Rider Diary: Para-Cycling Road National Championships, By Matt Bigos

I am not even really sure where to begin with this one, so here goes. The last 13 months have been rough to say the very least, not the worst in my life, but probably the hardest in my cycling career. 13 months ago I felt confident that I would get my spot for London. Then, a big crash in training, a bad race in Europe, a worse race due to a car on course and a questionable rider at nationals, a bitter director and I was sitting at home for the rest of the summer holding my head and wondering “Where do I go now?”. A few weeks of wondering and thinking, I decided to keep at it. I’ve been through worse and made it out, why stop now? Winter came and went and it seemed the world sometimes wants you just stop. I was reminded of something I tell people on a regular basis, “If it sounds too good to be true….”. I had all but pulled the plug on the Nitro Circus team I’ve run the last few years on my own to get me to the races and taken an offer from a team here in San Diego, turns out it was too good to be true. That left me scrambling to find enough sponsorship to race this year.

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I’ve had plenty of people tell me that all of this was a sign that maybe it was time to call it quits. Maybe I should go back to work and have a 9-5 again. Plenty of people thought I just didn’t have it in me, that my TT game wasn’t good enough, that I was soft, etc. But, in the end, there were enough people that stood by me, that believed in me, that kept me pushing. I’ve been accused of being too dumb to know that I am not any good at something.

All of this takes us up to Road Nationals that took place last week in Madison, Wisconsin. For a Para Cyclist in the US, Road Nats it’s an all or nothing event. The majority of your season will be determined by one race, one time trial. That’s it! No stress right? All the Para riders race the TT on what we call standard, it’s an average per kilo pace based on previous Worlds TT results for each classification. It allows the National Team to see how competitive a rider will be in their classification and for all of us to race head to head so to speak. With out boring you with too many details, the basics are that you have to be top 8 on standard against all of the other Para riders at Nationals. With around 80 men signed up, easy right? And since the time trial is probably one of my least favorite things in the world, I was excited!

I spent about a month in Europe in May and early June racing the UCI Para Road World Cup Series and a few smaller races. I arrived back in San Diego exactly two weeks to the day before I would have to leave for Wisconsin. I had a few good rides and a few not so good rides while in Europe. I knew what I needed to do in order to make the Road Worlds team this year and got to work. I basically locked myself away in my living room, broke out my turbo and rode my TT bike doing intervals on the turbo for 10 of the 14 days I was home. To say that I had a little anger/fire going into Nationals this year is an understatement. Riding the trainer that long will almost make you go insane, side note I wouldn’t recommend doing this if you have a girlfriend/wife etc. You probably aren’t going to be any fun to be around.

For me, the travel and days leading up to the races are usually more fun or exciting then the racing itself. This year was no different, I split a room with a good friend David that was doing his first Nationals and had a great time racing, training and working with him. The days leading up to the TT went rather smoothly, just rode the course as many times as I could and had a good time meeting a few new people out on course, the US Para Team has tons of new staff and we had a meet and greet ride the day before the TT which I thought was awesome! Thursday rolled around and it was time to race! Turns out it was the hottest day of the week! Temps in the low 90’s and I think all of the humidity had me a little bit worried, I have some issues with heat as about half of my body doesn’t sweat. Lots of ice was the order of the day. I skipped riding the trainer for warm up and headed out on the road bike to open up the legs. Then just before the TT back to the car, switch bikes and a big ice sock down the back of the skin suit. I was almost cold before the start! But that didn’t last too long, it was hot enough that 5k into the race the 2 pounds of ice I had on my back was totally gone! Now, anyone that has ever done a proper TT effort knows that doing math while racing is about as successful as trying to stop the sun from rising. I knew what my standard was for the course, and some of the other classifications had already raced earlier in the day and I knew how fast they had gone, so I had a decent idea as to how fast I would have to go to make the team. Well, I had done some rough splits in my head before the race and tried doing a little math mid race, bad idea. At the half way point, I kinda had a little panic attack! I was about 30 seconds down on where I thought I needed to be and had a few moments of terror, luckily my brain worked enough to figure out the second half of the course would be a bit faster. In the end it worked out. I won my classification and was 7th overall, the top 10 were all within 3%! After I crossed the line and saw my time, I felt pretty confident I was in with the ride I had. I had ridden myself so silly that when I tried to stop I pretty much dumped it into the grass and just fell off my bike. A couple people ran over and kept asking me if I was okay, and the only thing I could say was “I am not really sure?”. I guess that means I did it right.

Friday was a nice and mellow day with a couple laps on the road race course and then the waiting game. The Worlds Team was announced on Friday, and I was checking my phone literally every 30 seconds all day until I had the official word. I had done the math and was about 99% sure I was in, but until you have that email saying so, you’re never really sure. I may or may not have almost had a panic attack inside an Arby’s while having lunch and waiting for the email.

With the big event out of the way, I felt pretty relaxed for the road race and crit. I had a great race in both events. I spent most of the road race looking after my buddy David. After a split and a little bad luck for him, he found himself off the back of the chase group. I sat up going into the last lap and waited for him to try and pace him back up to second place on the road. We were right at a minute down on second place going into the last 9k lap when we crossed the line. Once I had him on my wheel I took off after second place and hoped I could get him back up in time for the finish. With about 2k to go we were less then 100 meters off the back wheel of the second place rider. I was completely smashed after all the work and had to tell him he was on his own, David got across the last little gap and caught on his wheel. Coming into the finish they were next to each other and things didn’t work out for him to take second, but third for his first road race was a great ride and I was able to pick up the win for my third year in a row in my classification in the road race.

Sundays crit was full tilt from the gun! Couple of the faster classification guys completely smashed it from the start! I thought for a moment I forgot and was racing on the track or something. I had a rough go off the line and clipped a wheel early on, then had a rider crack early on right in front of me opening a big gap and a few sketchy moves, I sat up and went back to what was already the second group at the end of lap 2. The rest of the race I did the majority of the work in the chase group that started out as 3 or 4 early on, and by the end of the race swelled to around 10. Again, I found myself watching over David, I see a pattern here? There were two guys up the road in his classification and another guy in our group, so it was up to them to fight over the final podium spot. I had pulled most of the race on the front and with about 3 laps to go I started taking less pulls and trying to save a little for the last lap. Coming into the bell lap I had David on my wheel and we were sitting third wheel. I jumped out of the group and we got a good size gap right away and were able to hold off the rest of the pack and dump him off about 400 meters from the line and he was able to cross the line solo for third on the day and again for me I had the win in my classification making it 3 years in a row for the crit as well.

I’ve found myself saying this a lot this year, I really couldn’t do this without all those that stand behind me. Not just my sponsors on my kit. The people behind the doors, the emails, the texts, the facebook messages telling me I can do it, they believe in me. Honestly that’s the stuff that keeps me going. I was closer to tossing in the towel last year then most people, even myself probably, will ever realize and the turn around I’ve seen this year has more then made it all worth it. It’s a long road to Rio and 2016, but one step at a time and this was a big step in getting there. Now then, let’s see if I can trade those stars and bars in for some rainbow stripes in Canada!

By Matt Bigos

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