonable speed so I decided to pace off him and to forget about Tristan. I wanted to have some energy left for the fourth lap, something I have repeatedly failed at. On one of the climbs Joshua seemed to be losing steam so I got around him.
I was alone for a while though I started to catch glimpses of Tristan who was in the back of a pack of four. I slowly reeled them in but as soon as I caught them Tristan sprinted past them all through the grass on a short straightaway. After that, there weren’t many good passing opportunities and I was stuck behind them for a while. By the time I got around them Tristan was beyond eye shot and I didn’t see him again for a while.
During the second half of the first lap I caught and passed a couple more racers but other than that it was pretty uneventful. On the climb starting the second lap, my drive train already sounded dreadful. It was a bit concerning given I still had three more laps. Near the top of the climb I was surprised to see Tristan going down the hill in the opposite direction. This meant I was only about twenty seconds behind him. This gave me some more motivation and throughout the rest of the lap I very gradually reeled him in.
On the climb after the road crossing I caught a glimpse of Will. He was in a group of three. By the serpentine Tristan was only a couple curves below me and I decided to catch him before the straightaway because he´s notoriously fast at flat straightaways. I caught him on the very last windy downhill and I drafted off of him on the straightaway. We were going lightning fast and I noticed we were rapidly catching Will and his group. By the climb starting the third lap they were just out of reach. I decided to catch them and I passed Tristan telling him to pace off me. Unfortunately he didn’t quite have it in him and I dropped him.
I caught Will´s group at the top of the climb and realized Axel from Berkeley was pulling, and Ulysses, also from Berkeley, was sweeping. Ulysses has been a rival of Tristan and mine for a while and I yelled back at Tristan getting him to catch up. He was about ten seconds back and he tried to catch us but we dropped him on the descent. For a while he just hovered about ten seconds behind us. Eventually Ulysses seemed to be falling from the pack and I got around him on Mr Squiggles climb catching up to Will and Axel. On the hairpin climb with the two tight switchbacks, Axel slid out and had some trouble remounting so Will and I got around him.
I used Will as a pacer for the rest of the third lap. We caught and passed a Redwood kid. Tristan remained about ten seconds behind us. I thought he would catch us on the straightaway and we would have another glorious El Cerrito photo finish going into the fourth lap but he didn’t quite make it. I pulled up alongside Will and we awkwardly fist bumped as we crossed the finish. Somewhat unintentionally I ended up in front. I wanted to keep pacing off of Will but at the top of the climb I realized I had dropped him. I thought Will would catch me on the descent but he didn’t and I realized I had a shot at finally beating him.
I still had a good reserve of energy and I realized it was time to give it my all. For the rest of the lap I tried to widen the gap between me and Will and Tristan. I started to reel in an Annadel composite kid. I caught him right after the puddles and I paced off of him for a while. On the climb after the serpentine I decided to make a move and I passed him. He was right on my tail which gave me the adrenaline to push my hardest. On the straightaway I felt a bit gassed and I couldn´t quite hold him and he got around me. I tried to stay on him but he was screaming along and he dropped me. I mustered my best sprint going into the finish.
Even though I didn’t beat the Annadel kid I was elated that not only had I beat Will, Tristan, Ulysses, and Axel, but I had paced myself perfectly and optimally used my energy. I knew I had done great, probably my strongest race yet. I was greeted by the whole team and Jack very kindly had brought a bag of chocolate milk, something I was incredibly grateful for. I watched as Will and Tristan finished congratulating them.
We finished 17th, 18th, and 19th. A train of El Cerrito racers, all within the top 20 fastest varsity racers in Norcal. In a heat of 36, Will and I both placed in the top half, something I never would have dreamed of happening at the start of the season. It may have taken the whole season but I´ve finally figured out how to properly race. I´ve learned that races don´t have to be scary and stressful, in fact, keeping a calm attitude is the best way to succeed. I also learned how to perfectly pace myself, saving the right amount of energy for the fourth lap. All my splits were basically within one minute of each other. This was a perfect race to end a memorable era racing with NICA.