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April 25, 2006

You should attack if you want to win. Men who wait are not right. OK, I didn't win, but still.

Leif Hoste, second place, 2006 Tour of Flanders

Tim attacked first, going off with a Bolla rider on the first of eight 4.5-mile laps. It didn't last long, but the way that the Bolla riders blocked -- lining up four abreast and taking up more than half the narrow road -- made it was clear that a successful break would have to include Bolla.

Before the race someone said they'd never seen a break stick in an Indiana road race, but fortunately Tim and I aren't ones to let prudence get in the way of a good attack. We took turns attacking and counterattacking until two other riders -- one Bolla, one Tortuga -- went off on the third lap. I jumped to bridge and was able to do so without dragging anyone with me. I went directly to the fore of the break and saw we already had a good gap. "If we work, this can stick," I said, only half believing it myself.

We rode smoothly and fast and our gap grew as we traded pulls. Bolla fell off the pace when we hit the rolling hills. This turned out to be the decisive moment. We still had more than 20 miles to go. I thought maybe we should wait for him, so that we could count on his teammates to block.

"No," Tortuga said. "We're better off without him."

On we rode.

The story of a break is about as thrilling as the story of a time trial: I rode hard. I rode hard some more. A couple of times I turned. Yawn.

I've always visualized being in a break. I've also visualized playing shortstop for the Cubs and forgetting to wear pants to work -- I never thought it could actually happen. And yet here I was, alone with another person, a situation teeming with both reward and risk.

I should have been thrilled to be there, but I was too anxious, too worried we were about to get caught. I was filled with questions -- Is he going to drop me? Do I really deserve this? Should I be working harder? -- that I couldn't answer. Body and mind were in time-trial mode. All nonessential functions, question-answering functions among them, were switched off.

Tortuga proved to be a pleasant riding companion. When he dropped me on the climb with three to go, he was polite enough to let me catch up. When he ran out of water I offered some Accelerade, hoping that if not for my wheel he'd let me stick around because he liked my company.

We had conversations like:

Me: So, is there a Waffle House nearby?

Him: Yeah, in Bloomington.

Me: If this sticks, lunch is on me.

Him: Fuck yeah!

My team had only three riders in the chase, but they may as well have been 30 for as hard and as smart as they worked. In fact, they probably had to work harder and smarter than me. I merely had to ride hard -- they had to ride hard and think about tactics.

That's one of the hardest parts of cycling, to ride smart after you've spent hours riding at the brink. Fortunately my teammates were on top of their game, and they shut down attacks like it was a game of Whac-a-Mole. Only rarely could we turn around and see their pursuit.

It wasn't until after our last trip through the rollers that certainty set in. At this point I was too gobsmacked by our success to consider tactics. I didn't think about form or timing or what gear I wanted to be in for the sprint. I put in a half-hearted attack with a half-mile to go, but it died an early death, and Tortuga out-legged me after the final turn.

I was happy to settle for second place. I'm one of those deranged people who feel victory should go to the strongest and the nicest -- I'm hoping hypnosis can cure me of this pathology -- and Tortuga was definitely both. Eventually I will be stronger, nicer and, more important, less surprised and anxious when good things happen.

Photo taken: April 23, 2006