This past weekend, Texas had their Age-Based State Championships, the road and crit. Joseph was in the 13-14 group in both of them. On Saturday, we got up early and met with three other juniors from the team to trek out to a little town south of Tyler. Ivan Mukasa was entered in the 17-18 race and Joseph, John Ryan, and Redding Shelby were entered into the 13-14 race. The race course is dominated by the double hill that locals call "Killer." After a rigorous ascent, it flattens out a bit before it seems to go straight up. No, it's not as long as Cherry Pie, and in that, it doesn't kill you quite the same way. It crushes quadriceps with its stiff grade.
Joseph was not looking forward to the race that morning. I think he wavers back and forth about how much he enjoys cycling, which is completely par for a near-13 year-old. I'm similar in that I want him to enjoy it for it's own merits, not to please me, and yet I also hope that it will be something that we can share for the next few decades, father and son. So there's also the typical teenager hi jinx going on, the guys are talking about cycling and the competition and Harry Potter. Joseph got the new book that morning and started reading it on the trip. He finished it around 11 pm that night, by the way. I think he was looking to be distracted. He just knew it was going to be a hard day.
So we get there and set up. Ivan's race is first with the other boys all racing shortly after. I missed Ivan's start while catching up with other parents. Joseph's start was a bit off-kilter, he was in his small ring, bent over and almost sprinting to keep in the pack. I think he put too much pressure on himself. Then I went over and got a water bottle and a gel for Ivan, he had two 24 mile laps and I wanted to offer him a feed. It was hot, very hot. Baking oven, sweat dripping off your head into your glasses hot. But I realized that if Joseph didn't have any shade, I should stay out in the sun until he finished. Ivan came by and took on a gel, he was in a good position with a break of 4-5 guys. Then the 13-14 winner comes in, Michael Pincus from Pearland. I had been talking to his dad because Pearland is right next to Friendswood, my hometown. My folks live on the border between those two towns now. Michael ran away with his class. Redding was second a couple of minutes behind. John was third. Then came the rest of the finishers, one after another. At this age, the kids aren't keeping together like the "peleton" of older folks. They vary a great deal in skill and conditioning until after puberty hits for all of them. So the waiting began. And it went on for quite a while. I think Joseph finally came in over an hour and a half after starting. Not too far from two hours. I was there waiting for him and gave him a hug just over the line. He was crushed, probably embarrassed. It just wasn't his day. Last year he had done great things on this course, but that day, well, he just didn't have enough that day, and it hurt. They had already posted the results instead of waiting for him, so his name wasn't on the list. I could tell that hurt him. On a nicer note, Ivan hung with the lead group until the bottom of the last hill, then pulled away and won. He's the State Champion! When we were about to leave, Ivan was getting his State Championship Jersey and I heard an official reading off Joseph's name. He had come back to add it to the list. Thanks Steve. I know you did it because you wanted to have complete results, but you made a 12 year-old's day. I pointed out to Joseph that if he sticks with it for another 10 - 20 years, he might still be getting 8th place, but that will be 8th out of 50 riders, not 8th of 8. Most of the guys out here are really, really good.
That night we stayed in Jacksonville, TX (population maybe 15k). Not the nicest hotel, but we were able to enjoy the swimming pool and watch some cable TV. I think the time to decompress was good for Joseph. All the guys were in bed, asleep when Joseph finished Harry Potter.
Sunday we got up and trucked on down to Lufkin for the next State Championships, the crits. I had planned on visiting my Aunt and Uncle in Nacogdoches on the way, but Ivan's race started at 10:20, so we had to skip out on them. I forgot to call and inform them of this and they stayed in Nacogdoches waiting for us and missed Joseph's race (Sorry Uncle Bill, that was my mistake). Joseph, Redding, and I rode our bikes over to a Lufkin BK for breakfast, I wonder how many folks cycle downtown Lufkin? In the 17-18 yr-old race, Ivan thought that the guy off the front would get caught, but nobody worked to bring him back. One guy got impatient and bridged up and that was it, Ivan was caught with the pack. He ended up in fifth.
After that, I was working with Joseph on cornering and speed. I pointed out that Redding was faster than Joseph, let him go. In the same vein, let Michael Pincus go, he was faster than everyone in the race. And then there was Noah Williams, who placed 4th at Nationals and whose dad is a professional cycling coach. Don't pretend that you're faster yet. But there were three other riders in the race. One looked younger and, forgive me, like he had eaten too many cupcakes. The other was younger and someone that he had ridden a rally with a year ago. That's two racers that he would probably beat. Then there was a late entry girl who didn't normally race but realized that she would get a State Champion's jersey just for finishing. Joseph raced hard. He got lapped twice by Michael Pincus, who lapped everyone. He got lapped by Redding. He got lapped by Noah, but he came back against Noah while he was napping and made up some ground before Noah spotted him, and, surprised by Joseph's resolve, had to work to extend his lead.
Joseph got fourth out of seven, nearly lapping the last three competitors. Joseph's not on the same level as Michael, Redding, or Noah, but he's still got something. And I think he understands that a bit better after yesterday. I told him that I was proud of him, and I don't use that word with my kids. I tell them how pleased I am with them, how excited I am with their performance, how much I love them and all, but proud, that's something I reserve. And I was proud, I am proud.