Memories from Nationals
by Jacob Shupe
I found out that I qualified for nationals on my 21st birthday. That morning, I woke up to an email from Matt Jones, the conference director, bearing the good news. It was one of the happiest moments in my life. I felt like a pro cyclist packing up and leaving on a Thursday to fly out to Grand Junction, CO to race on Friday and Saturday.
I was only able to compete in the Individual Time Trial and the Road Race because I had to leave early for a final exam and thus could not participate in the Criterium.
Arriving at the race venue was so surreal for me. All of this, that I was competing in the collegiate nationals, didn't feel real until the plane touched down in Colorado. Until then it felt like at any moment everybody was going to jump out and say “Ha! Gotcha!” and tell me it was all a prank. Alas, that did not happen.
Once we checked into to the hotel and got my bike back together, I knew it was time to start to focus and get ready for the tasks at hand. The first event was the Individual Time Trial which consisted of a 25km course with about 600 feet of climbing per lap. The course was a simple out-and-back with a 15 mph head wind out and a tail wind home. The officials even checked the bikes for hidden motors - something I'd only seen done on TV for real professionals. This was no longer a casual weekend competition with friends. This was the real deal. Then it was to the start line. It was just like I had seen on TV in the start house. The official holds his hand out counting you down. The announcer calls your name. another official is holding you upright. Then "Bang!" the clock hits zero and I'm off. I was able to settle into a pretty decent pace on the way before turning back for the tail wind. And man, I was glad it was there. The whole race was kind of a blur until I saw the 1km-to-go kite and pushed home. I ended with a time of 39:02:33 enough top place me 34th.
After the time trial it was time to recover and get ready for what would be one of the best days I never want to have on my bike again: The USA Cycling Collegiate Nationals Road Race.
I had been given no time to acclimate to the thinner air here. With the race starting at 5,600 feet above sea level and only rising from there, I was short of breath just putting my kit on.
I've felt a lot of things in my life so far: love, joy, sadness, fear, adrenaline, you name it and I’ve felt it. But none of those feelings come close to how I felt when I heard the Announcer call up “Purdue University” to the start line along with 122 of the best college riders from across the nation.
The race began with a moment of silence for Chad Young, student at the Colorado School of Mines, who had tragically passed away from injuries sustained in a professional cycling race at the age of 21.
This calm and quiet did not last. It was GO from the gun. I was averaging more than 300 watts just to stay in the middle of the pack as we went up the false flat for five kilometers. Unprepared for the altitude, my heart rate shot up 199 beats per minute and I started to get tunnel vision and lose feeling in my fingers and feet. Next thing I knew, I was at the back of the pack out of air and with none to breath in. I joined up with a CalPoly rider, who was in the same boat, and worked together for the remaining 100 kilometers of the race, eventually grouping up with dropped riders along the way. When I fell back on the false flats caught back on the descent. The small group of riders shared food and water helping each other finish all four laps of the course. I finished the day in 91st place.
It was a week unlike any other. It was a rollercoaster of such diverse emotions. All in all, it was an honor and a privilege to represent Purdue University on the national stage. I hope to return to in the near future.