As I am sitting here writing this, I am no longer a bike racer, at least for the moment. For now, I am officially a college student, focusing on building up some neurons in the coming semester at UVM. That's probably a good thing, considering all the brain cells that have undoubtedly died during extended periods of anaerobic distress while suffering away all summer in the European peleton. Yes, the offseason is definitely a time for resting the legs and working the mind, though I have to admit that deciphering early American literature is every bit as difficult as holding the wheel on an Alpine climb. But before I get into the joys of learning (as people who no longer have homework like to call it), I enjoyed a pretty exciting finale to the season that I want to talk a bit about.
At the end of my last blog, I mentioned that we were about to start our final European junior race, the UCI 2.1 Regio Tour in Germany, and that you should all expect a big showing from the stars and stripes crew. It turns out I was a whole lot righter (new word) than I thought, since we flew around the 8.5 km team time trial course at about 50km/h (sans aero equipment) and finished with the best time. Standing at the finish line, waiting for the last team (the homeland favorite German National Team) to finish were some of the most nervous moments that I've had since my driver's test. When the clock ticked past our time and they announced USA to be the winner by 6 seconds, we all let out a huge victory whoop. Then we got our podium presentation and Ryan Eastman was awarded the yellow jersey for first finisher of the first team.
After all the excitement, we knew we had our work cut out for us to try and defend the jerseys (Paul Lynch had the Best Young Rider Jersey). Stage 2 had some early time bonus sprints, so team director Barney King decided to have me or Nate Geoffrion go on the attack early on to put the pressure on the Germans. I got in an early move and snagged two seconds in a time sprint, getting us a little more time on the Germans. Then a big move got away with none of us in it, and we had a good 20-30 kilometers of panic as we chased all out to bring it back. In the end, everything came together and finished in a group sprint. My two second time bonus had also moved me into the yellow jersey, so I got to go up on the podium for a second day. There I was presented with my yellow jersey, followed by a HUGE beer glass, which I was supposed to drink for the photos. I guess my lack of German birth showed, as I was barely able to make a visible dent in the beer level. I have only had a yellow jersey once before in my life, and that was for a day at a small stage race in Kentucky when I wasn't even 16 yet. Getting a yellow jersey in a UCI race in Germany felt pretty cool.
That said, a yellow jersey doesn't mean a whole lot if you can't hold on to it, and the next day I got a bit more than I bargained for. Paul Lynch and I got into a large early move with most of the contenders. I had terrible legs and was trying to sit in and conserve as much energy as possible, but as the yellow jersey I was often forced to close the constant attacks and splits. As the race progressed, I felt worse and worse, and told Paul he needed to start saving energy for himself and not work for me. Soon enough, the group split, with all the contenders in the front and myself and Paul in the second half, and shortly we were back in the main pack. With twenty kilometers to go, I was in such bad shape that I couldn't even imagine myself finishing, but along with my teammates, I dragged my sorry carcass back to the front to try and control the damage. We ended up finishing about 30 seconds down on the remainder of the breakaway, losing our jerseys after a miserably long day in the heat. I was completely shattered, and amazed at how quickly I had gone from the high of being part of winning the team time trial and having the yellow jersey, to feeling like I had completely let the team down.
Things didn't improve much on the fourth and final day, which featured non-stop steep climbs and twisty descents. I was attempting to lead Lawson out for the KOMs (which he won) when I crashed about halfway through the race. I had a front flat (whether a result or a cause of the crash, I still don't know)and the pack was so decimated by the climbs that it quickly became obvious that returning to the front group would be impossible. I rode another lap or two basically by myself before pulling out. Then I went to some drunk race medics who taped up my wounds in a spectacular fashion. The race didn't go much better for the rest of the team, though Lawson did save the day by winning the KOM competition and Ryan came in near the front.
It was a disappointing ending for sure, but we had walked away from our final race with some serious hardware, and could leave with our heads held high. This was also the first year that the USA had won the Nations Cup rankings, which felt pretty special. Then it was the long drive back to Belgium, and an early morning the next day as we flew back to our respective homes. When I finally landed in Burlington, exhausted and stiff as I was, it was quite an amazing feeling to know that I was finally home for a large chunk of time. I realized that I had been home less than a total of five weeks since February, and it felt good to see familiar faces and sights again. I was sick, scraped up, and in need of some rest and home made apple pie, both of which I got in abundance.
Of course, the racing season wasn't quite over yet. After a couple weeks, I was able to (with a ton of help from teammates Lawson and Robin)win my home Green Mountain Stage race. It was a great ending to a great time as a Junior these past five years. I still remember tenting out with my Dad and brother before races, though I'm sure I will have more adventures to come! I'm super excited for next year with the Garmin folks, and making the jump to U23 racing. I know it will feel strange seeing former teammates in rival's colors. For now though, I'm not thinking about bike racing for awhile. I have a ton of classwork to catch up on, and more importantly, am planning some fishing/hiking adventures. Thanks for reading and I hope you all have a great fall!