Andy Baker’s early season has been one of juggling a class load at Furman with the demands of being a member of the professional Bissell team. Already this year Baker has raced in California at the San Dimas stage race and in the SRAM Tour of the Gila in New Mexico. After that intensive spring campaign Baker kitted up in the purple of the Division II Furman Paladins for the collegiate national championships in Madison, Wisconsin.
As a lone rider and known as a pro for Bissell, Baker couldn’t expect much help from anyone. However, by the time the race was over Baker had dominated the race, taking the victory by over five minutes and with a lap time that was three minutes faster than Division I schools.
Being a lone rider Baker had to put some thought into when and how he could win the race.
“I wanted to get a break away because I knew that I could be the fastest up the final climb, but you never know. I’ve been burned waiting around to see what could happen.”
An attack on the climb went and Baker followed the rider from Western Washington. Others followed and the Western Washington rider was dropped from this quickly building break. However, further up the road were two other riders.
Baker knew that those two up the front were strong contenders for the overall and he was a bit concerned about the chances for their break away.
“Some schools weren’t in the break: Mars Hill and Mesa State. And there was a long downhill where I had attacked – so I was worried they would chase back on.”
The break swelled as a few teams were able to chase back to the break away group.
Riders started to sit out of the rotation and on the next time up the climb, Baker rode at his own tempo, dropping the riders. This gave him confidence going into the last lap. However, two riders were still up the road.
“I knew from last year that I could ride the last lap solo as I had bridged to the break solo (in 2010). I knew that I could bridge to the break,” said Baker. “So I put my head down and drilled it.”
Baker caught and passed the break but the last climb up the hill cracked him. Fortunately he had enough of a lead to secure the victory.
While the national championships was a race he could control, the SRAM Tour of the Gila was a humbling experience.
“I had my ass handed to me everyday. There’s nothing like doing climbs at altitude and getting destroyed by most of those guys.”
But the payoff was coming out of New Mexico with good form. His first major goal had been accomplished.
“I wanted to show the organization (Bissell) that I could get a big result and keep the Furman cycling tradition going. It’s a bit smaller this year and I was the only guy racing at nationals, but it shows the pedigree that Spencer Beemer and Chris Butler helped start. Hopefully it draws people to the program.”
Next on the racing calendar for Baker is the upcoming US Pro Championships in his hometown of Greenville, South Carolina. This year he isn’t considered a contender. At least this year…