Michael Olheiser (TriStar) had time to zip his dark blue jersey up before crossing the line alone on the front of the U.S. men’s elite national road race championship Sunday in Bend, Oregon. A careful look at the finish photo discerns two truths: There were no other riders in sight and the goose bumps on his arms showed how meaningful the moment was for the 35-year-old from Huntsville, Alabama.
“I got goose bumps just like I’ve got right now,” Olheiseser told VeloNews an hour later. “I mean, it was the exact same feeling. You know, I mean I think I got them about 1K to go because I could still look back and the Shimano truck was behind me and the goose bumps just came in and I was just like, ‘This is not fricking happening. There is no way I just did this two years in a row and repeated.’ And you know, it’s an overwhelming feeling.”
For two years now, Olheiser has gone two for three at elite nationals, each time winning the time trial and the road race. Count his total national championships since the beginning of 2009, and one sees two elite road races, two elite TT’s and a masters’ road race and TT.
Olheiser admitted that he loves the suffering and the commitment required to ride at a high level into his mid-30s. But when he rolled away from the field on the penultimate lap of the Awbrey Butte circuit, still 40km from the finish, he was a long, hard way from doubling up at nationals for the second consecutive year.
He and Jesse Moore (Cal Giant-Specialized) shared accelerations on the front of the field into the feed zone on the fifth of six laps, and when Moore and the group backed off the pace slightly, Olheiser laid down a big move.
“I just kind of seized the moment when everybody sat up and thought maybe I could get a gap, so I went for it,” he said. “It’s 100 percent when you have to go. If you go, you go 100 percent and it’s now or never; especially with 50K to go, you have to give it everything.”
Olheiser, who was ill at the Tour of the Gila and flatted in the Mt. Hood Classic TT, put his head down on the long false flat leading from the feed zone to the Archie Briggs climb, quickly taking 30 seconds.
Behind him, Olheiser saw riders three abreast at the front of the chase and knew that the group was not reacting immediately. He took a one-minute advantage onto the Archie Briggs climb, which made him nervous. “It’s a little scary to only have a minute with still 17 miles to go,” he said.
As he topped out on the rollers above the climb, Olheiser maintained his advantage, but was hoping that his memory was betraying him. “I was actually praying it was the last lap,” he said. “’Maybe I missed a lap. Please let me have missed a lap,’ is actually what I was saying.”
The Huntsville Hospital-employed personal trainer knew that he had an additional lap between finish-line announcer Dave Towle’s voice and his ears, but held out hope that the lead car would take him home one short. That indeed was not the case, and as he came through the chicane signifying the start of the final lap, Olheiser kept the gas pedal down.
“At that point I just went into my time-trial mode and you just set the rev’ limiter and hammer,” he said. “You don’t let up. You have to think about your legs. I don’t see anything else around me.”
Olheiser metered his effort over the half-mile climb to the feed zone and punched it on the false flat that had freed him 27km earlier.
“At that point, I’m thinking, ‘If I can get over the Archie Briggs climb with a minute gap, I think I got this,’” he said. “Because that false flat, if you blow yourself up or if you’re tired, you’re done.”
His jersey open, Olheiser, who will ride at August’s Tour of Utah with the Canyon Cycles team, set his power output at about 98 percent and drilled it toward the final ascent of Archie Briggs Road.
“I crossed my fingers and hammered up that climb as fast as I could go and kept hoping I still had that minute at the top,” he said.
After more than 35km alone, Olheiser did still have that one-minute lead as he spun a 53×11 on the rollers atop the climb.
“I was like, ’Perfect, now all I’ve got to do is get over that last roller and get it into a high gear and roll it in,’” said Olheiser. “I knew that once I got over that last climb and I was spun out, I was at least sustaining the time or making up time on anyone behind me.”
As he turned right onto the finish straight and toward his wife, Nicole, Olheiser zipped his jersey and thought about the outcome of his long effort; he was in shock.
“Last year was unreal and then to do it back to back, it’s just, I haven’t quite grasped it yet,” he said. “It’s different every time, but wonderful. Very good.”
Goose bumps rising from his raised right arm, Olheiser crossed the thin, blue finish line having defended the double.