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Hopes Dashed, Hope Springs Eternal by Rich Pink
 
By Staff
Date: 6/2/2003
Hopes Dashed, Hope Springs Eternal by Rich Pink
 

On my recovery ride, I came across something odd. Odd, because amidst the endless rows of green and burgeoning May flowers, I found a scene of such carnage amidst such placidity. Out on desolate McCue road, was a teddy bear, spread eagle across the center line, eviscerated in ghastly fashion, with his innards strewn about the road haphazardly. I passed him at a leisurely speed, took note of the still-happy look on his face as my draft ruffled some of his cotton carrion, and moved on. Guts torn out and smiling - I can relate to this bear.

I can relate because it was Memorial Day weekend once again, and I had, in true voluntary masochistic character, signed up for all four races held along the Iowa/Illinois border in a very well known and attended race series. I filled out entry forms with glee and fear, hurried off my 100+ dollars to cover entry fees, and struck off into battle amidst a strong field of Cat 4 riders. Words like "Wapello", "Snake Alley", "Weed", and "Chicken Wire" come to mind, remembering last year, my first time out to the series. Conjuring past images of being in and among throngs of cyclists, from lowly Cat 4 urchins like me, up to the pros. Men, women, kids races, people dressed as the Devil, eating 2 dinners every night and huge breakfasts, sharing elevators with pro men and women, suffering completely amongst every manner of warrior choosing to perform combat on two wheels. A traveling amalgamation of all sizes and ages, with goofy super hero outfits at the ready, slowly inching north while wars of attrition go on during the entire journey.

I remembered all this and more as I snuck out early Friday, and pointed the Blue Bullet south and west, to Burlington, Iowa for the first race of four: The Wapello To Burlington road race. It would be the same for me as last year, being in the 4/5 field, but I had hoped for at least better results this year than last. I kept trying to convince myself that I'd be far better served to go to the Red Bull Flugtag and ride wheelies off a cliff, but I kept going and suited up, for only the second time in numbers, in the all black garb that is worn by Team Evil. It was a good charge. It's like a bizarro yellow jersey to me, I think sometimes it gives me special powers.

This road race is truly gorgeous. A point-to-point spanning 33 miles along the Mighty Mississippi river. Scenic, mildly rolling, sun setting, 5's losing lines and crashing, and folk cheating like bandits on the yellow line rule. In the end we get four lanes and, after bridging back after a getting caught behind a crash which separated me a half mile behind the group, just sat on and watched for the remaining 15 miles. Evil teammates Chorthead and Lunker (you may remember these two yahoos from last years Tour of Williamsburg report) were up ahead, stirring the chort. keeping vigil. The Fair One had joined the race too, and god bless her for having the proverbial stones to do it. A local girl coming home after doing wonderful things elsewhere around the globe, she was somewhat of a celebrity. Out of 100, she took 89th. Sure she got dropped, but she swung like a champ, and beat some dudes. Not bad for a Cat 4 gal and I was proud to have her in an Evil kit.

Meanwhile, as we entered town, we went from getting two lanes to getting four, and all hell breaks loose. The Iowa State team is hammering the point, while the rest of us fanned out behind them. I had legs from just sitting on for a while, so I made a dash with the rest of the ponies, throwing my hat in the ring. I came in 34th. A scoring error has me listed at 84th. Chorthead and Lunker, though right by me at the finish, are not even scored. In the listing there is a gap between 34-37 - that's us. Doesn't really matter, it's not first, and it's not in the money, so what's the difference between 16th and 100th? Nothing.

We drank beers at The Fair One's house, her parents regaled by our stories of war. Honestly, I know I may be a bit biased, but I'll be damned if the food doesn't taste better in Iowa. While Sov and I went for Guinness to placate the old man, the ladies had fired up some chinese salad, three bean stew, and pork chops with which they could bring any government and population to its knees. It was that good. After eating 75 metric tons of food, it was a few more stories and bed. Yum. Bed.

Who's Sov, you say? He's a Ragbrai alum of some stature from the great city of Minneapolis who had driven down to hang out. We decided to call him Director Sportif for Evil for the weekend. Here's what happens when you ride as Evil under Sov's tutelage:

He's also a rep for a top notch bicycle company, so he brought some items to donate as Team Evil primes for the crits, more on this later.

Off the next day to the Snake. Snake Alley. Ridiculously steep, cobbled, switching back constantly. I won't give a race report for this, let's just leave the racing story out of it. I did poorly. There is a local man who stands at one of the switchbacks in full Elvis/Devil regalia. I swear, it's like out of a bad B sci-fi flick. He stands, red jumpsuit plunge cut to expose his hairy, middle-aged chest. Gold Elvis sunglasses on, horns astride a golfing baseball cap, goatee slightly salted, waving out cans of beer in front of riders faces, attempting to let go their suffering and join the dark side by stopping and accepting the cold beverage. Like I said, my race was going poorly, though the crowd was reacting to my Evil jersey in a positive fashion. This year the Devil is flanked by another local, this one in drag with a straw hat. This is all very festive, and the truth was, my race was going nowhere. Seeing the obvious synergy between the Devil and Evil, I saw the opportunity for a little PR, and I got it.

 

People got a good hard chuckle out of it, and that was a good enough day for me. Our new recruit LL Cool J jumped in the womens 4 race with The Fair One, and they both did so very, very well. LL was our only podium for the weekend taking 3rd, while The Fair One racked up a tough top fifteen.

Then comes Weed Park in Muscatine the next day. A gorgeous day for a race held on a perfectly paved path in a park. Again, the race story is not worth the publishing here. I stank up the place and fell ridiculously behind while realizing that while you are going up in category, you learn that your weaknesses and strengths are shown in much stronger lights. I cannot climb. I cannot keep pace as the hill goes up. Put me in a flat crit, I'll shoot it out with 4's all day long, but tilt the road a bit, and I just stink up the place. I got yanked from the race just after completeing 8 of 14 laps, in pure agony pedaling perfect squares. I had a wicked headache. I took 5th in this race last year. Oh well. Tougher competition being a straight Cat 4 race with all the toughest regional teams present, that's for damn sure. If I had to endure seeing another ass end of a Nebraska rider or an Iowa State rider, or even my own teams riders going away from me, I'd have screamed. The Fair One also had a bad day and withdrew, but Chorthead and Lunker once again came in strong like Bulls and both finished in the top 21 or 22. I forget. I was crushed.

I needed some redemption and was happy that the last day was dead flat and fast. My kind of race, a good old midwestern crit, and not the kind where some moron decides that putting a big hill somewhere on the course is a good idea. No. I hate gravity, and gravity hates me, but as we have learned it always wins. This was the Quad Cities Criterium in Rock Island, Illinois. The Death Fest, The Cage Match, The Weenie Roast. For those of you that read my literary debut last year, you'll remember this is the course lined in 6 foot high chicken wire, around the WHOLE COURSE. Blues Brothers meets cycling, for sure.

It lived up to its reputation, with a crash in almost every race but the womens (I don't know, makes sense to me). Mine was no exception. I saw, for the first time in my short racing career, blood, plain as day on the road under me. Crashes were like oxygen - everywhere. In the 5 race, my teammate from Project 5 went ass-over-tea-kettle and actually flipped twice while he and his bike went over the fence thanks to a sketchy cornering job by someone else. The pro mens race had a nice pile up too, taking out returning champ Robbie Ventura of US Postal. I hung in the 4 race along with Chorthead to take 19th. Sweet. He was in 22nd or so, and 654 started. Top third, not too shabby considering the previous day's train wrecks.

So all in all, I guess like most races, it could have been worse. I could have crashed, I could have had a catastrophic mechanical, I could have gone hungry. But I made out okay, and learned that I really need to work on my climbing. I have great teammates in the Evil and Project 5 squads, and I just fall more and more in love with the sport each time I race.

Thanks for reading!

Rich Pink
www.project5racing.com
richpink@dailypeloton.com


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