Ronde de Bethel P/1/2/3

"OK. So. It's going to be really nervous. We have to be patient and sit in for the first half of the race!" was my advice to my teammates. Having won here 8 times, if there is a race I fancy myself an expert, it's Bethel. The goal for this race, and for all the races for the time being, was to work on racing well together so that we can execute when the bigger races come around.

Sitting on the start line, having just watched Dom calmly stick a solo breakaway in the cat 3 field, I felt like I was prepared to suffer and get into a great race. As soon as the whistle blows, John Harris attacks.  Since he's one of only three people we've earmarked to watch, our "first half plan" has gone out the window in the first 5 seconds of the race. This would be insignificant coming from anyone else, but the fact is, John has WON from off the line moves like that on more than one occasion. I happen to be next to him so, from the gun, I abandon my advice and chase. The first 2 laps were the hardest effort of the whole race. Thanks, John.

After we're brought back by a hard chasing peleton, Dave goes up the road with Derek, a strong junior racer. They get a good gap, at points reaching 40sec on the field. I take to the front and tap out tempo, sitting on the impotent attempts to get some form of chase going. Many laps go by. Confusion happens. Dave and Junior come back. Everyone gets antsy as they start to come into view. I play watchdog on the front, trying to get Cole out of the wind so that he can follow the right move as I've been on the front thus far. Attacks start flying, but we have enough firepower to cover everything.

Finally, Eneas (2nd of 3 to watch) attacks just as something else is coming back. Cole uses his patented "Chill bros, I got this" watts, and follows him up the road. I settle in for another 15 laps with AJ on the front. Every time someone attacks, we raise the pace. Every time someone pulls, we are 2nd wheel. The field can't get anything going and we are the reason. Horribly frustrating to watch, immensely satisfying to be a part of. BYE COLE!

With around 8 to go, I tell Dave, who is now recovered and doing work with us at the front, that I am gonna go hang out at the back and recover for the sprint. Maybe half a lap after that, John Harris attacks, and tows Dave clear. John knows we have a guy up the road, so Dave latches on for a free ride. BYE DAVE! Back to the front I go. Now AJ and I control it for two different breaks, with our two strongest riders. Perfect!

With 4 laps to go, I look back over my shoulder for one reason or another and I hear "Hi Sam!" Cole has lapped us. I go back and retrieve him, get back to the front, and now it's all green at the pointy end. Being the diesel engine that he is, AJ stamps out a solid pace for the last 2.5 laps and keeps it strung out.

Cole wants to go really early, so we take off before corner 2 and burn all of my remaining proverbial matches. Legs seizing, eyes crossing, lungs burning, feeling every bit of the hour and a half of tempo I had just participated in. I held it as long as I physically could. In the end, it was not enough. I blew up too early and left Cole in the wind before I wanted to. I was instantly upset. I had just lost the race for him. I saw him stand and deliver a sprint, but I also saw his break mate Eneas comfortably on his wheel. I knew he was done for.

Then, somehow, Cole just kept sprinting. Forever. And ever. And when I clawed myself up that hill for the last time, coughing and maybe crying a little, Dom told me we had won. I had a rush of endorphins, my whole body warmed. It is the same sensation I get when I cross that line first. The exact same feeling.

Yep. It's a early spring race. Yep, there were 40 starters. But you know what? Every one of them came to race that day. Every one of them came to win. Bethel is hallowed ground for me. It's where it all started. It is my Paris-Roubaix. Every time I race there I think about that. Every time I've won there it's been special. This one is right up there with the best.