Guest post by Rally Cycling rider Brad Huff.
A few weeks prior to US Criterium Nationals I found myself sick and semi-stranded in Belgium. Luckily, I was in a safe place and with my best friend. My fitness was at a great point after racing the Volta ao Alentejo, but my immune system was a wreck. I was barely starting to feel like I could push the pedals again my last week in Belgium. But my best friend Lauren Hall had a few key workouts that fit right into my plan. She humbled me and pushed me just like I was in a race. Looking back, those workouts were spot on in getting my legs together.
Coming home for only a few days prior to the US Criterium National Championship race, I did my best to maximize my aerobic capacity so that I could handle a full-gas, 1 hour 50 minute criterium with riders who are hungry for their own championship run. The day before the race, our Rally team director Jonas Carney (two-time US Pro Criterium Champion) took us out for a 40ish minute motor pacing session behind our team Acura RDX. It was the perfect prep to blow the cobwebs out and get our legs open for the big show. The morning of the race I was able to tag along with Rally’s newly crowned TTT women’s national championship squad, but I had to ask them to slow down SEVERAL times on our short one-hour spin.
On race day, we cracked a few Red Bulls prior to the race and had to remind ourselves that this was THE national championships as we had waited around all day. Gently rolling to the line with maybe 5-10 minutes of warm up in my legs I wondered what the day would hold for our team. Within minutes of the gun going off, several of my teammates had already been in several aggressive moves along with myself. The tone for the day had been set: full gas! I don’t think there was a single lap that the field wasn’t single file with riders getting spit out the back.
Early in the race there were several crashes taking down both myself and the day’s second place finisher John Murphy among several others, including our former two-time criterium champion Eric Young. Eric was a little more battered than I and his legs weren’t their normal supercharged selves. He and I had a quick conversation and it was settled. If the race came to a sprint, I would sprint. Luckily enough, in the closing laps it was a smooth and controlled affair thanks to the power of the United Health Care leadout train. We had our two key riders for the day, Jesse Anthony and Tom Soladay, in a death march against UHC in the closing laps.
Unfortunately UHC dragged them back in with just four laps remaining. The countdown had begun. I was glued on the wheel of Daniel Holloway, America’s most dominant criterium rider, who was right on the UHC train. Travis McCabe was breathing down my neck…
I knew if we all were going to have a chance we had to be patient and not ruin it for one another by being overly aggressive.
In the final lap UHC had the pace so fast that every rider was scrambling to simply hold the wheel in front of them. In the final three turns, the sprint was on. UHC pinned it and we were all out of the saddle giving it everything. I took a risk and went around the outside of Holloway and McCabe through the second-to-last turn. UHC drove it hard keeping the lead into the last turn. I jumped around their sweeping rider (a rider protecting their key sprinter in front of them), then we all tore into the final turn praying our tires would hold, knowing that we were pushing them to their absolute max.
I came out of the corner side-by-side with Ty Magner of UHC with John Murphy from UHC just in front of me. Having only maybe 125 meters to the line I knew I had to accelerate with everything I had to match John Murphy’s world-class power.
At the line I couldn’t believe what I had achieved. I had won!
Check out Brad’s activity from Crit Nats.
I was overcome with emotion and pride for my team. I don’t know who all I hugged, but it was every single one of my teammates and almost every rider from UHC and several other teams. My win will go down as my greatest achievement since clipping in for my first race long, long ago. After the whole jersey presentation was over I heard my brother’s voice yell my name. I totally forgot he was there. I was overcome with emotion and tears fell as I hugged him and repeated how much I love him. This weekend was an emotional roller coaster as a close friend back home in Springfield, MO had unexpectedly passed away. Tom Billionis, a husband, a father, a friend, a businessman who ran my favorite coffee shop, The Coffee Ethic, and a man that was loved by every person he ever meet. My cup truly runneth over and today’s result was 110% for Tom.