Spring Stage Race III- Wind, Blue Skies, Bears, and Ugly Podium Boys.

As usual after a two-stage day, I didn't sleep all that well Saturday night. I was definitely tired enough, but I couldn't stay asleep for very long. A toddler with a chronic case of the sillies might have had something to do with it.
The sky was overcast when I woke up. Half the forecasts had predicted rain, half of them sun, so the morning split the difference. The car was in its usual state for this late in a stage race- a chaotic pile of everything I needed and didn't need but was too lazy to remove. I was pretty much set to deal with most contingencies. I would just have to dig a little.
The last stage was a circuit race on Fort Richardson, the flattest we have around here. The wind and a single turn were really the only characteristics that could influence the race, so you had to make your own luck. Given the vast majority of races I'd done on the course, it was a pack sprint for everyone not ground off the back during the 42 previous miles.
I was feeling a bit off, but I was sitting on the podium with a decent points cushion on the two riders behind me. With two intermediate sprints for points and Markus Doerry looking to make up for the previous day's flat tire, I knew which wheel to follow. Don't get dropped, keep an eye on how the sprints stack up, and finish relatively near the front. Easy.
Since the numbers had dwindled considerably, they started all groups together under blue skies and reasonable temperatures. We began at a modest pace, but the slower groups were shed within the first loop. When Richard Tilton went to the front for a pull, you could almost hear everyone's muscles cry out in anguish. He wasn't gentle (by our standards), cranking out 50 or so more watts than anyone wanted to average, for far longer than anyone wanted him to. More corpses fell off the back.

Somewhere along the line, while I was suffering in the back and questioning my life choices, the whole pack rapidly slowed. Not seeing or hearing what the cause was, I drifted up the side to see a momma black bear and her cubs crossing the road in front of us. Bears always get the right of way whenever possible in Arctic Bike Club races, because the alternative isn't anything you'd want to experience.

When each group's sprint came, the other groups sat back and didn't interfere. When it was the Masters' turn, I was in bad position and not feeling all that strong. Still. I moved up the single pace-line, putting myself in the wind as I looked for an opening to squeeze into. When none appeared and the riders seemed to meld tightly together like blobs in a lava lamp, I knew I was going to have to go early. Since the train was hugging the yellow line, I figured I'd pin them to the virtual "barrier" and limit the numbers that could get by easily. Maybe I could jump on that train and snag a point or two. I jumped weakly, and watched as Tom Peichel and Chris Knott charged by on the line. Not willing to let yellow paint stop him, Doerry jumped the line and went for it. I rolled in fourth, out of the sprint points but still with the pack. A lap later was the Open sprint, and after a Chris Knott lead-out they rode away from us mortals. I was overjoyed to see them go.
Stewart Osgood and Jim Winegarner dieseled off the front to try to bridge to the Open Men, but ran out of gas in no-man's land. None of us were interested in chasing them down, so we let them hang in the wind. Eventually they joined up, and stayed off the front through the second sprint. I was doing complex algebra to figure out the current points situation, and decided I was happy for them to eat up the bonuses. Knott and Peichel obviously felt the same way, and Doerry was along for the ride. Two laps from the end we decided to rein Osgood and Winegarner in, amazed that they had lasted that long off the front.
So all that was left was the sprint. Osgood took a couple stabs at another breakaway, knowing that he had to leverage his strengths and go long. Each time, Chris Knott and I closed down the gap, letting him know that another flier wasn't going to happen. The last time we raced this course, the final sprint had gone extremely early, with riders blowing up left and right and the eventual winner surfing from zombie to zombie. This time was more measured, and I sat glued to Markus' wheel, fourth in line, not really interested in (or capable of) going for the win. When the three riders ahead of me went, I went with them, and the surge gapped the rest. Piechel edged Knott, then Markus, then me. Home safe. Podium secured. Done.
Markus' casual disregard for the yellow line rule earned him a DQ, so I ended up with third on the first sprint and third on the stage, but it really didn't matter.
So, how do I feel about the result?
To be honest, not really that confident. Unlike last year, where two great finishes against a stronger field put me on the podium, this year it was all fourths and inherited thirds. Doerry flatted, DQ'd, and was clearly not on his usual form. Craig Walker dropped out. Osgood missed the first stage and broke a chain in the TT. Jens Beck, John Lynn, Ed Sniffen, Bill Fleming... no shows. I limped my way up onto the third step, and I know it.
I stood on the podium for pictures. Tom Peichel and I got to play podium boys for the always awesome Stacey Kolstad. To be honest, I think the whole Men's field would have lined up to kiss her on the cheek, but a couple of scruffy, sweat-covered, aesthetically-challenged Masters racers got the honor. That was my big win for the stage race.
This is not where I want to be, and it's going to take a lot of work to get from here to there. I did skip ice cream at McDonalds last night, so I'm making an effort. The thirty pounds I need to lose between here and Fairbanks are starting to fall away. Many miles are plotted out on the calendar. Hours of climbing and general riding. Loads of intervals. I might even get out and do some of them.
It's the thought that counts, isn't it?


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