Race Report #9, Saturday, July 21st, Superweek Stage 8 Masters Criterium, Waukesha, WI, 60K.
Not much to say about Waukesha – a tough, short course that weeded out a lot of the masters. I rode up front for the latter half of the race after a large (10 man) breakaway got away. I set up a little far back for the sprint given all the corners and my late surge to the line only got me 5th in the field sprint and 15th overall.
Flashback: Superweek circa 1995 – a North Milwaukee suburb I was riding category 3 back in 1995 – the year after the Lillehammer Olympics – and having a good time participating in the field sprints at superweek. I had won several field sprints already but had not yet won a stage, but was feeling like this particular course might be my day. Nearly perfectly round with the exception of one corner, this particular course on the north side of Milwaukee was in one of the many excellent county parks dotting the Milwaukee area. After putting in the requisite first 35 of the 40 mile race, I decided to move up and scout out the finish sprint.
The one and only corner was about 400m before the finish and I decided to hit it hard like I would in a sprint. The course was wide and I used the draft of the peleton to slingshot outside and into the lead – one of the things I used to be able to do before I started racing with the pros where the pace puts me in a different, more limited mode of moving through the pack. As I passed the outside of the peleton and coasted out into the lead – intending only to be re-absorbed into the pack, I noticed some movement off to the left.
Just to the left of the course was a small, but popular fishing hole, and during the race there were dozens of fisherman sitting in folding chairs facing the lake, poles up at the ready. Each lap the their heads would sway in unison away from the shining surface of the lake to catch the wind of the pack of riders bearing down the park roads towards them for another round of the course. On this particular lap though, one of the fishermen had decided to pack up his gear and head home. Along with a styrofoam Igloo cooler strapped with bungee cords to the small rack on the back of his bike, he had also tied up his two fishing poles… sideways.
I watched with detached amusement as this somewhat inebriated gentleman made his way awkwardly across the grass onto the sidewalk, expecting him to turn and follow the asphalt path toward some local destination. Instead, he continued, head down, pedaling right across the small patch of grass between the sidewalk path and the course, and then bumped down across the curb onto the course, lazily righting the bike as it veered left and right. He still hadn’t looked up…
It was about this time that energy spiked in my legs and I stood on the pedals and leaned hard right… He was heading almost directly toward me… but worse, he had nearly seven feet of fishing pole sticking out at a perpendicular angle quite ready to take me down. I completed my acceleration and adjustment and then began to finally recognize the inevitable next… he was riding, eyes down, poles horizontal, head-on, directly into the pack of 100 riders swarming behind me. Even as I swung clear, I sat up coasting and rotated my torso, hand on my thigh to watch the inevitable destruction to follow.
Like the pin-setter at the bowling alley after two gutter balls, I prepared for the worst as the lone fisherman and his pole made their way like a drunken snow plow straight into the peleton with an impact speed of over 40mph.
I will never forget what I saw next – it remains imprinted upon my retinas like that of a biblical event. Moses and his rods parted the multi-colored sea and with the elegance of a choreographed movie scene, the peleton separating neatly in the middle, creating a teardrop shaped ripple that flowed smoothly backward, the sudden reflection off the circular rims reminding me of a school of minnows reacting to a predator – flashing left and then right – and then the pack zipped itself up neatly back together behind the intruder - all in the matter of seconds. I’ve never been more amazed at the skills of men on bikes as I was at that moment – like detritus out the back the fisherman continued on his way – never even realizing the extent of his danger…
A few laps later I reprised my outside sprint and was able to win my first stage of that year’s Superweek.
But all we talked about was the fisherman…