Witches' Cup P/1/2/3

We have a lot of history at the Witches Cup. I remember, very vividly, the feeling of being in way over my head in my second ever P/1/2/3. Not in terms of racing fitness (though, yes, very much in terms of racing), but in terms of star power. As the call-ups rang out: "Jessie Anthony, Luke Keogh, Tim Johnson, Mark McCormack…" The feeling deepened. All names I would become acutely familiar with in the coming years, but only had a cursory understanding about at the time. Our team was young, and for the most part, had no idea what we were doing. I finished 28th and absolutely in the box. Humbled.

Since then, our little team has grown exponentially, and we've been able to win races of similar stature. This one, however, has always alluded us. It’s a race that, by all accounts, we should have won a few times in years past. We just haven’t been able to get it quite right. Worse than that, we got it very wrong in its last iteration two years ago. I did anyway.

So when it was announced that the Witches Cup would be returning to the schedule in 2016, and it was to be the stage upon which we would mount the defense of our third MA State Championship, I was simultaneously thrilled and terrified. It’s a big feat to defend back to back championships… three? That's tough.

While we’re on the topic of backstory: to say that this season was rollercoaster-esq would be a bit on the nose. From achieving form I’d never felt before in Spain, to losing nearly all of it in to illness nearing almost two months in length, to quitting almost daily in a rebuild block coach affectionately named "salvage," things were not shaping up the way I had planned. Max’s "this sport favors disappointment over reward" rang true for a lot of us this year. Something clicked just before the Clam Fest, though, and I started to feel more and more like myself. Taking the win there unlocked my confidence. As ridiculous and arrogant and bonkers as this sounds, I haven’t lost a local race since. Yarmouth, Beverly, Auburn-Lewiston, Concord. Four in a row. And as weird as THIS sounds… it didn't necessarily help me going into this race. 5 in a row… the odds are stacked. Especially going into a race I have historically binned in spectacular fashion.

Seeking shelter in our tent, we were able to watch our 3’s dominate their race in an actual hurricane. Seeing Adam blow the race apart heroically made my cold black heart grow three sizes. Seeing Dan attack into the bell, reminiscent of THE Cole Archambault at Berger a few weeks earlier, was tactically stunning. Seeing Gerry Stomp all over that sprint was exhilarating. It was what I needed. It was our turn.

Our plan for the day was simple: Weld it together all day, and set up Johnny, Cole and I to storm the last lap, and let everyone know what it feels like to have a strong team in full flight deliver a sprinter to the line.

The early laps were cautious nervous as we all tried to figure out just how far we could lean our bikes on the freshly resurfaced ice rink on which we were now racing. People still managed to crash. They always do. The attacks started early. The first notable one coming from Kai Wiggins, which was covered, solo, by a freshly-raced cat 3 named Dan. The message was a shot across the bow: We have the numbers. You aren't going anywhere. Accept your fate.

This lasted an hour. An attack goes; Shinall is in it sabotaging. 3 guys go up the road, Heiss to the rescue. 6 dudes get a gap, that's a job for juggernaut AJ, crushing your dreams since 2010. At times I would get shuffled too far back for comfort in the midst of freshly minted 3’s and their timidness in the wet. I’d find Smith and say: "We’re going to the front next lap" and off we go, delivering me back into the mix of hitters 3 laps fresher than anyone else.

As the laps ticked by I found myself split between being more anxious than I have ever been to get to the closing laps, and wanting to savor the slowly forming crowd finding their way to the course now that the rain had ceased. The Witches Cup crowd of old was arriving, and just in time for the show. 10 to go.

At 4-5 to go, a dangerous move rolled off the front. I say that in the traditional sense, in that it had everyone that was required to win a bike race; every team represented, including us. Kai, Ansel, Errace (who had a team the size of ours) and Cole. AJ and Heiss were on the front, Johnny and I were waiting in the wings, and Cole was skipping pulls as instructed. We had complete control of the race. I told AJ and Mike to keep the pressure on, but didn't explain why, and without hesitation, the twin engines pulled the break back. Why pull that move back? Cole has an excellent chance of winning, especially after not pulling for 3 laps. Well: The gap is not that big. 5 seconds. A very bridge-able distance for many of the strong dudes who've missed the move. If we sit up we are facing a MASSIVE swarm which would simultaneously swallow me and John AND, potentially, our guy in the break.

We catch the move into the bell lap.

The initial plan was for John to lead Cole and I down the back stretch, Cole to open up the sprint, and then release me down the finishing stretch like some sort of crazed, wild eyed beast, prey in its sights. We are shuffled now, though, so we need a new plan, and we need it fast.

Cole sees that we’re attached, switches his role to Johns, and guns it. He leads us at speed into corner 3 and sits up before John was initially supposed to, putting Myerson and Ansel in the wind briefly before the corner. Ruthless.

Sam witches cup winOnce we are upright through the turn, Johnny hits out to get us over the top of the current leaders, and maintain the plan of going 1-2 through the corner. Myerson senses the move and tries to shut the door and put John in the curb. Johnny is having none of it. HE. GOES. FASTER. into a disappearing gap and punches through taking me with him. It was some of the most inspired riding I've ever seen. I have been replaying it in my head all day.

Through the last corner. Upright. Big sigh of relief. Ansel somehow manages to take the outside line and not burst into flames into the outside curb, and pull alongside Johnny on the outside. I panic for a sliver of a second and then realize his error. He’s in the wind, Johnny is winding up, and I am still sitting down behind him. I wait 4 pedal strokes and stand and deliver for just as long as I have to.

I yell out loud like an idiot. Johnny yells so loud that I thought he might have actually won and I was hallucinating the whole thing. The cool down lap was surreal. The podium celebration over too quickly. I want to live in that moment a bit longer.

This was our third State Championship, but (and I think Cole will agree) really our first. The other two jerseys, while rightfully ours, were consolation prizes for 5th and 2nd place. To win it going away, to win it how we did, and to win it at the Witches Cup are rare things respectively. To do it all at once is nothing less than magical. This one was special, and the privilege to bring it home is one that I’ll never ever forget.