2008 Race Reports #25 & 26: One day, two races, two podiums... satisfaction

2008: Race Report  #25, September 6, 2008 : Priority Health Cat 2/3 Criterium, Grand Rapids, MI. Weather: 74 degrees, light winds. Course: twisty, 6 corners mostly on brick 0.8 miles/lap, Distance, 40 minutes. Avg speed – 26.7mph, max speed, 38.3mph

I groggily and grumpily awoke to my alarm at 6:30am on a Saturday morning and 15 minutes later piled in the car for a 3 ½ hour drive to Grand Rapids for the first of two races the same day – the Priority Health Classic a newer race with big sponsors in its second year running.

I was quite proud of myself – the night before I had loaded the car, cleaned my chain, and filled my water bottles. Everything was set for a timely departure, and after a shower and a bowl of oatmeal, I was on my way, munching a Powerbar as I turned up the stereo. I was easily going to be on time for the race for once.

The light rising from the fields near my home indicated the pending change of seasons: the heavy dew was lit from below and made my glasses seem like they were fogged up. I pushed the big V8 to a steady hum at 85 down highway 90 and made great time, crossing two state lines, and slinging into the parking lot right by the race at 10:30. I pulled in right next to Ray, Scott & Tom and began to casually unload while shouting my greetings… enjoying the concept of taking my time…that is until Ray said, “Dude – you better go register soon or they may close it up on you…”


I paused and said with just a note of swagger, “Dude, I have an hour and half – I never get to a race this early!”. Then Ray made my blood run cold… “Dude – it’s 11:35… not 10:35 – the race is in 25 minutes!”

I had totally forgotten about the time change to Eastern Daylight. And… of course I had no money to pay my entry fees, so I borrowed some from Scott and Ray and then sprinted to registration. They informed me that they had closed registration. I started to bargain with them, but an old friend Todd Sanders overheard and went to ask the race promoter – another old friend – Jamie Smith – and they went ahead and let me register for both races – back to back – Cat 2/3 and then Master’s 40. Of course, I wasn’t “supposed” to be racing at all: usually Labor Day weekend is the final racing of the year for me, and, after 24 races this summer and 3 hard races back to back at Downer’s Grove in mid August, I was starting to look forward to the season winding down. Over the last two years I’ve begun to take a more seasonal, cyclical view of the calendar year – based in part on some research I had done at work regarding generations and their ties to seasons. The advice was “you want your efforts and actions to be seasonal or even a little pre-seasonal – not post seasonal” – i.e. you don’t want to plant crops in July or harvest them in December.” By mid-August, I felt as though I had “sucked the marrow out of summer” – and that it had returned the favor, and that it was about time to rest. At first I was probably as ready as I have ever been to really focus on the joys of autumn – easy rides on a carpet of crisp, colorful leaves, nights with the windows open and that clean fall air. Time to explore some creative concepts at work, finish all my race reports, and focus on Katelina’s school work and prepare for winter. But… I still had my favorite race of the year – Tour di Villa Italia… and as I went out for training rides with no agenda, I found myself performing long intervals, and sprinting better than all season – perhaps ever. But alas, family needs intervened and I was unable to attend my favorite race and I was suddenly hanging – a climax without a denouement – drifting between seasons. I had called Ray Dybowski – to let him know I wouldn’t be coming to Detroit (the plan was to stay with him). He let me know that there was another weekend of big races coming the next weekend – in Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor. I committed to trying to make it to Grand Rapids – and hence had made the early morning drive to Michigan. I sprinted back to the car and Ray – ever the helpful, generous man he is, pumped up my tires as I pulled on my jersey and shoes and then headed over the line, where a couple other racers put on my number for me, finishing just as they shot the gun. No warmup. Even when I’m early I’m still late. The course was rough – mostly brick, with manhole covers and those tear shaped tar masses in the asphalt that can really throw you. But… as I realized in those first few exploratory laps, it was a series of not too long, no too short segments well suited to my “5 second sprint” strengths. After about 5 laps, I started to feel that old hum, that sense of ‘I can go or do whatever I want’. I was suffering at a more manageable level… As the laps clicked down, I moved carefully through the pack into the top 20 with 2 laps to go and then on the backstretch I moved into the top 10 – but with a very unfortunate incident – the pace had slowed a little, and like always I was ready to take advantage – and I swung up the left to slot up a few spots. A lot happens in a second, so the video to follow won’t show much, but at about 20 seconds in I start to sling up the left. Just at 26 seconds, and old friend and great rider Dave Hietekko jumped out to the left just as I was coming through. At that same point on the course there was an indent for a driveway and I was able to move off-course for a tenth of second in order to not just plow right into him, but instead the worst happened – my handbar hit his from behind and in an instant, he was gone, down hard with that usual train wreck noise to follow as several other riders went down. These pivotal moments happen a lot in racing and the frame rate of the camera misses just about everything – though you can see that I use the full space of that little reprieve from the curb at that critical moment. I recovered my position, but my mind was on Dave quite a bit for the rest of the lap. As far as I know I’ve never caused anyone I know to crash before so this was very disconcerting. But the race went on and I used that internal radar that seemed to finally be back in full working order to slot up a couple spots but still avoid the dreaded wind at the front. We passed through the start finish as they rang the bell and then rounded turn 1. At about 1:12 on the video, two riders suddenly separate even as others peel off – and they get an instant gap. At 1:24 I light half my match to join two chasers – we are now going pretty hard and turn onto the next section of brick where I get a small reprieve before setting up for the big move. At 1:44, I set up on the outside to begin my real sprint of the race which begins at 1:50 as I accelerate at the two riders off the front. Into the final two corners and I have perfect position, tagging onto the lead rider with 200m to go and a significant gap on the field. Amazingly, he didn’t fall or pull his foot out around the last corner and despite having very little gas left I had the draft and the slingshot and was able to come around him for the win, crossing the line at 2:25 on the video. [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FKj_8vb56w0] Man that was really satisfying – after all the near misses over the last two years - yes, satisfying. No arms raised for me. In fact, I’m not sure I have ever done that – and back in the day I won a lot of races. The thing is 1) When I do win, it is usually by thin margins (win it at the line!) and 2) When I win by larger margins, I never have any idea, because I never look back – and hence just assume its close. Also,  I ALWAYS throw my bike, and after that’s done it just seems too late to raise your arms. Still, it would have been satisfying to raise my hands just once – and apparently I had the room to do so…Some other time.

2008: Race Report  #26, September 6, 2008 : Priority Health Masters Criterium, Grand Rapids, MI. Weather: 74 degrees, light winds. Course: twisty, 6 corners mostly on brick 0.8 miles/lap, Distance, 40 minutes. Max speed, 37.7mph

No rest for the wicked – after coasting a lap, my favorite announcer – none other than THE Eddy Van Guys – pulled me up on stage for a quick interview and a podium shot. The trophy for first place is really, really cool – honestly the single best trophy I have from cycling. It is a brick from the road we raced on with a chainring inserted into it, a metal plaque, and laser cut class in the middle of the chainring. There were flowers too – gladiolas. But I still had to switch numbers and get back down off the podium for the master’s race which was to begin right after.

Trophy for first
Trophy for first

So there he is – the great man he is, Jamie Smith – the promoter, announcing, managing, and pinning on my number for me – thank you Jamie. And back on the bike and to the line – and off we go – as fast as that. And, damn them, the masters went out hard and I was processing lactic acid for the first 4 laps. Eventually I settled in, and kind of tuned out for a bit. I was surprised when I suddenly saw 6 laps to go. I was pretty sure I had a good shot at this one too and made my moves into position – though with 2 to go (where the video starts) I almost went into the barriers on the first corner. Eventually I get into good position with a ½ lap to go, but a leadout (by Jim Bruce) took the pace up too high for my original plan to lead it out myself and instead I followed wheels around the second to last corner and then wound up the machine for a go into the last corner. I swung wide left before the final corner and then dove up the inside coming out of the corner and found myself chasing a wheel with almost no closing speed – Rob Daksawicz had the leadout and the power to hold it and I settled for second. [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HTPEyQfsv6I]

  Back to the podium again – but this time I was able to enjoy it – and then back to chat with a dozen old friends and acquaintances including childhood friend Kevin Collins, fellow racer Danny Klein, and 24 hour endurance athlete extraordinaire Tim Finklestein. Ray, Tom, Scott, Dan, Tim, Whitney and I ate lunch together, and were joined by other great cycling faces of past and present and then it was back on the road for home. I really wanted to stay and hang with the boys and then head to Ann Arbor – but I knew where my priorities were and with my trophy and flowers on the seat next to me I cruised home at 85mph. The light entered that angle I love, where the pebbles of the worn asphalt light up like gold medallions, and the contrasts of the golden green of the leaves and black of the depths of the forests on either side create a sense of the depth and vitality of life. I was happy.  I knew my luck had truly returned when the red and blue flashers of “the law” pulled me over for doing 85 in a 55 on the skyway and still let me go with just a warning. -John