I was in a zone this whole past week. I knew this race coming up would
be a good one for me, I believed it with every fiber of my being. When
I ate, I pictured my cadences. Before I slept, I visualized the course.
On my training rides I pictured crossing the line with the lead group,
maybe even pushing for a win. Dare to dream! At the team meeting way back
in March, this was my top goal listed for the upcoming season, a Top 5
finish in the 4 Bridges of Elgin race, in Elgin, Illinois. Last year I
managed 16th, in my first ever race. This year, with almost 20 races under
the belt, I expected better.
But alas, to you faithful readers who are hitting my articles with great
regularity and even writing with words of encouragement and tips about
almost everything, I regret to inform you that once again my terrible habit
of building giant castles in the sky has gotten the better of me. It certainly
was funny, though. In fact in retrospect, it was downright hilarious. It
seems that this 1st year of racing in the lowly Cat 5 ranks has provided
us with many laughs. I go with good intentions, and try to train right
and eat right to be competitive, but it seems all I manage is a good clown
story for all of you. Maybe I’ll start riding in make up and full clown
suit, complete with fuzzy buttons and one of those old school horns wrapped
to my handlebars. I can let riders go by and squirt water on them out of
my lapel flower while doing my best Krusty imitation, or construct and
hand off to other riders little balloon poodles and funny hats. An assortment
of funny whistles is in order too I suspect. Suits me fine actually. In
a chat with some of you, it was determined that I am a modern day Charlie
Brown, if you will. Full of “sigh”s and “Oh Brother”s and “Good Grief”s.
This last race provided all 3 of those, in rapid succession no less. I
hope the saying ‘every dog has his day’ is true, because this puppy is
still waiting for his.
Again, another learning experience. The fact of the matter is, no matter
how tough it gets, you’re out here to compete to the best of your ability.
If I’ve learned one insoluable fact so far in all of this, it’s that winning
a bike race is a very hard thing to do. The very nature of the sport is
pain and suffering (say it like Yoda!), and if you can’t adapt to repeated
failures, get out. Also it is safe to say that in these races, once begun,
the slightest split second of a mishap can cost you everything you had
worked for to that point.
The race was to be short, a mere 11.2 miles, so I had trained a 15 mile
TT all week. I was happy with my form, and ready to rock as we lined up.
Again, I am joined by my young Hotel Accomodations compatriot, Dave. He
and I have had our eyes on this race for a while now, and we both had done
what it takes to get here and ready. A much larger field is with us, last
year there were maybe 30 riders, this year we have near 50, in all shapes
and sizes. The beauty of the 5 races is, the citizens can come in too.
So, you see many race refs running around pre-race, removing aero-bars
from the Lemond fans’ bikes, or making friendly suggestions to some that
they may want to remove their rear-view helmet mounted mirrors. The good
thing is these crash magnets are usually out of the back before you can
say “Did you see that guy?” In fact, it’s been normally the same faces
in the 5 races that get to the front and split away from the rest, one
of which is my ugly mug. I think all these usual suspects will be with
me in the 4 ranks soon.
So we start, and all is well in the first few miles. It gets hot quick,
and Dave and I secure a spot in the top 10-15 riders, right where we want
to be. This race course is one of the best in Northern Illinois (hats off
to Chicago Events!) with many shaded roads zipping right through neighborhoods,
and even up through a forested park on its northernmost point. The fans
(well, the villagers I should say) were out in force, lining the 5 mile
circuit with their complimentary Saturn “clickers” and even though it was
a 5 race, it almost felt like the Tour in some spots, with kids running
alongside you, yelling unintelligble things. And some of the people who
lived on the route had parties going on in their front lawns, complete
with tents, lots of chairs, and lots of guests. I recall being at 25mph
and being offered a beer. Twice. Had I known then what I do now, I would
have stopped immediately and had one. Or eight.
Nestled safely in the lead portion of riders, with the crash magnets
way out the back soaking up the sights, Dave and I are happy as we settle
in to wait it out to make our move. As we came down the one good descent,
and turn into the one significant climb for the first time, the inevitable
quagmire rears its ugly head. Dave is ahead of me by a few riders and as
the lead group fans out to begin the ascent, the rider next to him hooks
his handlebars and throws him violently to the left, purely on accident.
It looked to me as though all of his forward inertia was redirected to
his left and he went down with a resounding ‘Thud’. It really looked like
it really hurt, but I had to find a lane to the right as the cries of “Rider
down! Rider down!” echoed through the peloton. I steal one glance behind
me to see Dave very slow to move, making an effort to only roll onto his
back, not to get up. Knock my team mate down, will you? Well I don’t think
so, thank you very much! I clear out to the right, with every intention
of rocketing past everyone, and try to change gears as the gawking I’ve
been doing has left me in the wrong gear at the base of the climb. I flick
the lever to drop to my 39. Nothing. Here come the aforementioned Charlie
Brown quotes, except mine were peppered with a few more colorful expressions
of dismay. I push it again, but now my legs are seriously laboring to turn
the pedals. Still nothing. My chain looks up at me from the big ring, mocking
me as it defiantly grinds away. More colorful language as my temper starts
boiling. My plan was to leave the rear gear as it was, and just flip back
and forth from the 53 to the 39 on the short but very steep climb. People
are getting by me. Lots of people. I go from being in the front with my
team mate, to being maimed by faulty gearing, alone, and limping aside
the field, rapidly going away from the sharp end of the group (thanks,
Phil). There I was re-enacting Dave Stohler in “Breaking Away” after the
Italians had dropped his gear as a cruel joke, pedals full of lead, hardly
turning over at all, handlebars all shaky as I try to stay upright. The
damage is done now as I drop gears in the back cassette, and the climb
becomes manageable. But it’s too late now. I’m gone; out. The second group
on the road picks me up just as I get a rhythm again, and I finish out
with them. There will be no closing the gap to the leaders in a race that
short, that is that fast. My ego has now incited my temper to riot in my
head, and the rest of the race is spent with my conscious trying to forge
an uneasy truce between the two. Luckily, my own mental civil war is tempered
with the knowledge that Dave is o.k. and has remounted his bike, carrying
on like the trooper he is.
So it was over. For both of us. We decide to nickname ourselves Crash
and Burn. Perfect. We finished, which I have learned is a good thing
in any race. Dave left a few dermal kisses on that hill, but he’s ok. My
gears now for some reason are working perfectly fine without any complaint
which, if you know me, is typical. Timing is everything. I exhausted every
combination of cuss words in the book. You name it, I combined it and I
came up with some doozies that I’m afraid that despite their hilarity,
I cannot share with you on this website. For those of you that email me,
I’ll send them along if you’re looking for some new gems to add to your
repertoire of sketchy language.
So, the search for success goes on. Again, I sincerely thank all of
you for the emails, it’s really a kick to get them, keep them coming! Next
week is the beginning of Superweek, a hellacious two week long race-fest,
complete with some Euro pros in the 30+ category. I look forward to having
my teeth kicked in day after day. There’s certainly bound to be some more
humility oriented encounters there. Then I’m going to switch the race engines
off and do the Tour known as RAGBRAI. Perhaps it will be good for me, as
I seem to be getting worse at racing as the season goes on. That, or everyone
else is getting better.
Thanks for reading!!!