Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Bike the Drive

Sunday was Bike the Drive where Lake Shore Drive is closed to cars and bikes can ride from Jackson as far north as Bryn Mawr and as far south as MSI. We set off at about 7AM, Kim on her GT mountain bike with a semi-slick up front and a slick from the trainer (why I didn't get two slicks I'll never know!) on the rear and me taking the Bianchi. This might not be something I'd do every year, but it is a great reminder that we live in a wonderful city. I've been to all 50 states and a lot of great place, but this ride was a reminder that of everywhere I've been in the world, Chicago is still my favorite. If you're curious, Sydney Australia is next up. The ride up the lake front benefited from a nice tailwind and so we cruised easily along amongst the 10's of Thousands of participants. The bikes varied from the ridiculously expensive to the "I don't know how that even is ridable!" Still needing some baggy mtn bike shorts for days like this, I pulled on the blue & yellow Wheelfast kit and all was good. The view of the lake, the beaches and the beautiful buildings that line our shore was just spectacular. We just eased along with no hurry, passing and being passed. It was glorious. Amongst the crowds of bikes, it was a reminder that even though we race and so often are focused on our heart rate and cadence and power output and our sprints and climbing and skills, that at least for me, riding a bike is about fun. Sometimes we lose sight of the "fun" when results or training doesn't go our way, but a ride like this is a great notice that when we're out on two wheels it should be fun and take us back to be kids again.

Resurrrecting the Cannondale

After having Brian @ Bicycles Etc update the faithful John Cherry frame to Campy Chorus 10, my trusty Bianchi from 1993 has stood ready with the worn but serviceable Campy Chorus 9 speed, and a gentle reminder that the Giro d'Italia has been a tremendous race so far this year! Where does that leave the Japanese Shimano 105 parts that disgraced the glory of Italy for all those years? Well, since 1990 a Cannondole has been kicked around and ended up in my basement. Having first been raced under Bryn in some NCCA races for the University of Illinois before being taken up by Wheelfast member and my brother Stephen and seeing still more duty on the NCCA circuit, the venerable bicycle has seen some combat. It was last pedaled the day before my wedding now 12 years ago this past weekend in driving and cold rain that left the trio of us nearly hypothermic, quite literally. It has hung with down-tube shifters in my basement since as first Bryn then Stephen moved away. As they say, possession is 9/10ths of the law, and 12 years in my basement makes it mine. So, it took control of the Shimano 105 parts and saw its first voyage in 12 years on Sunday. For those of you that recall the hey-day of the Cannondale 3.0 and 2.8 frames, they were beasts, solid beyond words and as uncomfortable a ride as one could imagine. So, as I departed for a 17 mile ride yesterday, I longed for my nice custom steel frameset. It was a miserable ride into a headwind. The rear was so stiff it hurt. Maybe a carbon seatpost could cure it, but this is the spare's spare, not a bike for much use. The headwind was terrible and I was unhappy, even in the warmth and sunshine. Then I turned around and fell in love, or at least "like". These particular Cannondales were designed to do one thing great - crits. And so as I headed back, now cruising at 25 mph the bike suddenly improved and proved that it was really great at going fast and handling great at speed. In the sheltered peloton this bike now nearly 20 years old, sporting 14 year old Shimano parts, could still hold its own. Just don't take it out on a long ride where comfort would be desired. It will see action some Tuesday night.

Give the guy a shoe and make him wait!

Saturday was stop number 2 on Kevin's Summer Criterium Tour. Back to Wooddale. For my long time readers and a few of my teammates you'll recall a story from probably 5 years ago in which several of us (Tony & John maybe???) raced the ABR National Championships at Wooddale in rain coming down so hard it literally hurt to keep the eyes open and left 3" of water in the turns. It was the heaviest rain I've ever faced and it was stupid that we continued, but we race bikes and we couldn't watch our heros on the cobbles of France and Belgium and feel a bit of what they face if we didn't persist in such ugly circumstances. Saturday was altogether different - sunshine and a light breeze that would meet us on the back stretch and through Turns 3 and 4. I'd guess around 50 or so lined up for the Masters 30+/Cat 4 event. Also sporting the Yellow & Blue Wheelfast Racing / Bicycles Etc. kit is Chris Hammer. We'd warmed up together and our plan was to survive and see what happened at the end of the race. I was really glad to have some company.

As we lined up, I noticed lots of high-end gear and the guy behind me was sporting Cosmic Carbones. I felt a little naked on my Bianchi sporting my Bontrager wheels and suddenly wished I'd have brought the Cherry with the new Eastons. We set off fast. I moved up and we sailed through the first couple of turns without brakes. It was great! Like at Monsters I wanted to stay up near the front as long as I could and the plan seemed to be a good one until a Team Mack rider attacked with another rider. Suddenly the two other Mack riders blocked and they had a decent gap. Crap! Somehow I end up at the front and a rider behind started "encouraging" me to chase. So, like an idiot I did. I took a hard pull and began looking for an assist. Nobody wanted to pull through! Crap! How on earth did I end up at the sharp end of the race? Finally, an Albertos rider takes over the chase and soon the field gets in on the action and it is once again together. I'm pretty gassed from the effort and drift back a touch letting the heart come down to earth. I could finish the day knowing that I'd done something to impact the race. I made my contribution rather than just sitting in. I hoped I wouldn't regret it.

So far things have been pretty smooth and we're taking the corners fast without much braking and things have felt pretty safe. Then, I'm reminded why I brought the Bianchi. Kim was taking pictures and happened to be right near the action. She says that she heard a rider start yelling "Flat! Flat! and begin to raise his arm to signal his position and give us a chance to get around. However, I think a rider advancing up the inside probably wasn't paying attention. Suddenly it is chaos. Bikes are flipping end over end. The air is filled with screaming riders. Then there is the "Ooooof" as riders are hit by the bikes behind and riders begin their tumble to the ground. There's the scape of metal on pavement. As we are cornering the carnage goes from the inside out and there is a veritable tidal wave. I look for an out and realize I should be able to squeak it through on the outside or right. In my peripheral vision I see the cascade of flipping bikes and realize that the wave is about to catch my back end. I hold my breath waiting for the collision and make it through unscathed. I know I'm not great at bike racing and I probably never will be, but I've done this enough times to know what is about to happen. My thumb makes two clicks and I accelerated to match the group that had survived. With an effort we could break the field in half and decide the race out of the 15 of us that survived. But, the resulting body count left everybody curious as to the status of their comrades. I couldn't get near enough Kim to inquire about Chris as passed her on the next lap. The safety truck was out and a rider was already in the bed along with his bike. The wheel pit had a few riders return. I still hadn't seen Chris. We slowed a touch, though, my heart dropped, and Chris pedaled up. Fantastic! He hadn't been collected in the fray. Kim figured 10 riders exited as a result of the crash. We continued to press forward. We are still hitting the turns pretty fast and at one point take the tight Turn 1 four wide. I've got a rider coming underneath me and find my bars two inches away from the rider's hip to my outside. If any of us deviate from our line, I'm cooked. I made it through and the laps kept ticking down. With about 5 laps to go we get an announcement. Not the usual Prime Lap announcement, but the following: "Would the teammate of Rider .... PLEASE withdraw from the race. You are needed to take your teammate for X-Rays." In all of my years, I've never heard them ask for a rider to withdraw like this. First, we've got 5 to go. Second, if the guy doesn't need an ambulance, he can tough out the pain for enough time to let his teammate finish. What could it be? A wrist? A collarbone? Give the guy a shoe to bite down on and make him wait!

We're are now with 3 laps to go! We are flying through and it is pretty hard to advance. I'm sitting mid-field and it is tough. The backstretch had been friendly to being able to move up, but now the speeds are such that forward progress is tough. Chris comes near me, but we are powerless to get to good position. We finally get the bell and things are crazy. We sail through the turns and in a rush find ourselves rounding 4 and heading to the line. Chris and I both put in a good effort, but we're just in the field.

We averaged about 24 mph for 17 miles which wasn't shabby for May. My avg heart rate was 175 bpm and 20 minutes of the 45 minutes of racing saw me above 178 bpm. It was hard, but I didn't feel completely trashed. Now I just need to find time to ride this week with a trip to Atlanta intervening. Next stop is Winfield this Sunday! It has a two-step climb on the back-stretch which will challenge. I know I can compete in a flat crit, but what happens when they had a hill? We'll see soon enough.

Anyway, I hope everybody had a great Memorial Weekend!

Chris took 23rd - Kevin took 25th