|punˇish (pun′ ish)|
v. punˇished, punˇishˇing, punˇishˇes
To exact or mete out punishment
Freedom on the road is a wonderful thing. Racing without any specific reason
other than to see what it's like at the 3/4 level, with no expectation of hardly
anything other than to finish, can be completely liberating. I can attest to
having done one now. With my new 4 license not receiving the grandstanding
raucous welcome to the local scene I had hoped from the obviously distracted,
yelling lady at registration, I entered today's 3/4 men's field in splendid
little Villa Park, due west of the fair city of Chicago. I hustled them along.
After handing the lady a twenty and a fin, she verbally duked it out with two
other race volunteers complaining of various race day obstacles, and I stood
there, sans number, change, and acknowledgement, "You owe me three bucks." Eyes
narrowing in on me, she hurries the bones into my hand, shoves a number at me,
and simultaneously begins pointing to me where the pins are and chewing out one
of the nearby complainers. Her uninvolved young son sits near her wing, smiling
widely at me.
Got nothin' to do today, I thought to myself as I left the lady
dressing down the two now, together. Gonna be faster than you thought, but
just sit in. Ah yes, my very first experience with a USCF 3/4 field. I raced
what's called a 4 race in an ABR race once, but ABR races have much looser
restrictions on where one can race. Guys can move up or down categorically, as
it is what they promote as "grass roots cycling" and I for one, agree.
But this felt like the culmination of a lot of effort through the summer. The
whole "license" thing weirds me out some, but I felt pretty good to be taking
this step now having gained the visceral thrill of "the sticker", so to see what
needs improvement for next year, and get a feel for just how much faster the
speeds are. Feeling better still was to walk up to registration as my old Cat 5
chums were rocking it out on the course. My buddy Tim won, again. Tim, time to
move up now...serious. TIMMAH!
At the line I felt a little bit like a fat mouse at an owl party. I assembled
my fortitude near the back of the group, and listened while I was wished luck in
four different languages by one of the promoters. Thanks dude. Whistle freshly
blown, we roll out and Mr. Announcer Man decides that the pace should be hot
from the get-go, and quickly fires off a salvo of FIVE consecutive $20 primes.
Zing. At the back. But hanging on, and feeling pretty good. Quick bursts are
taken in stride, and I am able to sit at or near the back, countering all the
action up front. Bedazzled. But after the first 10 laps on a near one mile
course, my initial fears of being washed overboard immediately were replaced by
an ember of hope, mixed with resolve. I can do this. In fact, holy
mackerel, I'm getting the near the front. I am not in pain. For 20 minutes I'm a
sightseer, going from front to back, shuffling myself in the deck of the
peloton. And it is at that point I start to get happy legs. I'm feeling far
better than I think I should be. When a lull at the front spreads out the riders
behind turn 2, my antsy legs shoot me up the right gutter. The calls of "Up" are
heard all around, but by the time they see me, I'm flying past. (what does Phil
say? "The dutch always attack from behind!") No one cares. I'm the new guy. I
won't last. No one comes to get me, or even join me for that matter. I am free
and clear now, and not suffering too bad just yet. I get a whole length of
course ahead of the mass, and catch the other rider who had been alone off the
front for a while now, and we begin to work together. Man! What a feeling! My C5
friends are cheering me on from near the start finish line, as I come across
free and clear by about 15 seconds. Alas after the group decides we've gone far
enough, organization reared its head and we were hunted down quickly. "It all
comes back together" after 2 full laps off the front. I absorb myself back into
the main group. I am grinning likeNicholson at this point. Earlier in the week I
had passed a pen full of pigs in freshly rained-on mud. I am happier than them.
I gave one other effort in the hopes of snagging a late-race $10 prime, but
the blood had been in the water a long time now, and dudes were snapping at
anything to hit the water. I spilled out the front after two others who had the
same aspirations as me, lost the sprint (um, check that, didn't even factor) and
quickly went backwards. With two laps to go, the pace started to shred. Here's
where the real difference in speed was noticed for the first time. We're holding
28 for a while and then it's on the back for me, hanging on for everything I
hold dear, absolutely (say it like PAUL) pegged from the earlier efforts. I
kinda felt like Luke hanging onto that weathervane in Empire Strikes Back,
listening to Papa Vader bitch at me about how I was going to fall off the back.
"Search your heart, you know it to be true." "NO." I strain and strain, head
down, trying to bridge, praying for another lull up front but it never comes.
All the lights on the dashboard flash at once and go black. I'm blinded by the
effort, but as my vision returns, I am comforted by neighborhood kids on the
sidewalk screaming and yelling to get back up there. They had written a thousand
messages in chalk on the street for the race, they are blurring by underneath me
as I start soft pedaling. The finish just ahead, my vision returns to normal,
and my heart stops beating like a hummingbird's wings. I cross the line near 25
seconds down on the group...........arms raised in a V. I get a couple of
chuckles. I thought I was in last position, but one of my "suffer-buddies" from
the rear of the group had fallen off earlier, so truthfully I was not last. I'm
going to repeat that. I did NOT finish in last. 24 out of 25. In warm down, the
last place dude comes up, and we exchange race information. For the both of us,
it's our first true 4 race. He raced Downer's too last week, and placed ahead of
me. He's a photographer for Cyclingnews.com. I write for the good ole' DP. We
should team up!
I had stashed two cold beers in my cooler, to celebrate with a team mate who
couldn't show up. So, I found another racer's father near my car, informed him
that I do not drink alone, and shoved one of the bottles into his hand. He was
grateful at midday at 92 degrees. We drank the suds and made small talk about
St. Louis. I watched another full race and left. I felt great.
I have all my teeth, my ability to reproduce successfully was not
compromised, and all of my epidermis is where it was when I awoke this morning.
I finished second to last. I call it a success!
Thanks for reading this season!