California, sponsor events, a day with my parents, and on to the next one. Driving to Nationals filled me with a rootsy something special, recalling my first bike races, truck loaded up with my dad's and little brother’s bikes. Both of them, ironically were also racing. My dad and Andrea Dvorak decided on a whim to have some fun and registered for the coed tandem time trial, which they won. Of course. Jake, my brother, signed a midseason contract with Jamis gaining eligibility to ride in the pro race with me.
USA National Championships: 187 km
It came down to the final lap- Duh! But our three man hit squad burned a lot of calories to be in this position. In and of itself twelve laps of the punchy circuit didn’t guarantee a contest hard enough to favour Alex. It was up to Phil Gaimon and I to, make sure we were in every dangerous move, bait the strongmen into early action, and wear down the speedy continental sprinters while Alex conserved for the finish. Although the race accumulate a significant amount of climbing, the most challenging hill on the course was a meager 500 meter steep pitch in the final kilometre.
Phil and I went bonkers and the race evolved into an Amstel Gold style free for all- perfect for our American Ardennes specialist, Howes. On the hill heading into the penultimate lap Phil was in a group off the front. I launched before the hill and Alex jumped to my wheel, “Go, Ben!” We throttled up to Phil’s group. “Go, Phil!”
Phil ripped fifteen of us away. When he faded, the other fifteen riders left in the race bridged up, but the effort cost them bullets. Now everyone was white and crusty with sweat salt. Once again, the race was out of control. I had to cover everything now and had spent to much energy to trust myself to muscle the finish. Nationals is all or nothing. On the final lap, I was away in a group of eight. Two of the teams had two riders. Because I wouldn’t work, waiting for Alex, they kept taking me off the back forcing me to close small gaps over and over.
With five km to go I looked back and saw Alex coming. The riders behind him were in full chase mode. I sat up, took three deep breaths and when Alex slotted into my draft I revved into the red. If I could bring Alex to the breakaway before the hill, he could win. I turned myself inside out and we made the junction at the right hander onto the hill. Just as Alex appeared in the group, Greg Daniels popped off the front. I weaved to the finish, feeling downright ill, but believing, hoping, praying for Alex.
Greg stayed away, and Alex placed 2nd. As heartbreaking as it was for us, Greg rode a brilliant race and I’d make the same sacrifice ten times for Alex, simply for the fight he brought and effort he made.
That night we wandered the town, catching up with ex-teammates and compatriot cyclists, enjoying southern slang and beef jerky before before the flight back to Europe.