Saturday, June 6, 2015

Reflections on a Repeat

It's been a busy week and a half since that rainy afternoon in Chattanooga, but it has allowed me to process the events of that special day a little bit more. Through several interviews, replays of the race in video clips and pictures, and reflections with friends & family, I have been able to really soak in what happened. I have come to a few conclusions:
  • One, I feel great honor and pride to have the jersey back. I wish to do it and the country proud while racing in it.
  • Two, there is a great sense of validation in winning. It's not that my win in 2011 wasn't valid or "real", but winning again just brings a greater sense of accomplishment I think. It is hard to describe, but I think it is similar to repeating an experience in life that then becomes routine or feels normal. A repeat brings with it a sense of permanence that can't be taken away. Winning in 2011 was surreal and honestly still is. Winning in 2015 feels more real to me. Perhaps it was the way I won, (not in a photo finish, so I had time to process before the line that I was going to win), or maybe it was the fact that in 2011 it was a bit of a surprise to win, whereas I've gone back every year since with the goal of trying to win it again. Whatever the case, this particular win was extra special for me.
  • My third feeling is a great sense of relief. It has been a long 4 months since starting my season with a broken scaphoid in Mallorca. Certainly I can't rest on this win alone and will continue to train and race hard, but this helped me feel more confident after several months off the bike and hopefully that lifting of stress will help me to perform even better as the season continues on!
  • Finally, I keep repeating to people who ask or say congrats, how special it was that my family was there for the race. I was a solo rider and relied on them for feed and moral support. To be able to thank them for their help on the weekend, but more importantly for their support throughout my entire career (and life) is a wonderful feeling. The win might have even been more exciting for them than for me! And of course it was fun to get to take Noah on the podium. Funny story about that was forgetting to tell Lisa until the next day that I had spilled the podium beer on him. She said she smelled beer that night but had no clue where it was coming from! Ha. I assured her he hadn't consumed any. :)
So what about the race replay? I can tell you 100% truthfully that I thought the race was over when a big group with riders from several big teams got away on the opening circuits. I still haven't heard an answer about how they got a gap, but I assume it may have opened on the Kent Street climb. In any case, I was certainly concerned and had pretty much checked out of the race for a few kilometers after. Without any teammates to help, I knew I couldn't possibly pull the break back on my own and still have any shot at the win, and I wasn't sure if there were any teams wanting to take up the chase or even able to handle the task in front of them. There was a lot of racing ahead though and thankfully as the day went on several teamsmdecided to work. The break did a solid job of keeping a gap and then Andrew Talansky made me really nervous when he attacked solo and put 2 minutes into us the third time up Lookout Mountain.

As has always been the case for the championships I've competed in, the last time up the big climb (Paris Mountain in Greenville and Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga) is the real turning point. The race can be hard or easy before, but the final selection is always made there. This time it was Phil Gaimon and Gavin Mannion who pushed the pace and created the selection as the rain started coming down. The pull in the last 1.5km by Gavin put the serious hurt on. That was definitely the hardest part of the race for me. When the water cleared from my glasses, there was only a handful of us left, maybe 10? It was a strong group, but we didn't have great collaboration for the remaining chase to catch Andrew. A few of us worked to keep the pace high and luckily for us it ended up being just a little too hard/long of an effort for Andrew to stay away solo from his attack with 80+ km to go. I certainly tip my hat to him for a gutsy and hard fought race.

Throughout the entire final, I tried to stay alert and ready to follow any moves because I've learned from past experience in the championships that even the smallest gap can be the winning move. It doesn't even have to be an attack, just someone skipping a pull, the gap forms, then people are too tired or won't cooperate enough to close the gap and it's over. I think the final move with Joe Dombrowski, Gavin Mannion, and me was almost like that. We somehow managed to sneak away and once we had our gap, it was just down to who had the legs. Kent Street took Gavin out of the picture, so then it was just Joe and me. My thought process when it was just the two of us was that I wanted to keep the pace high and make sure it would be only the two of us for the finale, regardless of how we went into the final corner. If it was going to be a "climbers" sprint, I felt my chances were pretty good given that my legs are at least twice the size of his! The tricky part was monitoring my effort not to be dead if he attacked me earlier, so I could cover it, but I also had to keep the others from coming back. I tried to ride an "appropriate" pace/effort to hopefully facilitate that. I was pretty sure he would attack me before the sprint, which he did inside 2km to go. I was able to follow his move and then I knew I had to go if I had the energy because he would hopefully need to recover a little from his effort. As soon as I got onto his wheel, I took a few pedal strokes to recover, saw a traffic island, and jumped to the other side of it with the idea that it would make it just a little bit harder for him to catch my wheel. I had my gap and began to feel that I was going to do it. At about 500 meters to go my adrenaline spiked as I had the thought flash through my mind, "I'm going to win!". I had to make a safety check on myself before the final corner to make sure I navigated that corner properly and then I raced toward the finish line as quickly as I could. I wanted to slow down and really live the moment, but I wasn't sure how close Joe was behind, so I kept going until I crossed the line. Then it was on to embraces from Lisa, my Dad, and the rest of my family and friends that really helped cement it in my mind. It was one of the rare times where pouring rain at the finish line actually may have enhanced the moment, and I think it will be one that will stick with me for a very long time.

So what's after the lights, flashes, interviews, and celebrations? My life goes back to nearly normal, but the work only begins for the team. As per the rules, the team has to create a new jersey/kit for me. That means a design team has to come up with a blueprint, which then needs to be approved. Upon approval, the clothing company has to produce the clothing, which can be extremely demanding depending on their current workload. Once the clothing is complete, it has to be shipped to the team to be distributed to me, all before it is time for me to start my next race! Thankfully for me, all has gone to plan and I will get to debut my new jersey at the Dauphine starting tomorrow. I'm looking forward to racing the Stars and Stripes again!


Anonymous said...

Great luck at the Dauphine and congrats again on the win at Nationals! Thanks for the recap. You'll make America proud as always.

Mike M said...

Fantastic read! thanks for sharing those moments! Best of luck this week at the Dauphine. I know you will be working hard for the team over a tough week of racing!

Anonymous said...

Matthew - Big congrats! You are such a deserving champion and I can't wait to see the Stars & Stripes in Europe!!!!!
It's been a long time since they've been seen there and I know you will wear them well.

It was such an exciting race. Thanks for posting your take of the race. The rain did really add to the tension, but glad I was watching at home (and dry).
You were always in the mix in previous years but could never find others willing to help pull to keep the peloton away.
(I'm thinking of a few times including 2013, but especially Tim Duggan's win in 2012. I remember where only you and him were pulling in that group of 5 - and TVG and TommyD said later they were too tired to help take many of their pulls even though you all had a big big gap - so the peloton came back.)

Again Congrats and sending good vibes for the Dauphine!

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Watched the last, nail biting kilometers. When it was just the two of you, I told Izaak you were going to power away....boy, did you ever. We were holding our breath as you took that last great turn. Awesome ride, you deserve the jersey. Looking for good stuff to come this season. Best,
Dr. E