2007 Race Report #6: Wading through the stars

Race Report #6, Saturday, July14th, Superweek Stage 2 Pro/Am Criterium, Blue Island, IL, 100K.   

The rest of week passed by and Saturday came and it was time to try my first Superweek (International Cycling Classic) race, and my second Superweek stage ever racing as a Pro 1/2 since my inaugural journey last year during the final stage in Whitefish Bay, WI. Our trip in the new car over to Blue Island, IL was uneventful (for once), though I did have some bike issues that Jose Alcala and Todd Downes – again the official SRAM pit crew and mechanics extraordinaire – sorted out before I lined up for my second time ever as a Pro/am participant at Superweek. As I coasted to the start finish line, I again marveled at all of the pageantry associated with racing at this level.


I’m certain that most of the other pros and probably even the remaining amateurs in the ranks are quite habituated to the preliminaries that the promoters and announcers use to warm up the crowd and thank the sponsors, but for me – I was eating it up – looking around at the expectant faces in the crowds, watching the various teams in their whispered huddles, admiring the latest greatest technology in the team bikes all around, and just soaking in the atmosphere radiating from the eyes and hands lining the barriers  – one of expectancy and pride.


I wondered, as I always do, if I would finish the race or if I would get dropped. But I didn’t worry much – I was just happy to participate, and after a round of introductions and the national anthem, the chief official, Heidi Mingus sent us off.


The race was fast – averaging over 28mph, with typical finish stretch speeds of 33 and 34mph. I pedaled circles, followed wheels, and for the first 20 of 60 laps hung on for dear life wondering if I was going to be dropped. A breakaway got away at about this point, and for a couple of laps, the pace became more manageable and I recovered a bit. It was about at this time I saw my friend Mike Dienhart near the finish stretch, along with his son Kevin, cheering along with Shannon and Katelina.


40 to go, 30 to go, 20 to go, 10 to go – the laps counted down as I bided my time about ¾’s of the way back in the pack. Then we caught the breakaway...


5 to go – my time – and I immersed myself in the pack, riding those eddies and currents formed by the bodies and bikes of those pros surrounding me and waded through the stars on my way through the center of the peleton. Without once feeling the wind, or even seeing the sidelines, the faces in the crowd, or my family, suddenly, with one lap to go I found myself on Andy Crater’s wheel (winner of stage 1) and sitting in about 7th place heading down the finish stretch.


Perfect position… again.


Again I marvel at this – how is it possible?  I’ll consider this question further at a future writing.


Making the first turn onto the short stretch before the backstretch and Crater looks back at me and gives a flick of his wrist down by his hip “C’mon Wolverine” he says, and shoots up the inside into turn 2 and the short straightaway before the long backstretch. I hate leadouts - they never work out… but...


Instincts war with the invite and for just a second I waver and then follow the wheel and I find myself entering the backstretch in second place on the wheel of the previous day’s stage winner. But… we are traveling at 37 mph and the wind is beginning to take its toll. I follow Crater and desperately hope for a surge to allow me a shield of riders to hide behind.


It comes on both sides and with a flick of his elbow, Crater drops into 3rd spot on the right side surge. Again I hesitate – suffering from the last move – and part ways with him and follow the slightly slower surge to the left – which almost immediately peters out, leaving me waffling in the wind on the left side of the surging peleton.


“Get in position to win!” Walden would say, so I give almost all of my remaining energy to keep pace riding the hips of the surge up the right, exposed to the wind at 40mph and only find a wheel as we enter turn 3 in about 12th place, side by side with another rider on my inside hip.


No one brakes and neither do I (usually someone does and you can find a perfect line into the corner) and with a sudden terror I feel the presences of another rider close by me on the outside and now both riders are touching me – one on my left hip and right hip as we all lean in to take the corner full speed at 40 mph – manhole covers and all. Miraculously we escape certain death by roadrash and we straighten up and head down the short stretch for the final turn and finish.


As always, I geared down prior to the corner, and I used the immediate RPM’s to jump up the inside 5 or 6 spots and entered the final corner in 6th place – 400 meters to go and in perfect position in my second big pro/am race in more than 15 years.


I came out of the corner and the pace accelerated again and I stayed with it, passing the two leadout men who came backwards like stones hurtling end over end into a well, but that brief glimpse of the lead lasted only for150 meters or 8 seconds. Then, the legs began to give out and by 250 meters I was falling backwards much as the leadout men did, from 4th to 6th to 8th and so on. Heading towards the banners in about 10th place, 2 more guys came around me and I finally was able to sit up – only to realize the finish line was another 20 meters away and even as I tried to start turn the pedals again, another 4 guys swarmed by on the inside and I crossed the line 16th.


I listened to the announcer’s voice recede as we re-traced the course and as the echoes faded a small, still note of pride began to surface…. I finished… in the money - in a Pro Race at Superweek. Then I checked my computer – max speed, 45.0 mph – the finish speed. Never sprinted that fast before – that’s 72kph – never heard of a sprint at the Tour De France that fast…


I chatted with Mike and Kevin and Katelina for awhile near the stage as the famed announcer Eddy Van Guyse interviewed the top 3 riders, and then, after a quick change in the air-conditioned new car, I hoisted Kat on my shoulders, and waded and waited - surrounded by 2 dozen professional riders from around the world - to pick up my check for 16th place - $65.00 – and headed home.