Wednesday, May 28, 2008

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

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