The next morning was the time trial. Since the course was on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, on roads I ride multiple times a week, there were no mysteries. I rode it fairly well, knocking 30 seconds off my personal best despite the wind. Still fourth in GC. Same three ahead of me. Strong riders I expected to charge past me didn't. One super-diesel was knocked out by a mechanical. I figured fourth was more than I deserved, because I knew there were local riders not present that would have pushed me down the pile. No, fourth is good.
That afternoon we had the criterium. Somebody didn't tell the President, because he felt it was necessary to land Air Force One right next to part of our course. After many assurances that there would be no road closures, minutes before the first race people with automatic weapons closed the road. We quickly adjusted and shortened the loop, which changed the dynamics of the course considerably. Two of the turns were significantly sharper, which highlighted which racers had raced crits before. The ones that cornered well, staying off the brakes and carrying speed through the turns, hammered the ones that braked through and sprinted out of every turn. I made the mistake of tail gunning, and was forced to sprint along with them, burning matches I didn't have. One of the non-crit racers was my teammate, who eventually opened a gap I couldn't close as the pack surged, leaving me alone out in the wind for a couple laps until they backed off. A couple laps from the end Markus Doerry exploded a tire with authority, eliminating a strong sprinter from the equation. I was cooked and only wanting to finish in the pack, but as the finish approached I worked my way forward into a good position for the final sprint. I hadn’t contested the intermediate prime, preferring to watch how it played out on the new course. The narrow finishing chute made it difficult for more than three people to contest, and the sharp entry meant if you weren’t in that first three your chances were less minimal. I was sitting third wheel into the turn and figured I had a real shot if my tired legs didn't explode. Then Tom Peichel clipped a pedal, and I watched in horror as his rear tire came off the ground. At that moment, Chris Knott opened the sprint and immediately got a gap. Tom, pumped full of adrenaline from nearly having his skin ground off, charged after him. My adrenaline initially went into my brakes, then I ground my way to a tepid third place.
Again, given the time I spent out in the wind, it was better than I should have gotten. I hadn't done enough work this season to have anything of merit at the end, so third is good.
Still under the chemical influence resulting from the pedal strike and the sprint finish, I laid into my teammate for his cornering skills. In reality, it was my fault for being in position to be affected by that sort of thing, and my lack of fitness is nobody's fault but my own. I should probably isolate myself from all human contact for a few minutes after very race that doesn't go my way and wait for the endorphins to kick in. My relationship with reality and the ability to put things in context are on shaky ground in that window of time.
I felt like an ass, because this teammate was sitting in third place. After the race I was extremely close knocking him off the podium, just like last year. Just like last year, he didn't show up for the last stage, which put me on the podium by default (with a mid-pack finish on the final stage). Last year he dropped out to rest up for a mountain bike race, and I finished second and first on the last two stages, which would have likely put me on the podium anyway. This year my string of fourths was not awe-inspiring. He didn't give a specific reason for not showing, he just said he had "stuff to do". By "stuff", I think he meant "get as far as I can away from you, asshole", but we sorted it out via email. I still owe him a lot of beer. Friends don't act that way, pedal strike or not.
One stage to go, strong riders sitting behind me in the points standings, and a rapidly failing body stood between me and the glories of the third step.