I've been racing my bike for a decent amount of time now - I started racing back in 2002, and I've raced a fair bit since then as I've slowly risen through the ranks, and yet, up until this weekend - I had never won a bike race.
So of course that means that I won this weekend. I won a bike race.
We've been racing the Greenville Training Series for the past three weekends, and every weekend has been better both for me, and for the team. The first weekend we missed the break and had to chase all day, only to be completely shut out in the end. The next weekend was better - we made the breaks, but couldn't manage a win - but still a big improvement over the weekend before. Then this weekend - I made the winning break of three late in the race on Saturday and got my first ever win. The next day, we stacked the break and had three in the final selection of eight - resulting in another win (by Chris Monteleone).
For me though, this kind of success is just not normal. I've always trained really hard and I feel like the dedication and desire has always been there, but I've never done anything of any real note, and definitely nothing even close to any sort of real success. That's always been the job of someone else in the race - I can't count how many times I've watched other people win races, or heard about it after being dropped. I mean, this whole winning a bike race thing sounded like some sort of magical thing, some right open to only a privileged few. Just looking back at the results from last year - I didn't ONCE crack the top 30, and yet this year, I got a 1st, 9th, 11th, and 22nd.
Sure, I worked harder and smarter than I ever have this winter, and sure I'm a lot stronger, but that in itself wasn't the deciding factor.
The difference has come through this team. In less than a month I've learned so much about bike racing through Pat and Erik - I've learned how a race works, what to watch for, what to expect, what my responsibilities in a race are, how to help my teammates, when to make it count, when to hold back - tons of stuff that I never even considered, but all stuff that makes a huge difference. It's the kind of stuff that makes it possible for us to make the winning moves and hopefully win a lot of bike races.
Simply put, I've learned how to ride as part of a team - how to make a race, and how to make a race go our way, or at least to hopefully stack the deck in our favor. We race every day with a simple doctrine: attack and counter-attack. If one rider goes and it comes back, another goes when that comes back, etc. etc. ad nauseam, until at some point it's the move that sticks. Of course the numbers have to be right, so we have to always be watching to make sure a move is good for us depending on the situation.
That was the brilliance of our win on Saturday - if it wasn't me, it was going to be either Chris, David, Tiago, or Brandon. Someone was going to go with that ultimate move that would decide the race. It just happened to be my turn. Sure, I rode hard and poured my guts into that break, but I don't doubt that any of my teammates couldn't have done the same thing.
It's quite a weapon to have - knowing that you can give your all to a move and have confidence that if it comes back, you'll have a teammate in the next move who will do the same. For a little bit, it looked like we were going to get caught, and I just rode harder because I knew that either the move would stick, or I was going to ruin some people chasing from behind, thereby helping my team.
I don't think I've ever been so happy in my whole time as a biker than I was on Saturday. It was the most incredible feeling to come across that line first and reap the rewards of so much hard work, and to make good on the sacrifices others have made for me to help me along the way. For 100 other people that day, it would have been just another notch in the belt, but for me, it was what I've been striving for and dreaming about ever since I got destroyed in my first ever race in the Spring of 2002.
One race does not a good season make (unless that race is the Tour de France), but as an early testament to a program that is doing it right - I'll raise my hand. I had never even been a position to win a bike race before this season - honestly, and within the first few weeks of 2007 - I get a win, and our team is in all the right moves, and we win back to back races over the weekend. Can you ask for anything more?
I can't even begin to describe how excited I am about our prospects for the rest of the year, I'm just irritated there's no racing this weekend.