La Crosse. A three hour drive from Minneapolis. A full tank of gas. A whole day devoted to 55 minutes of racing in a circle. Turn Number One is less than 90 degrees and is always a problem. I hate crits. A bar after the race with no table service (but a great selection of beer) and on this particular May Day, it’s below 40 degrees. There is a 20mph crosswind on the finishing straight, and I SWEAR-OH-MY-GOD-THAT-IS-SNOW-ON-THE-WINDSHIELD.
For some reason, every year I look forward to La Crosse and always have a blast, regardless of the results.
Spirits are high coming off of Balance Cycling’s success at Marty the previous day. Ben Schinke won the race with tons of help from powerhouse Brandon Manske and the rest of the team. The three of us pile in to the car with my partner Karen and immediately launch in to strategy talk. We decide that we will work to set Ben up to get in a break. Personally this will mean a couple of attacks and making sure I have enough in the tank to help pull back breaks… there are only three of us in this race, and we expect that Brone’s and Bikethrow will be there with big numbers.
We arrive, chattering about what the heck to wear for this weather. A quick warmup, and I’m still shivering at the line, wondering if I have ever used embro for a crit before. No, no I haven’t.
There’s a tap on my shoulder – an official – “You’ve got the wrong number on for this race. We won’t be able to place you correctly.”
“You won’t have to worry about that! I tell him. “I won’t be placing.”
I know it’s true, I have yet to complete a race this year. Excuses abound, but the fact remains I have only done a few week’s worth of high-intensity work and the racing has been tough! I plan to hang on for this one and contribute as much as I can before shooting out the back. Uffda.
The racing begins and I take my usual crit position as tailgunner, keeping an eye on the front of the field. Bikethrow is indeed present with large numbers and there are some Brone’s guys mixing it up too. Attacks begin to go and immediately come right back. I take a flyer and my friend Caleb Donaldson from Omnium joins. This feels familiar! We go a few laps together with Brone’s rider Mike Suntken who is looking strong (I note to myself that I need to keep an eye on him) but we are back in the pack pretty quickly.
Attacks come and go. A prime is called, Brandon decides to flex his legs a bit, and wins it by a long shot. Nothing really looks promising until a group of five including Brandon, Seth Iverson from Omnium, and a Bikethrow rider splits away from the pack. I take a chance and jump to bridge to the group. If anyone follows, I know I need to sit up… but for some reason no one does. This looks like a strong break, but we don’t organize fast enough and less than a lap later we are back in the pack.
This is the perfect time to set up a counterattack for Ben. I immediately jump again, giving it all I have, and get the gap with no challenges from the field. I figure I’ll be out for a lap or two then get reeled in giving him a chance to go.
I spend a lap on my own, then Mike from Brone’s joins me right as I begin to fade. Luckily he is strong, I get about half a lap of recovery, and we start trading pulls until he starts to gap me. Behind me, two guys are trying to bridge up (is that Caleb again and Chris Alme from Bikethrow?). They aren’t making any progress – but neither is Mike. After a lap or two of this, the chasers fade and Mike sits up for a second to come back to me. We decide to work together.
This is the first time I pay attention to the lap cards. 6 to go. The field is no where in sight – I check after every turn and I just don’t see them. I decide that this is going to stick – maybe it has already stuck – and I get to work concentrating on my cadence, pedaling through the turns and working with Mike. Still no sign of the field, but certainly they must be gearing up to barrel down on us any minute now.
I make a deal with Mike – let’s work together until the last lap then have a go. He agrees. One to go, turn three, I’m in bad position as it’s my turn to pull through. We hit the cross wind on the finishing straight, I gas it a little, and I hear the announcer react “Mike, stay with him, stay with him!” Did I just put the hammer down, creating a huge gap, sealing a crit win for this little guy?
A flash of green on my left – Mike has dropped me like a flaming bag of poo. I have nothing to respond with. I round the back side of the course and all I can think is “Oh man, the field is coming up on me they must be RIGHT THERE keep going keep going just bury it to the line go go go.” Last turn, take a quick look back…
“And there goes the Mystery Rider across the line for second place!” says the announcer. Mystery Rider? Oh… the number. Right. Oops.
Second place is mine and somehow I’ve also won a prime!
After a quick cool-down – and a conversation with the announcers in which they tell me they knew who I was all along, they just wanted to give me crap for wearing the wrong number – I catch up with Ben and Brandon. Turns out Brandon set up Ben with an awesome leadout and Ben won the field sprint for third! That is teamwork. Two podiums for Balance Cycling AND both primes!
I still don’t know what it is about La Crosse. I’m always inspired and always have a great time. I will continue to make the drive and brave the bad bar food in favor of attending this race.
Maybe I’ll get the right number pinned on next time, too.