The night before the Grand Prix of Beverly I dreamt I was flying. I had gone over the edge of a cliff during a mountain bike race and was plummeting to an inevitable death thousands of feet in the valley below when I realized there was another option: to fly.
I summoned up the willpower and, instead of the typical weak, anemic response, I was suddenly rocketing skyward. I shot past the edge of the cliff, turned a loop, and landed gently on my feet to the astonishment of onlookers.
In the car ride to Beverly, I told my wife about the dream and she said that it meant I was “unblocked” and I was ready do something special.
I had been patiently building cycling fitness, having skipped the Boston Marathon and gone straight onto the bike after the ski season. But my form seemed slow in coming. I had done a few Masters races with little to show, apart from finishing. I had abandoned the longer Pro/1/2 road races due to insufficient mileage in my legs. I had survived New England Crit week with solid bottom-of-the-top-25 finishes. But no stand-out performances thus far.
My best years were growing evermore hazy and mythical. I was beginning to doubt I had ever been a “real” bike racer.
The last time I raced Beverly, we were filming Tiny Robot and I had suffered, nearly crashed in the potholes, was gapped in the technical sections and eventually pulled. This year was a little different. They had removed the acute first turn and rapid left-right combo from previous editions, replacing it with a high speed chicane, so the course was faster and bit safer. The backstretch had also been repaved, so the road was super smooth and grippy. Nonetheless, I lined up with a little trepidation.
From the start, the race had a different feel than the last time, or anything else I had done this season. I felt in control. The pace felt slow. And I knew it wasn’t exactly slow but slow enough to clump riders in the corners and overlap wheels. There were more than a few sharp elbows and hip checks, including a full-body slam from Jeremy Powers in turn 2 (not his fault).
That’s how I found myself rolling off the front within the first 10 laps.
As the race progressed and more beer was consumed by the spectators, the finish line stretch became a tunnel of noise. Coming through alone or in a small group, it was impossible not to be motivated. Even as I knew I was burning matches with each fruitless attack, I kept trying. And with each attempt, the smile on my face grew.
My legs felt good, even on the rivet. Even at the limit, when the power started to drop I was able to back off and recover. And even as I faded back into the peloton, labored breathing and all, I quickly regained the front and tried again. I had no illusions of going it alone but was hoping that a small group would form and I could rotate through or sit on and have a better chance at a top finish.
Each time, I was recaptured, I couldn’t wait to try again. I was feeding the speed. Tucked down low on the flats. Drilling the corners. Back on tubulars for the first time in decades, I kept pushing the angle and speed in the turns, thinking each time this was it, that the tires would lose their grip and I would slide out and into the curb, and each time I cleared a turn, the mixed relief and exhilaration that made me want to keep doing it. Keep pushing. Keep driving.
In all, I attacked or bridged to an attack no fewer than 10 times in the hour-long race. With 5 laps to go, I tried once again to bridge up to the solo rider out front, but quickly ended up in no-man’s land, flailing, not going all-in, but going hard enough that I figured this was the end of my race.
I was swarmed and swallowed up by the pack.
I didn’t have much confidence in my sprint and I was already in bad position. But I had recovered quicker than anticipated. I caught a lead-out train moving up on the backstretch and was suddenly back in the race. It felt easier to move up and hold position than any other race this season. Some of this was fitness. Most of it was nerves. I barely touched the brakes. I punched open holes to move up. I leaned on other riders to hold my position. Crashing was a distinct and increasing possibility, but I didn’t let that slow me.
On the last lap, when Myerson started to gallop by the firehouse, I was in the right place to catch the tail end of his group, and went flying into the final turn. I came out wide, up against the barriers, stood on the pedals and sprinted. A real sprint–where the legs responded and the bike accelerated beneath me–unlike my typical sprint which went more like a slowly deflating balloon.
It all went fast enough to outpace the riders behind me, but not so fast that I couldn’t pull back more than a place or two. Slow enough that I was able to avoid the rider who thought he’d won and raised his hands in victory, only to get pipped on the line, lose his balance and crash.
At the end of it all, I finished in 10th place. It was the last paid spot, forty US dollars–less than the entry fee–but the first payout I’d had in years, and in the Pro/1/2 race, no less.
I felt like I was flying.