RED BULL LAST STAND 2016

by Sean Burke October 31, 2016

RED BULL LAST STAND 2016

After a great Friday night in Austin celebrating Sammi’s birthday with the team, I woke up at an obscene hour Saturday morning to follow the action of the World Championship Road Race happening over in Qatar. As fate would have it, 24 hours later I was still wide awake (thank you Red Bull) eating hot wings and pizza in the lobby of the iconic 1920s Emily Morgan Hotel that overlooks the Alamo. This race report is about some of the events that transpired in between.

Aventon rostered four women for the Red Bull Last Stand, our final race of 2016—taking the line would be me, Sammi, Esther, and Kym. The premier event was the fixed gear race that was to be determined by an elimination-style format. This is way different than normal criterium racing in which all that matters is who crosses the line first on the final lap. There’s a whole lot more to think about here: smart riding and energy conservation are key, but expecting the unexpected and knowing when to diverge from normal race tactics is also necessary. Here, a rider is eliminated every lap until there are just two riders left to sprint it out at the end. Pre-riding the course, it was clear that this race wasn’t just about tactics or leg speed either—to be the last rider standing riders would have to master cobble sections, road irregularities, and a chicane before the finish line that took competitors a full 180 degrees before forcing them to blast their legs to make it to the line before those around them. On a road bike, the course would be tough, but to do it on a fixed gear bike without a brake… well, let’s just say, this is the kind of challenge that our team loves and why we race fixed.

To make the entire event all the more unusual is the fact that right now is a somewhat peculiar time in the season. Sammi, a professional mountain biker, is coming off of a full schedule and transitioning to cyclocross; Esther is wrapping up what has been a year largely focused on the track; Kym’s now spending her days in NY and just had another top finish at the North American Cycle Courier Championship; and I’m coming off a break and getting ready to put in base miles for the 2017 road season. Not knowing exactly what this would mean for our team, we made the choice to ride aggressively and, with the looming threat of elimination on every lap, to take extra caution to not get boxed-in on each approach to the line. As the laps ticked down and rider after rider was pulled, it became clear that this strategy was working—with only eight riders to go, the four of us were all still in it.

Kym, who had taken a couple strong surges to the front that forced the other riders to chase, was the first of us to be eliminated. Esther who had taken up what may have been the most difficult job of patrolling the back and taking out the competition by passing unsuspecting riders in the sprint was the next to go. Before we knew it, Sammi and I were alone with only one other rider, Colleen Gullick, in a race that had only moments before felt like a whole field. With the knowledge that we had secured two podium spots, the looming question was whether we could grab the top step.

Up to this point, I had managed to conserve energy by staying near the front but not on the front. I felt good and I could tell that Colleen was losing a little steam, so I put in a full attack to get some separation and make her chase. On good form and highly motivated, she was able to catch back onto my wheel before the final corner separating herself from Sammi and leaving the last lap down to just the two of us. Now, after attacking, my lungs were burning and the lactic acid building up in my legs was not doing me any favors. I took a moment to collect myself and thought about that last corner. I was in the wind, Colleen sitting on my wheel, and though I didn’t want to just pull her around, I knew I wanted to be the first rider before that last hairpin. Did I have enough left to do it? It was now or never.

As we approached the last half of the course, I got out of the saddle, nuked the chicane, opened up a gap in the 180 and with another burst to the line, I gave it everything I had left. Turns out it was just enough to become the winner of the inaugural Red Bull Last Stand!

As I took my victory lap and before I went to congratulate my teammates on their amazing teamwork and performances, I finally took the moment to soak it in. I was racing my bike literally at the Alamo (unreal), I had just won, and I may actually be one of the luckiest people in the world to call this my job.

The hours that followed included another race, a champagne filled podium, a party bus with an exploding generator, dancing until 2am in the morning, more Red Bull than the FDA would approve of, and ultimately ending up back in the lobby of the Emily Morgan hotel with a bunch of friends talking about the marathon of a day that had now passed. Sitting there, I bit into another hot wing. Something about it tasted like just the right way to end the 2016 season.




Sean Burke
Sean Burke

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