Written somewhere in the air closer to the Washington Dulles Airport in route to Denver...
The pre-race jitters hit me hard. Heartbeat racing, anxious stomach swirling, and the inability to make a decision. Yet underneath it all - excitement. I tell Shawn that I'm excited and aroused by what's to come. It's her first race so she asks why and I respond because this is a new type of race and I love a new challenge. That and I truly love racing bicycles.
The race is hot from the start. As hot as getting 300 pounds up to speed can be. We lug and heft our body weight quickly, positioning ourselves in the top two around the first one hundred eighty degree turn. I take the corner with no fear and absolutely zero hesitation. Upon exit I tell Shawn to stand and in one fluid motion we're up together winding the tandem back up to speed. We're on the Kiwi's wheel, zooming down the tailwind descent, having enough momentum to pass them and be the first to navigate around the round-about. I take it at full speed, angling and cutting it close to the curb, which puts a gap between us and the chasing teams.
The Kiwi's catch us and accelerate, being the first through a shallow left hand turn and accelerate hard over a small hump of a hill. We fly down hill, gaining speed into the bottom left hand corner. Positioned in second, we take the inside line and lean hard, angling the bike at forty five degrees. I'm focused on the race, not hearing or sensing Shawn's glee as the ground zooms by. The Kiwi's still on the offense, surge on the next hill. Their practiced teamwork seamless and impressive. But the new girls on the block, with two weeks of training and growing engines, are not to be discounted. We came to play. We match the Kiwi's speed while keeping careful watch on the other tandems.
Mackenzie and Kara are the only two brave enough to attack and get a gap on the descent. The tandem teams look at one another, no one keen to initiate the chase. Mackenzie and Kara quickly gain a fifteen second advantage. Coming into the hill, the Kiwi's surge again and we close the gap as we quickly catch Mackenzie and Kara. No one counters until we come to the two backside steep hills. The Kiwi's throw an attack again this time followed by Debbie and Karissa, testing their legs and muscling a big gear. I watch them muscle uphill as Shawn and I delicately spin 100 rpm to their 60 rpm, saving our muscles from early fatigue.
The Kiwi's are trying again to gain a gap and we've already dropped the weakest tandem. My heart is beating hard, lungs thankful for the extra sea-level oxygen. We power up the hill and I make note of the weaker tandems, already showing kings in their armor this early in the game.
Shawn is matching my power, spinning smoothly, face buried in my ass. She doesn't ask what's going on, she just pedals. The surging continues but our light gear and ability to accelerate continue to play in our favor. Her sonar hearing assists as she tells me which side approaching tandems are coming, their movements and creaking bikes announcing the galloping elephants.
We start creating intentional gaps, spinning and accelerating and cornering quickly causing other teams to surge and close the gap. Every move is playing out to my expectations. I'm having a blast, cautious yet giddy at playing different cards with the other teams. It reminds me of track racing and how just out of sheer joy and fun, I'm able to push that much harder. Coupled with the added benefit of partnering with Shawn, and I'm digging into a new level of disassociation. One where I can hover over the pain in my searing lungs, lactic-acid building legs, pushing beyond what my brain communicates to my body. The euphoria is intoxicating. The first lap was hard, but we stuck with the group and I'm encouraged and start observing where to make the final sprint to the finish line.
Mackenzie and Kara attack again, gaining a minute fifteen seconds while the rest of the teams play cat and mouse, waiting for the Kiwi's to try another breakaway. Every move is quickly absorbed and the Kiwi's call a truce and pedal to the back of the group. The next lap is slow and the Kiwi's summon the other teams to work together and catch the break. We quickly reel Mackenzie and Kara back in and they have a hard time staying with us when we absorb them.
Benjamin is standing on the sidelines, coaching me, telling me to feather the gear and spin up the hills, to get off the front but stay attentive to positioning. I start calculating who has anything left in the spring. Lisa and Rachael had muscled up the hills, putting a strain on their muscles. Debbie and Karissa put in a lot of energy when chasing down Mackenzie and Kara. The Kiwi's are the biggest threat. Coming into the last corner, I know this is it.
We're through the left hand turn followed by a sweeping right hand. From the sideline, Benjamin reminds at me to be patient. It's a long uphill headwind sprint from the feed zone. The Kiwi's initiate and we jump on their wheel, easing into their draft. At 150 meters to go, we surge making an attempt to come around the hard charging Kiwi's. We don't stand, mainly because I'm not confident and that lack of extra zip puts us in a respectable second.
I tell Shawn we just got second and she screams in excitement, grabbing my waist and thrilled with our success. I'm tickled as we let our accomplishment hit us in waves. The new kids on the block with a pinto stars and bars bike just made a major statement.
That night we recalled the race from our different perspectives. Shawn, verbalizing her excitement trust my every move. She trusted my tactics, my racing prowess. I told her how synched we were and how much I enjoyed racing with her.
We just received word that in a little over a month, Shawn and I will be representing the United States at a world cup in Italy. Look out world!