ELBOWZ out – Mat Stephens

The Primavera at Lago Vista as it’s now known is a Texas Monument. The race has been around for 30 something years and has winners such as Lance Armstrong, Mariano Friedick, Chann McRae, Chris Hipp, CP Thalken, and many more including quite a few of my ELBOWZ teammates! ELBOWZ always targets this early season race to make our mark on the Texas scene. We brought a full squad, fresh off wins at Walburg and Pace Bend to contest it on the first weekend of February. The thing is, Lago Vista weekend didn’t start that Saturday, it started months before then in the off-season. As the off-season started I had decided I was going to start coaching after talking about it for so long. I left my full-time job to focus on training and coaching. My training all winter went well and had good results at the races I entered up until Lago Vista with a few podiums at smaller races but no wins. I was even a bit nervous going into the weekend. Walburg and Pace Bend are hard races just a week before Lago and the days in between I didn’t let up. Tuesday was a hard 4.5 hour ride with climbs, Wednesday was time trial intervals, and Thursday was a 5.5 hour ride. Saturday came and i was probably the most fatigued I had ever been starting a race, I was nervous!

Saturday started quickly, everyone wanting to stay up front with the strong winds. ELBOWZ was attentive each time up the hill, looking to be represented in every move. About an hour into the race I saw a good time to jump away and 2 others came for company. We were away for a good bit and I knew it was a matter of time before Heath Blackgrove or Joe Schmalz came across. I don’t know how they both got away from the field without anyone with them but they did, it’s Heath and Joe, of course they did. I switched into teammate mode and as soon as they caught on I drove on as hard as I could. I knew they would take care of the finish, I just had to make sure their escape from the field counted. Heath and Joe took turns attacking and I hung on for dear life. Heath got away with one rider and took the win, while Joe and I attacked the chasing riders to take 4th and 3rd respectively.

One down one to go. Sunday I was less nervous. I was just as tired Sunday as Saturday, and I had ridden well on Saturday, so no big deal, on with the race! Sunday’s course was counter-clockwise with steep climbs and a long descent that requires continuous pedaling. Right from go it was a different race. It seems Heath rode so strongly during his win the day before, that his chain couldn’t take it anymore and the first time up the steepest hill, Heath’s chain quit on him and Heath had to retire. Saturday I was nervous about my form, Sunday I felt the responsibility of getting a result with us down a Heath. Michael Sheehan performed my role of the day before by getting in the early break and letting Logan Hutchings, Joe and I follow and conserve. Up the hill we three found ourselves drug across to Michael’s break and this group of about 15 consolidated our lead down the hill. From there on attrition took it’s toll up the hill where we dropped a rider or two each time up for the next couple laps. With an hour left to go Lawson Craddock made a strong move up the hill with Joe on his wheel. I followed a few riders who were desperate to make it up to them and then I jumped hard at the last bit of hill and went across. We drove it at the top but we three had one passenger that wanted to wait for his team captain that was in the small chase just behind. We had all made the move and had no designs on waiting for anyone. He refused to pull and so we refused to pull him. Ironic about the symmetry of it right? We three ganged up on him and attacked up until he blew up. I was out front and Lawson came across, but Joe couldn’t shake the wheel sucker so he fell back to the chase. Now being out front with someone who Heath had said not to take to the line was weighing heavy on my mind. I knew I wanted Joe with me but I couldn’t sit on or sit up. So knowing Lawson saw this as his best chance for winning and knowing Joe was behind, ready to shake the chasers and join us, I rode VERY conservatively. I had hoped Joe would appear from behind and we could use our numbers to overpower Lawson, but we saw three laps to go and no one was in sight behind with the section of hills up next. I watched Lawson like he was going to steal a baby. I never let him or his shadow out of my sight. I rode within myself up the hill waiting for an attack, but it never came. At the top of the hill Lawson stopped pulling through as frequently as before, I was even more weary. We did the descent where I could relax a little and ready myself for the next time up the hills. I rode the same as the lap prior, attentive and within myself. Up the steepest hill I was pulling and noticed his shadow moving… backwards. I wasn’t quite sure what to do until I looked back and saw he was struggling. I hit it as hard as I could. I think he blew up, I didn’t care, I had the gap, I had to make it to finish without cramping or flatting or bonking or all sorts things that would creep into my head. I had 25 minutes alone with my thoughts, only a lead car to chase, and a moto official for company. How powerful is your desire, your ambition, your mind? I know the closer
I got to the finish the more the pain went away. I was glad to win, for my team, for my hard work I’ve put into training, and for all the names that have come before me in the past. My name is on the list.