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Pace Bend – A Texas Monument

Former winners share their memories from one of the state’s most beloved events

By Ian Dille, David Wenger, and Phil Wikoff
Ian, David, and Phil represent the elite racing team Super Squadra. Story republished compliments of  Bicycle Sport Shop.

Most anyone who’s raced the Pace Bend Road Race will likely agree that it’s one of those events where, if you had a memorable day, you’ll keep your race number.

You’ll tuck it away in a special place, like a sock drawer or a duffel bag, and eagerly wait to rediscover it one day. The number is a piece of paper, but it’s also a time capsule. You’ll rub the number’s waxy surface, and allow fond memories to wash over you.

The Bicycle Sport Shop-sponsored elite racing team, Super Squadra, has twice ridden to number saving worthy performances at Pace Bend. The team considers the event a Texas “Monument,” as important to a Texas bike racer as, say, Milan San Remo.

The race has stood on the Texas calendar for nearly two decades now, and the list of victors includes some of the fastest Texans to ever swing a leg over a bicycle. The February sun always seems to shine on the Pace Bend course, a just-difficult-enough six-mile loop on a peninsula surrounded by Lake Travis. And family and friends always come to watch.

If you win at Pace Bend, you’ll never forget how the race played out. Here, two former winners from Super Squadra, Phil Wikoff and David Wenger, recount their respective Pace Bend victories, in 2009 and 2013, and the moments that led them to the line.

 

Phil Wikoff’s one-raised arm

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During the 2009 edition of the 80-mile long Pace Bend Road Race, the key moment for myself and our team occurred heading up the steep hill on the course’s backside for the penultimate time. The field was splintered with the leading group of 10 or 12 nearly a quarter mile ahead of the main field, and any number of riders in between grappling to regain the front group.

My teammates David Wenger and Steven Wheeler worked to bring the race back together, as my main sprint adversaries had to make the bridge on their own. As the team’s chosen sprinter for the day, I continued to sit back and watch, bottling up my aggression and saving my legs as my teammates sacrificed themselves. I knew I’d need to deliver at the line.

Under the beautiful afternoon sun that seems never to miss out on an edition of Pace Bend, the closing kilometers finally arrived. As I had done the prior laps, I mentally checked off the different landmarks that would guide my positioning. This false flat right hand bend leads to that sign which is followed by that left hand… and so forth. With my fellow teammates swirling around me and the favorites queuing up behind their own teammates, it was a fairly orderly affair heading into the final left hand bend.

I envisioned myself in fourth wheel coming out of the last corner, yet I found myself in third wheel on the two of the very strongest riders to ever race in Texas – Heath Blackgrove and former US Pro Champion Chris Wherry. They provided a perfect leadout, but due to the crosswind grinding uphill of Pace Bend’s new finish, I was able to jump for the line as their pace flagged around 150m to go.

I crossed the line and instantly my thoughts went to how surprised my teammates were going to be. Of the nearly 140 starters on Sunday, it is likely every single rider and team had a plan. For that one afternoon Super Squadra were the lucky ones for whom that plan panned out.

A bike throw, by David Wenger

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In 2013, the team’s belief in its ability to win, and my belief in myself, was key to our success. That year, the race finished on a long, slightly downhill drag after sharp right hand turn at the far end of the park. On the last lap a group of four leaders were still out of sight. On the final tailwind section of the race the Elbowz team went into full team pursuit mode on the course’s hard, rolling hills. Riders blew backwards through the pack, and out the back.

As we hit the kicker climb on the course’s backside for the last time, we caught the leaders and the race’s finale started in slow motion. Riders labored up the hill with far less grace than they had 3 hours earlier. I steadily started my effort and picked off riders as they blew up on the climb, eventually settling in toward the front of the group as the road flattened out. Our team’s three chosen finishers for the day, Shane Haga, Phil Wikoff, and myself were all riding in the top-10, and comfortable handling our bikes at high speed in the last bit of the race.

At one kilometer to go, Heath Blackgrove took over the pace setting for a fresh-as-spring Eric Marcotte, who were then both teammates on Elbowz. With the field riding in the gutter in a stiff crosswind, I slotted in two wheels behind Marcotte. It was one spot further back than I wanted to be, but not worth the extra energy fighting in the wind would cost me to move up during the final push to the line. In the last turn, I swung wide, as the rider in front of me finessed his brakes, and started my sprint, still 650 meters from the line and racing into a headwind. My strategy was to get to my max speed as fast as possible, then to hold onto it as long as I could.

About 100m after the turn, Blackgrove pulled off to get out of the way of the sprint. That put me on the far left of the road, by myself, and punching hard on the pedals. After coming over Blackgrove, I surged up to Marcotte who was on the far right side of the road and gave another surge to get my bars as far in front of his as I could. We barreled towards the finish at 42mph, side-by-side. At 200m to go, I had a tremor and thought the Mavic Wheels were coming off, but I just bit down and told myself to suck it up. I couldn’t see anyone else near my wheels and pushed for max speed the whole way to the finish. I crossed the line first.

The 2017 Boneshaker Pace Bend Road Race is Sunday, February 26. Register HERE.

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