I think I can summarize today's race in one word: WOW.
Kristie and I drove in from Pigeon to Milan this morning. The weather today was fairly mild, except for a very strong wind from the east. I think it's safe to say that the wind was a key factor in all the races today.
I don't remember if it was Jeff Weinert or Matt Baroli who told me that the race will start quickly and to be at the front. I'm glad I took their advice. After the neutral start of the cat 4 race (3 laps), the pace quickened after the first set of railroad tracks. I was sitting in about 6th or so when a Wolverine flatted. Fortunately, he had no difficulty controling the bike and I was able to move around him smoothly. Sometime shortly after this came the first attack from a Breakaway team rider.
By the time we hit the second right-hand turn, the Breakaway rider had a few seconds on the group, which was now only slightly smaller than when we started. When I looked back (now heading west on pavement) I saw the majority of the field strung out in one, single-file line.
Turning right onto the first real section of difficult dirt roads, the field was absolutely obliterated. I didn't hear any crashes, but based on the number of water bottles strewn about, it was indeed much more rough than I thought it would have been. I still was sitting in about 4th or so after the left turn (heading west again) onto the most difficult sections of dirt road. There were water bottles everywhere, and only one "good" line on the right side of the road. Still, a "good" line is by no means smooth, and there were a few large divots in the path.
When we turned north again (and into a quartering wind), our group had dwindled to only about 7. After we turned right (east) onto the final straightaway, I was finally able to see the portions of the peloton splintered along the road, fighting the wind. The Breakaway team rider was still alone on the front, and there were six of us chasing (including a teammate to the leader).
Things came together within our group as we crossed the finish line for the first of three times. We managed to get through the entire second lap without losing any of our group, which was nice because we had a nice mix of rest between efforts. When we started north on the dirt, about half way through the second lap, I thought my legs were going to explode. My heart rate was pegged and I was suffering badly. When we finished that dirt section, there was a gap of about 5 bike lengths that I just couldn't seem to make up. Fortunately, a rider from ADA (I think) was on my wheel and we were able to bridge the gap. Our group of 7 had a nice gap on the field, which I would assume was all over the place.
After crossing the finish line to the bell lap, the second (very rested) Breakaway team rider attacked on the dirt heading south. He quickly gapped us and at about that same point, the rider from U of M flatted. We (and by we I mean the three other racers in the group) chased for a while, but after leaving the last dirt section for the last time I knew it was useless. We were unable to close the gap even slightly, so I figured we would be fighting for second. We managed to work as best as can be expected for 4 guys all on separate teams, "chasing" the lone leader.
Coming down the home stretch I was absolutely gassed. When I attempted to pull through I was only getting about 20 mph out of my legs. That would quickly slow as soon as the wind really hit my face. After the 2nd lap I figured I would try my best for a top 5, but it would prove to be difficult.
With about 1 km to go, I figured my legs were useless and I wanted to try to hurt anyone else that was in my same position, so I jumped on the left side of the road. Quickly the Breakaway team rider (the one that was alone for the entire first lap) and another racer were on my wheel. I swung to the right and managed to get out of the wind briefly. The only damage that caused was to the rider in the orange-ish kit, who quickly got back onto the 3 of us.
When the sprint started I had jello for legs and I was sucking oxygen like a 70-year old at the bowling alley. The Breakaway rider in the lead had about 15 seconds, and we weren't going to catch him. His teammate jumped first, followed by the two other racers, then by me. I was in 5th place on the road. I had made my goal, but I was able to pick off two riders within 100 m of the finish. I finished in third place, even though my legs/lungs didn't deserve it today.
Kristie was sitting at the finish line and I couldn't believe I had even finished in that group, let alone take 3rd place.
Today marks the first time I've ever won money in a cat 4 race, and it sure was nice. Here's the grass "podium" in front of the lake.
As for the other Team Giant - Michigan boys, Weinert took 19th in the 1-2 race, while Matt Baroli flatted a few times in the 35+ race. I don't know where Terry finished, but from what I hear it was a slugfest all around. Bob Hockin flatted out (I think) as well.
Mad props to Jake Rytlewski for finishing 2nd today in the 1-2 race. I am pretty sure that makes 2 firsts and one 2nd in 4 Cone Azalia races for him, but I might be wrong. At the conclusion of his race, he mentioned something about "400 Watts," so he must have been putting the hurt on those boys. Or else he was talking about really bright light bulbs. I don't know.