Overcoming adversity is something that all athletes face in one form or another, but coming back from injury is never easy.
After his horrific crash at Tulsa Tough in June, Coach Dana needed to reassess his goals for 2014. After a false start where, by his own admission, he “was a little hasty in getting back on the bike,” Coach Dana quickly realized that he would have to miss out on a number of personal and team target races: the San Rafael Twilight and Elite Nationals in Madison, WI. just to name two targets that he would be forced to miss. However, propelled by a quicker than expected return to form following his recovery, Coach Dana was able to return to racing in time for the August CalCup events and eventually taking a win at the NCNCA Elite District Championships.
In the following, Coach Dana reflects on the race and shares with us a victory that almost wasn’t.
Words By Dana Williams
It’s September 21st – Oakland Grand Prix, the last criterium race of the 2014 road season. It just so happens to be the NCNCA Elite District Criterium Championships. It’s in the mid-70’s. As I think back now, ‘boy, are we ever lucky to live in this beautiful region of the country and have such a solid racing season.’ My team mates are: Our Team Captain Roman Kilun, Marcus Smith, James LaBerge, Craig Fellers and Travis Lyons.
Team Mike’s Bikes p/b Equator Coffee gathers just behind the start/finish line 30 minutes before the start. Team co-captain Roman Kilun lead the race plan strategy; if the races ends in a field sprint then we will work to lead-out Travis Lyons. All that said, there’s a good chance that a break will get established and stay away due to the challenging nature of the course. If that’s the case then we need to do our best to have one of our sprinters in the break. Game plan on, let’s do this.
I roll up to the line in good spirits, focused and feeling good. As I had mentioned to my teammates during the pre-race meeting, I had just come off a training block that included two very hard races (Vacaville GP and the Giro di SF), some solid intensity and was hitting my best power numbers ever. That was in the back of my mind, but I believe you can never let something like that define your mood at the start of a race. It definitely helps seed a deep down confidence, but racing is such a team sport that it’s not always the strongest rider that wins.
On the second lap, I find myself in a break with Ariel Herman (Mar Pro-Strava), David Grundman (Team Bicycles Plus p/b Sierra Nevada) and Pete Morris (Clif Bar). As we enter the second hairpin, with the field no more than 5-10seconds behind, Ariel either clipped his pedal or lost his front wheel and slid out. David breaks, but is quickly over Ariel’s bike and can’t do anything but go down as softly as possible. Behind, I have to grab my breaks and slid sideways to stay upright.
Next thing I know, I’m rolling on the sidewalk trying to protect my bike. I hop up and grab my bike and check to see it’s ok. The field begins to go by. My initial thought was to hop back on, but then I clued in and realized it’s best to take a free lap.
A quick rear wheel change (to fix a piece of rubber that got pulled up from my tire in the crash) and I wait for the field to come back around. I’m let back in and soon find myself in another break. This time there’s five of us; my teammate Roman, Chuck Hutcheson (Marc Pro-Strava), Rob Evans (Bear Development) and Stephen Cabebe (iRT-Reactor p/b JL Velo).
It all happens so fast that it’s kind of a blur for me. But I’m now back in a break, with a teammate, another rider from Team Mike’s Bikes main competitor, Marc Pro-Strava, an experience veteran in Rob Evans and an unknown rider in Stephen Cabebe. With this representation so early in the race, I believe there wasn’t much urgency in the field to chase. Our lead continued to slowly extend. With around 15 laps to go, I believe all of us in the break knew we were going to stay away and one of us would be crowned the 2014 Elite District Criterium Champion.
At this time, Roman suggested that we start some attacking and see if one of us could get away, or at least tire out our other break compatriots. We tried but nothing stuck- Chuck and Rob were covering us successfully. Next thing I know, I exit out of turn 1 and feel my front tire go soft. Sure enough, it was a flat tire. With the neutral support right there it was an easy change and I was easily back into the race (after being allowed a free lap).
With four laps to go Roman and I settled on a plan to have him lead me out for the sprint win. A small game of cat and mouse ensued for the next three laps, with all of us aware of the field slowly gaining.
On the last lap. I lead us up the hill and over the start/finish line. Roman is on the inside with Chuck on his wheel, followed by Rob.Roman hit it hard out of turn one and Chuck went with him. Rob saw this gap and went to close it down. I followed, with Stephen on my wheel. Roman and Chuck eased up as we entered turn three because of the work they had just done. I believe Rob sensed this was his time and attacked, although I was able to go with him. He eased up after realizing that I was still there. I went by and rolled first through the hairpin. I accelerated out of it and had a small gap: Thoughts were going through my mind…do I go now or wait. I went around turn five, still had a couple bike length gap and it donned on me…now is the time to go! I stood up and started sprinting. Like always, the power transferred straight to the pavement thanks to my stiff yet comfortable Specialized S-Works shoes. Then I sat back down and kept going, not looking back. I felt as though I was trying to stay away from a pack of wild coyotes. I didn’t want to look back because I was afraid I see them bearing down on me. I went through turn six and briefly looked back. To my surprise and happiness, I still had the gap. I had to keep going so I tried to stay as low as possible. Around the final turn and I looked back and still had a decent gap. Just then I knew I was going to win the race. Although a short time, I was able to enjoy the last few meters with my hands in the air.
I couldn’t be more thrilled to be the Elite District Criterium Champion for the second year in a row. Thank you to my awesome teammates, team sponsors and everybody that makes this happen.