It seemed like it might never happen, but this past week I flew down to Aguascalientes for my for experience as a member of the USA Cycling national team. The Pan American Track Championships have been an event I have wanted to participate in for quite some time. I have always enjoyed racing with riders from Central, South America and the Caribbean. This was also my first time in Mexico, believe it or not, and it was a trip that will be a fond memory for years to come.
I left Portland a week before PanAms for a UCI track race in Milton, Ontario. This would be good prep to get my track legs going after a short break since nationals in late July. The three days in Milton were great. I had decent form that I figured might be even better the following week. I was on the 3 out of four podiums for the races I did. 2nd in the elimination to the talented Aiden Caves the first night. 3rd in the points race on the second day to a dominant performance by Jay Lamoureux. The third day I only managed 6th in the pursuit with a 4:39 but that evening I won the scratch race. A couple days later I flew from Toronto to Aguascalientes, Mexico for the real important stuff.
I arrived Tuesday night in Aguas, and I had to race my (personally) most important race, the Scratch, the following evening. I was a bit stressed about my bikes making it across the 55min layover in Houston on to the small plane that would take us south of the border. I was pleading with the crew to please be sure that they could accommodate my big red bag. The copilot joked for a bit about just selling all the team bikes on eBay, but then I saw him out my window and eventually got my bikes loaded underneath the plane. Now this would be my first time at elevation. I have never really spent much time at altitude and certainly never had to race with the lack of oxygen that is available at over 6000 feet. I had heard that it's best to get in and race ASAP if you can't arrive long enough to acclimate, so that offset the stress of the tight arrival to racing timeline just slightly. Although I would still have to contend with heavy race days on the third, fourth, and fifth days if competition the the two day Omnium and Madison looming.
I am lucky that I have had a great coach all these years who has left me feeling very prepared for events like this. I don't often get nerves because like we say, JAFBR, it's Just Another Fucking Bike Race. That said, I really wanted to win the scratch race. I have been consistently good in scratch races for a while and especially this season, but they are often a gamble and can go so many different ways.
Our race started slow, with the bunch creeping at the stayers line for a lap or two. I floated down track to the pole lane in the hopes that everyone would follow suit and we could get this thing moving. No one followed tho and I basically coasted into a gap the length of the back straight. Evan Burtnik of Canada eventual hopped across the gap but when he got to me he came right over the top and began to lay down the hammer. This guys was all in and with not even three laps to go, it was GO time. We eventually lapped with 40ish laps to go but our attack shattered the bunch. It was hard to tell which way was up. One bunch took a lap after us and some other people scattered off the front. At a crucial moment the Mexican rider hopped away when I was stuck in the back of traffic. He linked up with some other riders and I could t get across without pulling the entire bunch. After the dust settled he was a lap up on me and the rest of the pack. I would now be sprinting for second. The other USA rider Zachary Carlson did a great job of stringing the bunch out for the last few hectic laps. I managed to make my way thru the traffic and light up the sprint to finish with a near straightaway of daylight between me and the next finishers. It was amazing to have good legs and stand on the podium of my first race in a Team USA kit but it was so bittersweet to watch the Mexican rider pull in the PanAm champion jersey.
More on the rest of PanAms later.