By Michael Barry, U.S. Postal Service professional cycling team
Ever since Canada won its bid for the world championships three years ago at the Plouay world’s, I have had the race in Hamilton in the back of my mind. To race the world’s on Canadian soil is more than a dream come true, and to race it an hour from where I grew up is more than I had ever imagined.
The last weeks, since the Vuelta, I had been training with George Hincapie in South Carolina. For the most part I was taking it easy and trying to recover from the Vuelta and sleeping and relaxing as much as possible. I had no idea how I would be after the Vuelta as it was the first time I had completed a three-week race.
When I arrived in Hamilton on Wednesday to watch Dede’s time trial, and celebrate her birthday, the atmosphere around the race was fantastic. I bumped into many faces I hadn’t seen in years, many people that helped me along as a child and junior, and it was good to chat with them.
I was a nervous wreck prior to Dede’s races. I knew she had the legs to do two fantastic rides and she did. I followed her in the team car during her time trial and had shaky hands and sweaty palms the whole time. It was great to see her give such a great effort. She had me motivated for the weekend.
Most of the races we do are in Europe, and although we get a lot of support from the spectators we are not the favorites. In Hamilton, the Canadians and Americans were the favorites and it made an incredible difference during the race. All the way up both climbs people were cheering for us, yelling our names. It was exciting and motivating. The crowds, the fans, the friends made me want to put on a good show for them.
Time for my race
We knew the race would be attricious and hard. I think that perhaps the course was almost too hard as the peloton approached the race cautiously. The first laps were slow and steady with few attacks. Everybody seemed scared to light the race up on the tough circuit for fear they would lose too much energy. In Lisbon two years ago the race was approached in the same manner and a group of thirty came to the line for the win.
From the start the Italians and Spanish were present on the front and kept the race under control. Both had riders that were the favorites for the final-Bettini and Freire. They could sit on the attacks and race conservatively until the final laps.
As we rolled around the course I scanned the crowd and saw many faces I had raced with as a kid. The crowd was large and very red and white with Canadian flags. In Canadian spirit flags were held high in the air with hockey sticks and hockey chants echoed from the roadside.
I was feeling snappy on the bike, my feet were able to push the pedals without much pain in my legs. It was a good feeling to have in one of the biggest events in my career. I didn’t know how the race would play out. Whitey came up to me during the race and told me to stay out of the wind, follow the right wheels and hit it when it counted in the final. He was right, so I tempered my efforts on the climbs and rode as conservatively as possible.
The world championships are always ridden in a similar pattern with the race starting off slowly and then increasing in speed throughout the 260 km. The racing always starts to unfold in the final hour, the final few laps, in the last 60 km. This is when the team leaders hit the wind and race for the jersey. My legs began to feel the pain of the race with two laps to go. Twitches started in my legs-not a good sign. But, I figured that I could hold on for twenty more kilometers. The crowd was carrying me up the hills and the pains disappeared.
With one lap to go a small group with all the hitters jumped away on the climb. There were six of them seconds off the front of the bunch. I had one shell to fire, one effort left so, as we hit the last climb I figured I would give it a nudge and try to jump across to the group.
I went, got a gap and continued until I reached their wheels. We were cresting the climb and as I arrived the group sat up and looked around. I went again, all or nothing, but was caught as we hit the descent.
After the race we drove back to Toronto with a few donuts on my lap: A maple glaze for the day’s efforts. It was an awesome day and more than I had dreamed. As I child I would ride my bike through the parks and dream that I was at Worlds in Europe fighting for the win. Last weekend I was able to do it on home soil. The crowd truly did carry me with their ebullient energy.