Saturday, February 26, 2011

Collegiate racing: A Love/Hate Relationship

I still need to write up Walburg and Pace Bend, but seeing as the South Central Collegiate Cycling Conference (SCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCC for short) racing season kicked off today I'd rather write about that.

My freshman year, I raced in the B's and finished 2nd overall for the season.  The next year, I had received my cat 3 upgrade and would be racing in the A's.  I ended up winning the Men's A overall title that year almost by accident by simply finishing well in every event.  It's safe to say I was on MSU's radar after that.

Before I go on, I should say that MSU, not University of Texas, is A&M's rival when it comes to cycling, and this is because many of their riders get scholarships to race.  In the A's for the last few years, MSU was regularly 2/3 of the field or better, with 9 riders against A&M's handful plus a few from other schools.

As I got stronger, I became the thorn in MSU's side.  I greatly enjoyed being the underdog and sometimes succeeding, but was also incredibly frustrated because many times it became 1-on-7 and those odds are tough to beat.  To ensure an MSU victory, their team director created a special task for a few riders each race.  Their job was to--literally--be my shadow for the entirety of the race until I had burned myself up and then outsprint me at the finish.

They called it "Haga duty," and it looked a bit like this:

Or this:

You get the point.

Their riders would attack one at a time, and while I was pulling them back the others readied their attacks. One after another this went on until I finally could chase no more, then the rest would attack to leave me behind.

And then the Aggies got stronger.  Shane, Cody, Herc, and more.  That's right, double Haga duty.  I was still the most feared rider and would never be allowed to get away, but I was also continuously improving.  Still, though, MSU had the numbers advantage with at least 5 cat 1's compared to the Aggies' one cat 1 and few cat 2's.

Finally I had enough of MSU dictating the races and us playing defense.  If I was going to lose, I was going to do it spectacularly.

The Aggies new-strategy pre-race meeting:
"What are we going to do today?"
"Attack.  Then attack again, then attack some more. So long as there is an MSU rider in the lead group, you will attack."

Shane won that race, and I was able to garner a few more wins over time with this new strategy.  It seems that by racing offensively and just going nuts, we ruined their careful planning.  With Shane the sprinter, my and Cody's incessant attacking, and Herc's motor, we had finally found how to level the playing field a bit more.  There was one race in which I attacked all-out 15 times in 30 minutes.  The next day, Shane and I traded attacks to whittle the field down to just the two of us and one MSU rider--my favorite collegiate race ever, and a story which I won't type up because we tell the story best as a duo.

So yes, I'm definitely going to miss collegiate racing but I'm quite excited to be racing on a bigger stage this year.  At least I know Shane is still causing trouble for MSU!  And while he may not be getting great results in those tiny little races, I know he's getting the best workout of anybody there and Nationals is just a few months away....