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The Magic of the Mind by Luke Pharis

My expectations were low coming into this season. I had no idea how anyone was riding, or if I was even ready for racing. I had the mindset of being there to have fun and do what I love to do, race bikes. I was super fortunate to be surrounded by my teammates at Elevate Racing and coaches at Williams Racing Academy heading into the race. They were putting all their confidence in me. Each one of my teammates this weekend, from the ones that didn’t race to the ones that did, played a bigger role than they could imagine.

I suffered last season from crashes, bad results, frustration, and stress. All things that don’t lead to being a successful bike racer. The main thing I wanted to change for this season was trusting my ability, and doing what I love to do, race bikes. I felt some pressure knowing that I had to perform for the team. I told myself “If you go out there and try your best, that is all anyone can ask for”. This helped alleviate some of the anxiety that was building up, but it was still there. I knew something needed to change, so I spent 15 minutes of every day leading up to the event practicing meditation and allowing myself to fall into the right headspace. I was able to combat my fear and nervousness and turn it into excitement and confidence.

Waking up the morning of the race at my teammate Mario's house, we took the morning slow and did not waste any unnecessary energy. This ended up biting us in the butt. All of the sudden it was noon and we hadn’t even begun to pack up the car. We rushed out the door, grabbed a quick lunch, and bolted to the race. After not racing for a few months, you forget the little things you need to do in order to be prepared. We got to the race and had our team meeting with my other teammates; Gabe, Scott, and Mark, who each played a vital role in setting me up for the win. The game plan was for me to stay relaxed and conserve as much energy in the field as I could.

I line up at the start, nerves gone, tension in my body is non-existent, just smiling and ready to have some fun! The race starts and so do the attacks. Immediately, the big guns are trying to get away with Tanner Ward, Evan Mcquirk, and John Purvis throwing haymakers at the front. Luckily, I had Gabe and Mario right there able to help cover those moves and allow me to stay calm and focus on conserving my energy for when the racing really gets going. A group of six went off the front with 15-16 laps to go, but I missed it. It had two Butcherbox guys, Evan Bausbacher, and Eli Husted. All of them were marked on my radar for threatening riders to be up the road. I didn’t panic. I had told myself to trust my abilities and attack when needed. Two people attacked out of the field attempting to bridge and I followed. We rolled together for about 30 seconds before I realized it would take multiple laps at the rate we were going to catch the group in front of us, so I went solo and didn't look back. Within a mile, I had closed the gap and made it to the move of the day. For the next few laps, I tried my best to conserve my energy, eat, and stay calm. We were rotating at a solid pace and extending our gap from the field. Like I predicted, the other two chasers made it to us after a few laps, but they looked tired. As the lap cards got closer to 1 lap to go, I could see the fatigue on the other riders. I felt great, each lap left my body stronger and more confident. I knew I had a shot at winning this race. It was all coming together heading into 1 lap to go. I knew everyone was hoping for a sprint, but I wasn’t going to let that happen. I launched an attack on the big hill with about 1 mile to go. No one was on my wheel and my lead was extending heading into the technical downhill. I knew I would need to rail the corners and take some risks to make sure I had the best chance of winning. Heading into the last 500 meters, my legs were starting to fill up with fatigue and my power was slowly dropping. I could see them right behind me and still wondered if I would make it to the finish. They were closing in with 200 meters to go, but I realized I had it. I was the lucky one today! I put my hands up crossing the line and let out a scream of excitement and joy for what I had accomplished. The first race of the season was mine, and I would be the one on the top step today! Teammates came rushing over giving me hugs and fist bumps, amped that we were able to pull the win out. The spirit was high, and the motivation amplified. People brushed us off, but we wanted to show them what Elevate Racing was made of!

After a fun night of celebrating with my teammates back at Mario's house, the team headed into Sunday knowing that it would be up to the other teams if they wanted to try and win. We showed we could do it, now it was their turn to show what cards they had to play. I had no idea how my legs were going to feel as my fitness was still low and others in the race had put in lots of miles this off season. I knew I would be a marked man today and no one would let me get away easily. Even with that, we came in with the same game plan as Saturday. Scott marks the early moves, then Gabe, Mario, and Mark cover the others.

The race started off similarly with people trying to whittle the field down and get a move going early. Two riders ended up making it off the front and getting a big advantage. Then 2-3 riders got away. Then riders started slipping off the front in 1s and 2s. I had seen this before from my time racing in Belgium. This is how all winning breaks were formed over there. I attacked in the perfect moment, right as the group sat up, from the 15th wheel heading into the technical uphill section. I immediately got a gap and only brought one rider with me. We worked together and were able to catch two other solo riders. Now there were 4 of us chasing the leaders. The pace was high and ended up being too much for two of the riders, so they dropped. It was just me and my bridging compatriot, who had followed me out of the field, left to try to catch the leaders. We worked together and within two laps we caught the front group of 4. There were now 6 of us rotating well and not skipping pulls.

The gap stayed constant at around 30 to 35 seconds for about 3 laps. I knew this would be a dangerous game. Butcherbox had missed the break, and there were still plenty of strong riders left in the field to bring us back. I upped the pace of the break and took some longer pulls to try and help extend our gap. It worked but ended up dropping one of my break mates. Now that the break was established, I began analyzing my breakaway companions. As I would pull off the front after my turn, I did the same thing as Saturday's race and was analyzing riders position, facial expressions, and how light they looked on the pedals. Everyone was cooked, I was the only one who still was able to have a smile on my face instead of a grimace. I knew I had it in me to win.

We continued to work together for the remainder of the race. Heading into one lap to go I decided I wanted to see how my sprint was since yesterday I won solo. I pushed the pace up the climb and ended up dropping one more rider from the break. There were only four of us left. I stopped pedaling at the front to force the other riders to come around. Only one did and I let him go. I knew the other riders would not throw away a chance at winning by allowing one rider to just ride off the front and I was right. Another rider attacked and I jumped on his wheel. With 500 meters to go the solo rider was still off the front but we were catching him. I decided to take the front and bring him back. I knew I could close him down whenever I wanted, but I left a gap open to him. This allowed him to still be motivated and unknowingly give me the perfect lead-out. At 150 meters to go, I launched my sprint. My timing was perfect. I was able to get the inside line and the sheltered side as there was a cross wind at the finish. No one could catch me this weekend and I was able to beat the closest guy by over a bike length. The win was mine!

Never did I think I would be able to win two days in a row in this fashion. I am still processing what I did and what I can accomplish for the rest of the season. All I do know is it would not have been possible without the help and support of my coaches over at Williams Racing Academy and my teammates at Elevate Racing. I am more motivated than ever to get stronger and hopefully win a few more races this season. I hope to see you out at Pace Bend, and happy racing!

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