I got to North Carolina Sunday afternoon and rode the course twice on Monday and once on Tuesday. After watching the previous races, I knew it would probably be a pack finish because the hills were not long or steep enough to keep the sprinters at bay. Personally, I was stressed. Resigned to mid pack finish. Fifteen of the top twenty racers in the Nation had shown up to compete and the race predictor had me at number six. After talking to Joe Lamir (4 time national champ and great friend), he suggested to follow Kevin Metcalf (past national champ). Metcalf does not like to sprint and will try to get away early. “Keep it simple and follow Metcalf,” was the advice he gave me.
Race day was warm (70 degrees and soon rose to 80 degrees with a high humidity). About 90 racers came to the line and they all looked like sprinters with quads the size of my waist. Two teams from Northern California were well represented (Thirsty Bear and Hammer Nutrition), this put me at ease because I know there game and tendencies from racing all season against them. The other guy I wanted to keep track of was Chris Walker. The gun went off and as soon as we got through the neutral strip Hans Growin from Thirsty Bear attacks. Did not know it then, but learned later, they wanted to make it hard so it would not come down to a pack finish for them (Hammer Nutrition had the same idea). So sure enough, half way into the first lap we catch Hans and Metcalf attacks and gets away with two other riders. (I lost track of him damn it). The peloton kept him within 100 meters for a whole lap. I burned a couple of matches trying to bridge thinking this was it, but then had to sit back in the pack to recover. The narrow roads, quantity and quality of the riders made it very difficult to stay in the first 15 riders.
The second lap saw Chris Walker attack and stay away for about half a lap (nearly 18 miles). Again, the peloton kept him within 100 meters. I kept my wits about me waiting a for chance to do something, but unfortunately on the second lap I had some bad luck. Midway in I hit a bump and lost a water bottle. Five miles later, I lost the other bottle because I put it only half way in and hit another bump and lost that one also (no neutral water). The next 22 miles in 80 degree heat was going to be brutal!
On the third lap we started with Dan Shore (Hammer Nutrition) and Hans Growin (Thirsty Bear) attacking and getting a good gap. I realized this may be a good opportunity, so on the only significant hill (Dull Road) I attacked to bridge up. One other racer went with me from the east coast. After a three mile chase, we finally caught them. After working together for a few miles we had built our lead to 55 seconds. At the 10k mark, the East coast guy blew to smithereens! I had nothing left and Hans also had nothing left. The gap started to narrow(40sec). I told Dan he would have to do the majority of work if we were going to stay away. Both Hans and myself committed to Dan (he was way stronger on this day and played his cards perfectly). With 1.5 miles left, Dan attacked and dropped us. Soon after Hans attacked me. I caught Hans with 200 meter to go. The pack was on our butts literally 100 meters behind me. Hans wanted to play the sprint game but I knew we had no time to play games! I just kept on hammering knowing Hans would sit on and sprint around me. Sure enough, 25 meters left, he sprinted around for second place by one second. I took third with only 2 seconds to spare before the pack caught me! I was totally dehydrated but elated!!!