After all the excitement, it was time for racing. First was the time trial, which only Lawson and Eamon were doing. Lawson placed second last year at worlds so he was a big contender for the win. We watched them both start and then waited and listened to the time checks while eating gelatto. Lawson repeated his worlds podium with a bronze medal and Eamon gave a solid performance with 17th.
Two days later and it was the big day. The road race started at 2 pm, and temperatures were in the 90's. With 128 mountainous kilometers ahead of us, we did everything we could to stay cool with cold drinks and ice socks. On the start line the tv helicopter came over and I tried my best to spot myself in the big TV screen across the parking lot. They counted us down and we were off. Down the descent, I came around a corner to see just about all of Holland pulling their bikes out of the ditch. After that everyone was full of nervous energy and bouncing off each other and falling down. Finally after a few laps, all the excited bozos realized just how long and hard this race was going to be and stopped trying to kill each other for position. We all did everything we could to conserve energy early on, sag climbing, drinking lots, even trying to stay in the shade in the climb.
Halfway through I saw that the pack was already shrinking. I was feeling pretty good, but knew I had to keep from losing to the heat. After 6 of 8 laps, the group was down to less than 40 and we were pretty much all in a world of hurt from the distance and heat. Ryan, who was suffering from a doozy of a cold, made it back up to the lead group to take one last big pull at the front to chase in a break and then swung off, leaving just Lawson and me. On the final long climb of lap 7, the big guns started attacking. I dug as deep as I could to stay in contact over the top and made it. We had a group of probably two dozen with a break of 5 nearly 50 seconds up the road going into the last lap. After the descent I knew it was time to do my job and I hit the front. I just went about as hard as I could from there to the base of the final climb, bringing the gap down to about 20 seconds. I hit the climb, swung off, shifted into my easiest gear and wished Lawson well as the remainder of the field rushed by me.
I slowly weaved my way up the climb asking willing spectators to please splash me with their water bottles as racers labored past me. I kept an eye on the helicopter hovering a couple minutes up the road and wondered what was going on with the leaders. I finally rolled across the line to hear that Lawson had finished 14th. It was dissapointing but we had all done the best we could and the winner was extremely deserving, having attacked out of the break just before it was caught on the final climb.
I was utterly shattered from the 3.5+ hours of racing in the heat, but things were not as dismal as they at first seemed. Lawson's 14th secured the points needed for the USA to win the Nations Cup rankings for the first time in history, just ahead of Russia and Australia. As it turned out, I could claim a small amount of credit for that, since a Russian was in the five man breakaway. Had I not been able to reduce the lead in the last lap, Russia might have taken the lead in the final Nations Cup race.
In addition, I managed to get a second or two on RAI (the Italian version of ESPN). See if you can spot me at 2:10 and 2:38 :-)http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8QhoLVeWUKo
We had very little time to reflect after the race before we had to pack up our stuff, take a quick shower and get in the van for a 6 hour drive to Lucca, Italy. Lucca is where the women's national team house is located, which we are currently staying at. This seems like an awesome place, and we've been spending most of our time down by the river cooling off in the current. After a week here, we'll be off to Germany, where we will compete in what will be my final European race as a junior, the Regio Tour.