For a few, the 2016 season kicked off a little earlier than normal with the Illiniwek Abermination at Illiniwek Forest Preserve in Hampton, Illinois. The first race in the Illinois State Championship Race Series of the year and a few weeks before WORS, what better way to shake off the winter rust then to do a little racing?
Even though we live in northern Illinois, Brian and I rarely race in this state as our main focus has always been WORS. Outside of a handful of races over the years, we almost exclusively travel to Wisconsin for all competing, so it was exciting to see what our state’s series has to offer! Being only mid April we were lucky to have warm, dry and all around perfect weather on Sunday, but perhaps that’s the added bonus of being a few hours south of our normal venues. With temperatures in the 80s at the start of the Elite race, the well shaded and nicely flowing trail was shaping up to be a great start to the season.
Being the first race of the year and in Elite, with a brand new bike that I rode for the first time during the pre-ride and after some knee difficulties earlier in the year – I really had no idea what to expect from the day. Warming up I focused a little more loosening up then I normally do since I didn’t want to re-injure anything in my knee. Luckily, between the warmth and possibly the adrenaline, I was feeling very comfortable and ready by the time I hit the start shoot.
After what can only be described as a really poor start where I couldn’t find my pedal (did I mention it was the first race of the year?), I found myself easily catching up to the back of the sprint pack before the first turn. By the time we were leaving the lead out and dipping into the single track I was only a single rider behind Brian. The comfortable pace grew my confidence a bit and seeing Brian was riding strong making several passes, I did my best to stay close behind. At the peak of one of the climbs, a rider directly in front of us fumbled at a well-marked turn and slowed the pack just enough that I was able to pop ahead for the descent. At the flat lap point Brian regained the lead of our pack for a pull and started to make some ground on me.
My first hard effort on a brand new bike, I just wasn’t feeling very dialed in after about a lap. My saddle was too low, a fact made apparent mid second lap when my lower back started to feel very tired. By laps three and four I was doing a lot of standing to compensate for the lack of power being generated and to rest my aching muscles. By the last time through lapping I was internally chanting that “It’s only pain, what’s one lap?! Don’t get caught!” I was able to see glimpses of Brian through the switchbacks and I estimated he was making about 30-40 seconds on me each lap.
Riding by myself for the last three laps and despite struggling to not lose too much momentum to a bad bike fit, my legs were feeling surprisingly great! Even being this early in the season, I felt like my training was popping nicely and power was with me. Sprinting against only myself to the finish line, I took 14th with a time of 1:56:10. Only three minutes behind Brian’s 12th, a great result, at 1:53.13. Having completed our first Elite race, we’re feeling more focused then ever and really excited for what this year will bring!
Nathan Guerra, also wanting to get some race time in before WORS, got to start the year on a win with a time of 1:43:12 (and got to pick up some sweet swag).