With numbers pinned, bikes checked and pre-race rituals completed, 50 or so P 1-2 men line up for neutral roll out for a 1 o’clock P.M start time. Chris Black, the moto ref, gave us the speech about how to be smart and stay up right on the course today and his advice is well heeded because that man has pretty much seen just about all of it.
The moto rolled and and everyone clipped in, licking their chops for their first shot at glory in the seasons first road race. I thought to myself that it was windy, with 20 to 30 miles per hour wind from NNE, which should make for a devastating race during the 6 times around the 14.2 mile circuit. Just as I finished my thought, there was an initial flyer at the drop of the flag with two riders going up the road. Other than the two highly motivated men off the front opening up a gap on the field from mile one, the rest of us enjoyed our coffee ride lap and hid from the wind. While its slow I take the time to see who is who in the race and mentally check who needs to be watched and where on the course.
The fastest men in the race were the Williams brothers and, if left unchecked and allowed to contest a field sprint at the end, they would surely take the win. So for the advantage of myself and my two race allies, Inno and Tyler, we needed to make the race hard early and split the field down to a small finishing group or a shattered field even.
The race started at 1 o’clock but it didn’t actually start till we hit the cross wind section for 5 or so minutes. The field saw some immediate loss in numbers the first lap of 6. That paired with how windy it was and how hard people were being guttered. I myself and my allies started some attack, counter-attack tactics to draw out some of the key players in the race to spend energy early.
After a failed attempt at split the race on the climb with Inno, Tyler and a small group due to a head wind limiting our advantage, we decide to employ a different tactic on lap two or three possibly into the race in the cross wind section. It was simple as Inno was heavily marked, so it was hard for both he and I to get up the road together so we employed the tactic of “pulling the trailer pin” in the cross wind section at 450 watts where I block and gutter people and he rolls with a small group. Once the group was established I was to come across later with a small group or solo to join the fight.
Getting across proved to be a bit of a pickle. The next time through the cross wind section we had Inno, Tyler, Brian McCulloch, Cory Williams and a few fast men from CBR last weekend well established and rotating efficiently in the lead group 30 seconds up the road. It was time for me to do my bit of racing. I took to the front of the pack and throttled it through the cross wind section with about 30 guys and came out with a smaller group of 8 or so. The pickle came from the situation where no one in my group really had enough ammo to get back into the race except Justin Williams. So, he and I went for it a few times but with him being one of the fastest men in the race people didn’t want it to roll. That and I figured pairing up with the fast guys in the race can backfire on you because if they make it into the group and have a sufficient draft, the game is over for everyone. It’s kind of like playing with fire, I wanted to help the boys up the road but I didn’t want to swamp there boat by bringing all the muscle in my group with me. So I knew I had to be smart and only apply effort where match for match people would have to use the same amount of ammo as me each effort. I knew the best area to smash it was in the cross wind section. I did this just about every lap and it was coming down to the wire. With the Inno, Cory Williams group established 1 min up the road and as a group of 13 rotating together It we were coming down to the last hour of racing. I knew my guys needed me to have a fighting chance of breaking down KHS’s foothold in the breakaway with the very strong hand of Brian McCullough and Cory Williams.
It came down to the climb as Justin Williams went for an attack and I followed. Once we had a gap, I held my best 5 min effort and bridged up solo to the group of 13 just as they crested the top of the hill. Any longer and I would have missed them because a group of 13 descends faster than 1 with a huge head wind. Cory Williams’s double takes over his right shoulder “Where did you come from Lockwood?” Me, “Oh… well… your brother and I where back there having a party for a few laps and I decided I would come and join you guys up here for a bit!” Some One else says “And you came across a 1 min gap alone? WTF?” I saw Inno just smirk… they had no idea what was about to happen.
Just a few minutes later, I come from the right and Inno from the left as we descend upon the front and implemented short 500 watt pulls through the crosswind section and left room for just 2 people. But being former teammates with Brian McCullough, I knew he was the guy making room for 3 riding in the dirt at 500 Watts to make the split, If you had seen some of the bike handling feats he has pulled off in his time you would know that this was just another day in the office for him because he has no apprehensions and just makes it happen. Just a few minutes latest the group went from 13 strong to 6 surviving total men being myself, Inno Tyler Locke, Brian McCullough and two other guys whose names slip my memory at the moment. That’s the thing with race recaps, sometimes when you are breathing so hard that you don’t register everything that is happening 100 percent, nor are you the politest at times.
At this point we needed to ride and everyone needed to pull through because if Cory Williams mustered some followers and came back to our group with 1 lap to go the show would be over for all of us. This is the point where I probably yelled at a few people who were sitting on and told them to pull or get dropped and it’s their choice. Sorry for being a jerk, I just knew we had to ride or we would have company and not the sort of company that was going to improve our chances of winning.
Inno and Tyler had the better sprints so it was my job to get off the front and draw people out or get away solo. So we setup a counter attack and I took a flyer on the back side of the course. For the next 10 min I went all in till I crested the hill and made it down the headwind decent. It was then that the moto ref rode up next to me, looked at me, smiled and said “Cory, I think you have got them, you can take it easy now, you have a 1 min lead.” With Tyler and Inno as a duo bringing up second and third on the road, I rode my way to the finish and rolled back to the car. The funny thing about coming in like that is the people who are watching look at you like, “Dude, get out of the race course, the leaders are coming,” and they don’t realize until after you have crossed the line that you were the leader. It’s not as flashy as a sprint or winning by a bike throw but the strong man roll in the race is my card and that’s the way we played it- with a little luck and some good timing, we were able to pull it off.
I came to America for education at college, but deep down in my heart, my dream was to always come here to pursue cycling at the top level – I wanted to know just how good I could be at this. I arrived alone and not knowing what to expect – it was a risk I had chosen to take, leaving behind friends and family to pursue my dreams and goals.
My first season was a disaster though. I found myself inexperienced and way out of my depth, getting dropped from almost all the races I started. I was riding for the LAPT Wilde Subaru Elite team, which later became the Project Echelon team that I still ride for. I can honestly say, that if it wasn't for my teammates, I would not be where I am today. The team was absolutely great to me, with more experienced riders taking me under their wing. They motivated me to keep trying, they trained with me and they gave me advice that ultimately led to my growth and development into the rider I am today. I still have work to do, but with the strength of the 2018 roster, I know I am going to be pushed and challenged to keep bettering my riding.
I spent my first year in America at a small school in Pennsylvania without collegiate racing – I had no idea what collegiate racing even was when I first arrived - before I made the transfer to Lindenwood University to compete in collegiate racing as well as riding for Project Echelon. Racing at a school level taught me the importance of teamwork and trust for each other, both on and off the bicycle, and the added racing to my 2017 calendar helped mould me into a stronger rider.
This winter was my first experience of indoor, winter training. I was used to being able to ride outside all year, and the sudden shock to my system was tough to deal with. I turned to teammates yet again, seeking advice and tips on how to go about staying motivated and build fitness indoors. I won't lie, I have been going slightly insane, but the weather has turned for the better in St. Louis, at least for now.
I often think about what lies in my future and where I want to be a few years from today. Will I be in the same place? Will I embark on another risky move for new experiences? I enjoy moving a lot, seeking out new challenges and experiences to help develop myself, both as a rider and a person. I enjoy the unknown, just packing up and starting somewhere new. For 2018 I am excited to be fortunate enough to have the opportunity to race my bike at the top level of American cycling and travel to some really awesome locations – one of my favourite things about cycling is the opportunity to travel and see the world that it gives us. I would love to eventually make the jump to Europe and try my hand at racing over there, once again taking a risk and leaving behind what I know and love.
The only thing certain for me is that without the risks I took 3 years ago, I would not be where I am today, I would not be the rider I am today and I would not have met the people in my life that have helped me along the way. Taking risks can be daunting and scary, but with inner motivation, the correct people surrounding you and a beacon or goal to work towards, the rewards are tenfold.
Afterward: Wesley's story is one that Project Echelon shares with many of the veterans we support. We ask them to step into a world of unknowns and take a risk and to invest in themselves and their well being through physical activity. We work with veterans to set goals, develop training plans, overcome adversity, and use physical activity as a tool for self reflection and self discovery as a means to achieve greater goals outside of athletics. In this way, we are all connected to one another and share similar experiences... which is why we all play an important role in the Echelon and serving one another and giving back to our community. Our combined experiences, knowledge, expertise and passion empowers us to overcome the insurmountable and make positive change the lives of those around us, especially our veterans.