Thursday night marked the culmination of the first series of the Rockleigh Criterium and what proved to be a very eventful race.
Thank you God for keeping me healthy, giving me the strength, patience, teammates, determination, passion and pure grit I needed to get to where I am.
Thank you Yehudah for the awesome pictures, as usual.
Thanks Sruli, Benny, Grandma and Grandpa, Zach, McHale, Jill, the Koops, Rojas’s and the Zaks for coming/staying around to support.
Thank you Ivan for hunting every single break you could get your hands on.
Thank you Juan for launching decoy attacks and for a sick leadout.
Thank you Yitzy for working like mad. Throwing up twice in a race doesn’t sound pleasant.
Thank you Mike (Zusman) for helping me, believing in me, riding with me, talking to me…and for sponsoring us.
Thank you John for sponsoring us at The Cosmic Wheel, for taking care of all our mechanical needs and velocipedular upgrades.
Thank you Bill Tesar for getting Gear Up Tours involved as a sponsor, you’re the man.
Thank you Misters Horwitz and Churchill for your belief in the team and your sponsorships.
Thank you Gary (Rothera) for the ill caps. I love your chapeaus.
Thank you to DD Forero for some all-around great racing and pushing me to be the best racer I could be.
…and to anyone else I forgot.
On Thursday, I rode to the race. I’ve done this a few times and the results of having pre-warmed muscles have been favorable…so I did it again. But a train broke down which caused a minor freakout in my head. No big deal. I calmed the voice by telling myself, “myself, you’re getting all the bad karma/juju/whatever out of the way now. This is fine. Don’t worry.”
I got there just as the A race was about to take off. Tomi told me a teammate needed to borrow my gloves – which I stripped. I waited around for a bit until Anthony came to a slow with some rackety SRAM wheel, “Hey guys..does anyone have a spare wheel?” We swapped wheels and he was off. I waited around a little more until Greg, Mike, NaDaniel, Shawn and a few others came to a stop. “Mattie clipped his pedal and went down into the grass, we went down behind him.” They were given their free lap and then took off.
Mike doesn’t usually race here, but Skoop was ahead of Everhard (Champ-Sys p/b Stan’s NoTubes) by 1 measly point, so all the big guns came out to work. Mike et al. did their job and Skoop won, solidifying the yellow jersey and clinching the first Rockleigh series.
Everyone lined up for the B race as soon as that was done. Except me. I waited around for Anthony to get my wheel back.
Eventually, I got the wheel back. The wheel and my gloves. And then, we were off. 2 neutral laps to start off, followed by the aggressively grueling pace that rockleigh is known for.
Lainel was wearing the yellow jersey, as he had been the entire series. I was down by 2 points which is the equivalent of one position (in the top 6, then each position is worth 1 point up until 10th place). What this meant was that in order for me to tie, I would need to beat Lainel. DD was behind me by 3 positions and I wasn’t particularly worried about him, but he wasn’t out of my mind either. If I wanted to win, I would need to beat Lainel by 2 positions.
With that in mind, Team Cosmic – Carve Systems went ahead and established our tactics for the final Rockleigh. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about racing these past 2 years, it’s that tactics never play out as they were planned. Therefore, the one thing tactics are good for is to offer an understanding into the way the race could ideally unfold and to give a linear path to try and stick to as closely as possible. In other words, man plans, God laughs.
Our tactics were to launch Juan and Ivan after every break to bring them back while I sat in and did nothing. Then, when the time was right, we would form a 4 man leadout with 3 men attacking while Yitzy pulled off in the front of the field, sat up and blocked. The plan worked perfectly until the actual execution of the leadout.
The race went something like this:
Break forms, Ivan hunts.
Counter-attack goes, Juan brings it back.
Break begins to form, The Hunter drops the hammer, shuts them down.
Juan attacks, meets The Man with The Hammer. Suffers out front.
Juan did go off the front. He was gone for a few laps, that crazy kid.
Yitzy decided to advance his position just as the headwind picked up – questionable tactics, if you ask me. When asked later, he would say “it was my turn to work, I had to go.”
The race continued to go on like this with various little attacks followed by The Hunter doing his thing, or Juan, or Yitzy.
Lainel and DD would sit near the front waiting for that perfect break to get away. Waiting for my attack. Waiting for something to happen.
The Hunter lost his Garmin at one point (later retrieved by Señor Rojas, all is well) and didn’t know how much time was in the race. I therefore took over his job of rounding up the troops at the predetermined time. While I circled to the back of the pack, I hear the voice of one of the A Racers following along behind us: The Hell of the East. “Eli, Eli, ELI! What are you doing back here?! You need to move up, you have less than 15 minutes to go!!” Don’t worry Mike, I got this, I responded. “Oh, he’s GOT this!! Listen to this Fred, like I don’t know what I’m talking about!!”
We had eyes on Lainel all race and, every time I looked, Lainel had eyes on me in the form of Chris Samuels. Chris would follow me around until a promising break took off. If we didn’t chase, Chris would bridge up and bring them back.
At one point, I found myself at the front. Momentarily. Almost immediately, The Hunter slid up beside me and whispered, “I got this. Get back in there.” And so I did. Man, is my team awesome.
From what I understand, Juan brought them back and then Bill attacked again. Seems like a strong racer to me! As we came around one last time, I found Juan’s wheel. The Hunter’s wheel, where I was supposed to be, was nowhere to be found – presumably, he was dead from all of his hunting.
As we left the second corner and entered the chicane, I yelled at Juan that it was now or never. That it was the 2 of us. That the plan fell apart, as I knew it would. Juan, seated, started churning his legs. We were climbing wheels. 15th, 14th, 12th, 10th, 8th. He stands up and starts to sprint as we leave the chicane. 7th, 5th, 3rd. And then I see them.
Chris Samuels was dispatched by Lainel, who was now one wheel in front of me, to chase down Bill. He did. They couldn’t have been more than 10 or 20 meters up ahead of the field when Juan pulled to the left and I pulled to the right.
I dropped the hammer and I went.
Chris was riding on the left, Bill on the right. Bill glanced over his left shoulder and saw me sprinting right at him. Thinking he would move to the left, I slid to the right. I was wrong. Bill slid right, shutting down my lane as we were about to hit the parked pickup truck (SERIOUSLY, WHY IS THAT THING EVEN THERE?!). I hit the brakes – hard. He slides back to his left and screams a SORRY as I start my sprint again.
Way over-geared, I’m in my comfort zone as I start putting in time on the field. From a distance, I hear Chris yell at me. “YOU’LL NEVER MAKE IT, STOP!”
But it’s too late. I get up to speed quickly enough and coast through corner 3, apprehensive of the same grounds Matthew clipped his pedal on earlier. I don’t recall ever going through that corner that fast. As I leave corner 4, I risk a glance over my shoulder. I see the field strung out, just exiting turn 3.
I was away. We had done it. I had one stretch to get down, and then victory would be ours.
I met the Man With the Hammer and I answered him in kind.
With the entire team riding on this move, I couldn’t mess up. The race was won as soon as I went. There was no way we would lose.
I suffered through the final meters, returning on the team’s investment, discovering new pains I had never yet experienced.
I crossed the finish line by myself, approximately 5-10 seconds ahead of the field. Unfortunately, there was no camera far enough away for my finish line salute. Here’s what I have of it – the rest of you who weren’t there will have to imagine it:
We’d done it. We’d taken a team of misfits from different background, different nations, with different strengths and weaknesses and built it into a championship team.
Lainel won the field sprint, DD took 3rd – almost as perfect an ending we could have expected.
Eli Curt Fuld – 44
Lainel Stewart – 44
DD Forero – 36
Do I get the yellow jersey? I don’t know. If anyone’s familiar with the rules of a tie, now’s the time to speak up below.
Here are some pictures of the winning team and our supporters: