By: Heath Blackgrove
Although it was my first time racing the Pro 1 Chris Hipp Memorial Texas State Road Championships I was really motivated for the race. I had heard a lot about how good the Fort Hood course was and even the constant rain we had the morning of the race couldn’t change my enthusiasm.
In fact the rain felt like a bit of a novelty for racing in Texas, and was going to be even more beneficial for me as the race was also build up for my home race, The Powernet Tour of Southland later this month in New Zealand, which is notorious for its bad weather.
Myself and Elbowz Racing went into the race with the planning to be represented in every break. The race started with a lot of attacking and the guys did a good job of making sure we weren’t caught on the back foot. With the attacks, a little wind, the rain and the hilly nature of the course, it was only a matter of time before the race would split and it came halfway around the first lap of the 3 lap, 100 mile race. Everyone was pretty much represented in this group of 8 or 9, including myself and the main guys I thought would be the threats. I was feeling good and with such a big group I tried to do only what I had to and save the legs for when it was really going to matter. This gave me a chance to figure out the fantastic course and take in some of the amazing sights and sounds going on around Fort Hood, including tanks firing live rounds around us!! Definitely a first for me and adding to the mystique with the mist and rain. I’ve heard some riders blow up in races before but this was a whole new explosion!
All was going well and on plan until part way through the 2nd lap and I had a dreaded rear flat. No worries I thought, there’s wheel support. There was, but it wasn’t behind our leading bunch at this time. So I had more time to look around while I waited for the next bunch, with the wheel support wagon behind them, roughly 1.30min behind! Luckily though I had a couple of team mates in this group. Thinking quickly Mat Stephens didn’t hesitate to give me his race wheel, a very much appreciated move, and Christian Helmig waited for me to get going. From then it was pretty much a two man time trial with me and Christian trying to catch back to the front group. Christian really dug deep and gave his all helping me. When he’d finally had enough I was in sight and able to finish the rest of the chase by myself. This was almost a victory in itself, making it back to the break, but I was hungry, and a little angry by this stage, and wanted to make sure the work Mat and Christian had done didn’t go to waste. I tried to eat and recover from the effort but the chase had definitely taken some sting out the legs, which I tried not to let on to the others in the bunch.
Early in the 3rd lap guys started getting itchy and the attacks started coming until finally there were 4 of us left, 2 Super Squadra, Logan from Team Hotel San Jose/Boneshaker, and myself. We worked well together to form the gap on the others with everyone looking strong until Dave Wenger from Squadra put in a strong attack with a bit over 10 miles to go. While it was a good move to try and drop Logan and myself, unfortunately for him he only dropped his team mate, losing his numerical advantage. It also showed me how strong Wenger and Logan were going and that I wasn’t going to be able to just out muscle them to the win. With constant attacking the last 7 miles it was about picking my move and the time came with just under 3 miles to go. Logan had just put in a good attack with Wenger giving chase. When we came back together I launched as I sensed it was the perfect time to counter attack. Thankfully I read it right and I got a gap straight away and managed to hold it all the way to the finish to take the victory and the title.
I was especially pleased with the win and to repay the faith my Elbowz Racing team mates had to work for me and sacrifice their chances for me. It was also special to be able to win the Pro 1 Chris Hipp Memorial for our team manager Nick Kiernan, who was a great friend of Chris and unfortunately unable to race after a bike accident earlier in the year.
Huge thanks to Andy and his crew, sponsors and everyone at Fort Hood for putting on such a great event.