Urbana Grand Prix, Stealing the line

February 29, 2012
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Around five that May afternoon, I was on my back porch relaxing after finishing the first of two days of high speed circuit races known as Tour Of Champaign's “Rumble at the Reservoir” and tomorrow’s “Urbana Grand Prix”. I knew that the following day the parking lot outside the Comfort Inn would be packed as all major cycling teams in the Midwest take over downtown Urbana. I would be defending Wild Card Cycling, the team that I am proud to say I am a member of, in the Under-18 race.

As I woke up the next day and arrived on the course, I realized that in about an hour I would be flying over the concrete at around thirty miles-an-hour! The only issues on my mind were that it had rained, and I am a category 5 racer, which means I am notorious for crashes and unpredictability. I knew I had a chance at the sprint, considering that I had just been training with a mix of every category rider every Tuesday at our teams criterium practice. Although I knew I had a chance at the sprint, I also knew that I had to make it there. Being a road racer means that I don’t hit dirt, I hit asphalt. It also means that I dont wear any pads, just gloves, spandex, and a foam-core helmet.

While warming up, Karl Craspe, our team leader and organizer, who is very helpful when it comes to racing techniques, had just finished the Masters race. He re-assured me that the tarmac had finally dried off thanks to the early morning sunshine. Now that he was done, it was my turn.

During the sign-ups, I talked to another under-18 rider from a Chicago racing team. He was a major risk during the sprint judging by his legs and his bike, a red, full carbon, Specialized Tarmac. Which beats my aluminum Specialized M2. Though he had the better bike, I could tell I had more road experience and training behind me, so I felt a rush of confidence.

“...If you crash or flat you will receive one free lap, all suspected winners report to the mechanics pit for roll-outs immediately following the race. Good-luck.”. I'd heard this race official’s lecture probably a million times, but the suspense was killing me. The the words good-luck echoed in my mind as I remembered the terrifying fourth corner, which was a hairpin, high speed section with the curb raised about a foot off the ground, I knew that if my spokes hit it, I was out, I didn't have spare wheels in the pit.

Twelve laps in and I was doing great as I rounded the corner that looked so menacing at first, but this time I saw the same rider I had been talking to earlier, only he wasn't on his machine. Instead he was picking up his bike and water bottles and bleeding from the leg, arm and ribs. He was in pretty descent shape, but his front wheel had spokes just dangling from the hub and the rim was bent at an odd angle, he must have been caught on the far right of the pack and got forced into the curb.

On my next time rounding the corner I saw that the scene was completely cleared and safe. Around the following corner I heard “one lap to go!” and a mix of cheers and sound makers. Two other roadies were in my draft, preparing for the sprint. Energy and muscle was key for the final acceleration known as the “sprint”. Riders max out over thirty miles and hour and do this only inches apart from each-other.

Finally, I shot around the corner for the last time and sank into a mental state where I wasn't thinking, I wasn't planning anything, I was just slaughtering the pedals and my rivals. About one foot from the finish line, a rider next to me was even with my wheel so I sent a final jolt on my handlebars pushing me half a wheel ahead, winning the race with ten points.

After the feeling of potentially vomiting. I stumbled my way over to roll-outs. I felt amazing, two CAT. 1 (pro) riders complimented me on my bike handling and athletic ability. I kept my head high as my machines gears were checked to make sure I wielded the proper gearing on what was more-or-less a weapon, no, I was a weapon, the bike was my ammunition. And as I stood on top of the podium for a photo for The News Gazette, I felt like Lance Armstrong or Mark Cavendish, because I was on the top.

Now I look back on this race as a great moment in my racing life. It really pushed me from being a rider who just loves to go out and enjoy riding, to a “bloodthirsty” racer. I now regularly race under -18 races and even the CAT. 5's, I am also on a track to the state circuit finals and hopefully going to fight hard enough to ear a career in professional road racing. But I think the most important thing is I learned just how far I can push my body, I had went harder and faster than ever before, and now thank myself for it.

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