Arlington Heights Criterium, Aug 3, 2002
In a conversation with my friend Lance (great name for a cyclist, I know) a
month or so ago, we were wondering when our first crash was going to happen. He
and I, in the two years we've known each other in the racing circuit, have never
experienced a prang. We both have been heretofore lucky recipients of NASCAR
cards, or that miraculously ability to find a clean line amidst swirling masses
of metal, rubber, and skin. You only get so many of these cards, and while we
spoke we talked of how one day, sooner or later, our cards were going to be
pulled. Crashes are like babies, you "have" them. They become yours, they live
in your cycling lore and grow like so many fish stories in size and scope. There
are the unwelcome bane of many a rider's nightmares. They can be cute and
cuddly, little scrapes here and there you can play up for sympathy points, or
they can be massive and horrendous. Lance got his two weeks ago, snapping his
collarbone. I got mine today.
Today was a classic midwest summer day. A cold front had come through and
pushed out the recent ungodly humid weather we were having and today was crystal
clear and warmly comfortable. A gentle breeze swept through the residential
streets of Arlington Heights, Illinois, for the 1st Arlington Classic Criterium.
Arlington Heights is a northwest suburb of Chicago whose old architecture and
quaintness is buzzed every 5 minutes unfortunately by nearby O'Hare Airport's
incessant traffic. But it sure is a perfect little town. I must mention first
and foremost how well this race was organized. A great course, a huge turnout,
and (get this) a VIP tent for rider hospitality complete with hot food,
vegetables, and cold, free drinks. Huge purses had been gathered up and most
fields filled quickly, and the jingle jangle of all that cash lured local
Posties Labbe and Ventura out of hiding for the pro race. I think the 4 race
paid out a cool grand. Certainly not chump change for the lower ranks. Of
course, for us 5's (although my 4 request is in the mail!!!) we had the
ever-enticing, always present "Medals". Ah medals. They're like crashes.
The nifty Belgian fellow who announces periodically around here remarked that
there were 72 CAT 5 riders on the line when we rolled up. Whispers throughout:
"72? I thought the field was limited at 50?" This same Belgian has the most
addictive "prime" call you've ever heard. When he rings the bell he repeats
himself with his thick accent in an almost hypnotic drone "prrreeem prrreeem
prrreeem everybody". I like to think people sprint harder for primes when driven
on by his robotic tone.
It was apparent to me that this race had brought out every 5 racer in the
area, and everybody else inspired by Lance Armstrong's 4th consecutive Tour
victory. You had the usual suspects in their team gear, myself included, then
you had the one off's, those coming to take a look, and try their luck.
Sometimes in the morning, if I'm lucky, I smell bacon cooking. Sometimes, when I
roll up to a line at a 5 race, I smell a crash fest. I was twitchy. Mad. Ready.
Last week's 460 miles across Iowa were settled in my legs, and I was ready to
roll today; I have simply never felt better or more confident before a race. But
I was nervous. Lots of riders here, I thought. And so, with the usual safety
warnings and well wishes, the ref blows the whistle and we're off. In my
trepidation of the start, I had failed to come correct in the gearing
department, and started off slogging. Settling in further away from the front
than I would have ever expected or thought, I am forced to immediately play what
would prove to be my one and only Nascar card. In the first turn, after a long
straightaway start, sloppy lines were bandied about like kids running around
with new toys on Christmas morning "Look Ma! Look what I got! I got
a-----PRANG". It was comical. One guy is pointing this way, one that way, one is
airborne with a look of sheer terror on his face. I think a group of five guys
had different ideas on what lines were best to take in one of these here bike
races. I see the word Cannondale, but it is upside down. Pandemonium. Shouting.
Accusations. I successfully play my Nascar card and find a clean line in the
middle of this whole emptying clown car, and slip through after only a minor
deceleration. Picking my wheels carefully, after 10 of a scheduled 30 minutes, I
find myself safely on the back of the lead group of about 10 riders. My heart
rate is calmy moseying along, I am breathing through my nose. Rested from the
frantic climb up to this group, I try to set my mind in win mode. I see some
tough guys in the break with me. My team mate Dave being one of them. Dave wiped
out in Elgin a few weeks ago, but he is recovered and ready as evidenced by his
participation at the front. I bide my time, not ready to work yet and let the
rhythm of the race set in.
But then, in Turn 3, the rider two places up from me loses his front wheel.
He's down like lightning. The guy directly in front of me locks them up and
slams into the front rider. Now normally, standard operating Pink procedure is
to play another of a seemingly endless line of Nascar cards. But upon reaching
in my back pocket to cooly deliver my card to the table, I discovered I had
none. Oops. Time's up. Whammy. Bankrupt. Go to Jail. Sorry. Boardwalk with a
hotel. And there I was for a moment, listless and frozen in the sky, only the
breeze to be heard and children laughing. Someone is rubbing my tummy. I am all
warm and fuzzy. And all at once, the ethereal nature of it all continues, but
with a much darker tint to it. My bike disappears beneath me. I don't know where
it went but in my hindsight, it was though she were a horse all willy nilly
like, as though I had just smacked her on the ass. I slam first into meat, as my
body bounces of the rider in front of me, then richochets down and skids on the
pavement. Meeting the pavement at speed in basically your underwear is like
kissing your cousin. Gross. It kind gives you that "eeeeeew" feeling you get
when your morbid curiousity doesn't let you change it from 'the Sugery Channel'.
But on your way down to it, it's like a first date. Clammy palms, and that huge
monstrous bulk of nervous energy inside, hoping her father doesn't have a clean,
malfunctioning shotgun and a itchy trigger finger. It's all cartoonish after
that, as any coolness you're lucky enough to have while on a bike gets reversed
110 times over in the anti-cool factor when you try to recover from a crash. You
slip around on your cleats. Your super hero outfit is all ruined, you're
bleeding and shaky, you can't find your bike, your skin has a hundred matches
held to it where you contacted mother earth. It sucks. I had popped back onto my
feet, desperate to get on my bike and get back in the race. I knew I was hurt,
but not that bad. Or so I thought.
I pick up my faithful steed, who upon first glance, looks none the worse for
wear. I'm in disbelief. Where the hell was my card? Why the hell....oh screw it.
Get up and ride. As I mount, my shoulder checks in. It sounds like I'm in a
grocery store inside my head as my brain sends out crews to take damage
assessments and figure out just how much adrenaline it's gonna take to combat
through any injury. "Clean up in shoulder aisle. Clean up in shoulder aisle" or
"Timmy with a bucket to the right knee please." My shoulder says "not so fast
buddy" and I immediately think I had earned the classic cyclist injury - a
broken collarbone. Sharp pains check in from all the corners (elbows, knees,
hips) where I did the horizontal pirouette. Uh oh. I try to go on, but upon
getting a good look at my bike I see few problems. My right pedal has shattered
the back out of it and now resembles a war torn WWII B-17 coming home from a
rough day over Berlin. I can't clip in. My right brakehood is now directly
staring at my left one instead of straight ahead. My rear derailler is twisted
into my spokes, flicking them with a resounding pling every time through but
allowing the wheel to turn. My brake pads in the front are rubbing and my front
wheel has a slight wobble to it. Oh hell. This will not have the storybook,
come-back-from-adversity ending I had hoped for. The first timers are whizzing
by now, gawking.
After a brief argument with myself to decide which to visit first, the Wrench
Tent or the Medical Tent, I limp around the track and take to the one with the
big white cross on it and have myself tended to. I am cut up, but my shoulder
settles down, and all the wounds are superficial physically; albeit still a bit
on the monumental side mentally, as my hands were still shaking as though I were
just in a car accident. The nurses are swift and efficient, and in seconds I
have ice wrapped to my shoulder, elbow, knee, and the long wound on my arm
dressed. And the strawberry on my right butt cheek, showing unglamourously
through a gaping hole in my beloved Castellis is thankfully covered after a
succinct "show me your butt" in that oh so platonic nurse tone.
The rest of the team had a mixed day. However, it was nice to see so many of
our jerseys in the different races today. I bet some sponsors out there would
LOVE to have their name on our jersey in front of all those people (hint hint).
Unfortunately, Dave crashed near the end, losing a ton of spots, and finishing
out of the top 20. Matt and Chris rode the 4's race and both had difficulty
getting comfortable. Mike and our skipper Jason and had a respectable ride, with
Jason taking 13th, and Mike getting a little bad luck getting forced on on the
last turn. The gods were not with us, though we had done all we could to appease
The dude volunteering at the wrench tent does a bang up job (no pun intended)
and straightens what needs to be straightened. Lady luck did show up for me,
finally. Apologizing for being late, she bestowed upon me a capable bike shop
only three blocks off the course, so 15 minutes and $150 later, I have new Look
I hung around long enough to sham into the V.I.P tent and I was afforded the
pleasure of supping and conversating with the mayor of Arlington Heights. I
forget her name. She took sympathy on me and gave me hot chicken and some savory
potato salad. Nice lady, I'd vote for her.
So, well fed, I headed home to simper and whine a little...but inside I am
really getting ready for tomorrow's two races...both criteriums. Wish me luck,
and keep writing me folks, it's awful cool of y'all.
Thanks for reading.
Rich Pink firstname.lastname@example.org