Going into this race, I knew there was a high probability it would end with a sprint finish race between me and Team Schlitter racer Jesse Groves. The last time we raced, at the 100 mile Mid-Atlantic event (August 20, 2016) I finished 11 seconds behind Jesse. If you’re on Facebook, you can watch it here.
In that race, Jesse and two of his teammates got a breakaway several miles before the finish, and Larry Oslund and I were closing the gap. I pulled Larry to within range, and then he shot like a bullet from a gun, but did not reach his target quite soon enough, finishing about 3-4 seconds too late.
The Bike Sebring Century race has a twist to it. Most of the strong riders were in the 12-hour drafting race, while Jesse and I were registered for the Century. So while we might get help from a teammate, they couldn’t place in the Century race, and they had to keep in mind their performance in the 12-hour event. I was looking forward to racing with Larry Oslund and another incredibly strong Cruzbike racer, Kevin Gambill. But Kevin came down with the flu and canceled a few days before the race. This left Larry and I facing three Team Schlitter racers (Sandor Kormos, Alex Strouhal, and Jesse Groves) exactly as we had at the Mid-Atlantic.
This is a video of the front of the starting line, five minutes before the start:
I had a secret weapon, and that was coaching over the winter from Bob “Ratz” Pankratz. My fitness level going into the race was at an all-time high. But probably more important was learning winning tactics in team racing. The race begins with three laps on the Sebring race track and then heads into mildly rolling farm country for an out-and-back to complete 101.5 miles to the finish. I know Jesse is a strong racer, probably MUCH stronger than me, and 18 years younger. For me to beat him, I will need more than good fitness and a fast bike. I will need to race smart, which is something I usually don’t do. My old style of racing was to rocket out of the starting line and blister the first few laps on the track. Then sit at the front and begin solo breakaways almost immediately. Listening to a podcast interview with Team Clif Bar racers, they point out how teams try to badger and cajole other teams to do the pulling. If you can get your competitors to wear themselves out before the finish, you get a better shot at winning.
Here is the group leaving the track as the sun rises:
The race begins at 85 miles, everything before that is just a warm-up; or so I told myself. This kept me conserving energy and sitting toward the back of the lead pack. It seems that every race has an unexpected challenge, a monkey-wrench that gets thrown in just to see how you handle it. Here was mine: at about 25 miles into the race, while beginning a climb, I went to shift to an easier gear and… nothing happened. My SRAM Red E-Tap left-hand shifter was dead the rest of the race. This had happened to me about a month ago, and I thought it was due to a low battery. But I had fully charged the batteries before this race, so now I figured there was a short-circuit or a Bluetooth pairing issue. My chain was on the 15t cassette ring. I couldn’t go up to a bigger ring, but I could go to a smaller ring, but it would be a one-way shift. Once you go down, you can’t go back up; and no ability to shift the front derailleur. So for all practical purposes I had to ride the rest of the race on a fixed-gear bike. I was very lucky the shifter didn’t die while I was in the 11t ring, or the race might have been over for me due to the climbs. As it was, I had to drop my cadence, sit forward, and really work the upper body to make the climbs with the group. Spinning up the hills was not an option.
I was keeping an eye on Jesse. He was moving up and down the paceline, but would occasionally do a solo breakaway, riding 100-200 feet ahead of the pack. This didn’t worry me because the pack was moving along quite well, and without help from one or more strong riders, a breakaway wouldn’t last long. At one point, I saw Marko Baloh, one of the best ultracyclists in the world, begin to separate off the front of the pack with Jesse. This worried me. I went to give chase, but Sandor and Alex were riding side-by-side, blocking the lane. I asked them to let me go by, but they refused. The gap was growing but there was nothing I could do about. I can’t cross double yellow lines painted on the road. In my mind they are like steel razors. Then I heard the voice of my old friend Jim Verheul, who was riding right behind me, “Jim, just go around them”, he said. It might as well have been Obi-Wan saying “Luke, use the Force”. Now I could see there was no cars for at least a mile. and I could cross those lines and nothing would happen. I applied the Force, sprinting around my obstacles and catching Jesse and Marko.
I took a long pull at the front from mile 85.9 to 90 averaging about 24 mph. When I got tired, I move over to the left, but Jesse wouldn’t take over the pull, but rather just pulled in behind me, going at the same slow pace as me. For almost 2 miles, the whole group’s speed dropped and no one would step up and pull hard. In the graph below, I have labeled this the “squabbling” period. Larry finally got frustrated and said “Come on guys, this is going to ruin or chance to get a 12-hour record” and then he took off and did an amazing 6.9 mile pull averaging 24 mph with Jesse hugging tightly to his wheel and me, right behind Jesse. The three of us broke away from the pack. At 99.5 miles, with two miles to go, I made my move. With nothing left to lose, I hit my E-Tap’s right-hand shifter and dropped the chain down to the smallest ring as I hit a top speed of 35.1 mph, power maxing out at 643 Watts. There was no going back now.
Jesse shrank behind me in my rear-view mirror, then as my power faded, began to loom up as he closed the gap. This race was not over. Not sure if my heart was going to stay inside my chest, I found the strength for one more surge, not quite as powerful, at 507 Watts and 31.2 mph, but it was enough. Jesse finished 11 seconds after I crossed the finish.
Last gut sprint to the finish line:
Jesse and the pack whipping through 11 seconds later:
I could not have won without training hard, good coaching, and a bike that is unmatched in efficiency and aerodynamics. The aerodynamic optimization of the V20, much of which has been customer-driven, also played a significant role. I love being a part of the Cruzbike Tribe.