I've been excited about the Franklin Road Race for a few weeks. A long, flat course probably suits me better than most courses, and the Franklin course was just that! In addition, the race was promoted by my friends from Celerity Cycling who live just a hop across the Monitor Merrimac Memorial Bridge Tunnel Roadway Pavement Traffic Jam.
Regrettably, I couldn't partake in the Franklin Omnium, which featured a flat TT and a crit on Saturday, due to my participation in the MABRA Monument Giro di Coppi. Still, I could bank on a weekend of extreme leg-hurtingness with the level of competition present at the Franklin Road Race.
Despite a substantially smaller field turnout than the Giro di Coppi, the Franklin Road Race proved to be chalk full of strong competitors. The usual Southern VA fast guys were there like Marc Warner, Walker Owen, Dan Netzer, sleep-deprived Frank Cundiff, and oh-my-god Evan Fader! There were a number of D20 based riders as well, namely the Kelly Benefits Strategy squad, Dave Fuentes, and Justin 'Mach' Mauch.
The race began in earnest, with the full Kelly team stepping up and dictating the race. With the wind and flat terrain, attacks became such a show of power that the peleton was quickly blown up. I did a lot of early work rotating through to keep the pace high enough to discourage Kelly from sending people up the road, but this would prove foolish.
Paul Ward took off about midway through the race on a solo voyage, joined by no one. We let him roll away into the horizon and the pack started to picnic, share stories, and follow Blair Berbet, who was more interested in eating a powerbar than riding quickly. I was getting impatient, as I knew that Paul was a fast dude that shouldn't be given too large of a leash. Coming around a corner, my new found momentum from Minnesota gapped the field. I looked back at the group and saw no reaction to my sudden lead. I got out of the saddle and gave the bike a wag. Still no reaction. I started to give it the beans. STILL no reaction. I was something like 30-35 miles from the finish, WELL outside of my ideal range of 150 meters to give a race winning move, but decided to throw the chips on the table and hope for something good to happen.
Maybe the terrain suited me so well that the pack wouldn't have enough gas to catch me? Maybe at this range they would accidentally give me too much time and I'd finish well! All sorts of ideas were rolling through my head, but I was too busy listening to my heart: today was my turn to do the stupid solo move. Onward I journeyed along the cornfields of Franklin.
Almost precisely 20 minutes after I departed the peleton, I caught up with Paul Ward. I didn't pause at his back wheel, I immediately came around him and got up on the hoods to give him a 'Cadillac draft.' Poor guy had been solo for something like half an hour longer than me! The race personelle driving alongside Paul gave us the splits: 90 seconds to the peleton, SIXTY SECONDS TO THE LEADER.
"I thought you were first place!" I said
"No, Ben Frederick is still up the road," replied Paul.
No wonder I was let go. When Paul took off from the pack about an hour earlier, I didn't realize he was in pursuit. I had just spent a LONG time riding up to what I thought was 1st place, only to discover that there was another 60 second gap to close.
Paul asked for a few minutes recovery time on my wheel, which was totally understandable. He must've been pretty lonely out there. It was around this time that I stopped sweating. 'Awe, crap' I thought. As Paul and I started rotating, my body was giving me the usual alarm bells. Knowing how far we were from the finish, I started giving Paul hints that I wasn't feeling super awesome. The last thing I wanted to do was to screw up the pace and ruin BOTH of our races.
I was resisting the voices in my head and the signals from my body. I kept riding, kept pulling, kept trying, but the numbers shown by my Powertap and HR monitor were burning an unmistakable truth into my foggy, overheated brain. No more steam in the engine room. Still, I kept going, riding on pride, understanding that today was my day to go down swinging. Paul Ward was an absolute Sir to me during this meltdown, giving me plenty of positive vibe to help me extend my range just that little bit longer. He was fine with me sitting on for the ride, and gave me no negativity to my imminent failure. Thanks, dude.
I finally blew up at the exact same spot on the course where I had initiated my departure from the field. I came to pull through and my legs felt that same wobbly, powerless feeling as I felt the day before on the finishing climb, like a newborn Wildebeest attempting to walk in its first minute of life. I had ridden to failure.
It is never easy quitting a race. You have to come to terms with the fact that you were unable to complete the competition that you signed up for, paid money for, drove a long way for, and brought your wife to give you water bottles for. As I've grown up in the bike racing world, I've realized that, as long as you impact the race, or take on some crazy duty, it is okay to not finish. At the Coppi Road Race, I never intended to make it to the end when I found our team in a bad situation. When I blew up, I was passed pretty rapidly by the groups or riders who were left in the race. The Fuentes/Mauch group gave me a shout so I could accellerate and join them. 'Sorry guys, I'm done' I thought, and waved them off and bid them good fortune. A second group rolled past, with Blair Berbert sitting on the back. He gave me a little word of 'good try,' and coming from Blair, that was all the confirmation I needed to know that I went down swinging.
After that, I was just trying to ride back to the parking lot. Just make it home. Bonked, dehydrated, dizzy, cramping, and confused, I thought of the look on Melissa's face during the run portion of IM Cozumel. Being on a bike only 3 miles from the parking lot, I realized that things were fine, and I started thinking about that cold chocolate milk I was saving for after the race.
I got back, downed water, downed milk, and sat in the back of my car for a few minutes. Suddenly, I erupted in sweat, and the level of 'normal-ness' in my head increased dramatically. I felt a lot better, and started to pack my car up and share some laughs with a few other DNF'd riders as we watched Ben Frederick finish off a 40 mile solo breakaway in dominating fashion.
That was a great race. It was a gentleman's race out there: highly competitive, but honest. I hope we see another edition of this race, and I'd encourage anyone from D20 to give it a shot.