2008 Race Report #18: Downer Avenue Revisited

Race Report #18 – The Last Ride of the RV: Superweek Stage 16, Downer Avenue, WI, Sunday, July 20. Category: Masters.  Weather: 75 degrees, light winds. Course: flat, 1 mile/lap, 3 corners

Yes, sad but true, this was to be the last ride of the RV. Now in its 4th season it has been both a blessing and a curse – at its best it remains a chrysalis for the tender wings of new experiences and burgeoning friendships. At its worst it has been a hole to throw money in.

Since it was at Downer Avenue that the RV first found its wings a few years prior, it was only appropriate to leverage its charms for one last time in the same location.

Driving the RV

 

From that same race report in 2006, here’s a quick description of the vehicle:

A little about the RV… well… it is “retro.” Meaning “old.”  It is a 1988, 28 foot Georgie Boy Cruise Air II. It is replete with wall to wall brown shag, mauve couches and seats, and faux wood paneling tables and real wood paneled kitchen cabinets. It has 3 beds and comfortably sleeps… well, 3. The exterior is a taupe fiberglass box with the horizontal ridges so typical of the era. It has a working stove, microwave, TV, AC, generator, hot water heater, coffeemaker, bathroom with toilet and sink, shower with hot water, fridge, freezer, CD player and VCR. The entire 10,000lb vehicle has a blue book value only slightly more than my 16 lb Italian, hand-painted carbon fiber bicycle balanced delicately on the rack on the back.  

 

equal value

 There is some sort of weird credibility in that juxtaposition… Yes, I get a lot of jealous looks from the other cyclists as they pile into their cramped team vans or other tiny vehicles. Cyclists typically have a keen retro whimsy. I recently added some vintage looking throw rugs from Target to spice up the interior and now it almost looks 1988 – even 1989.

Until this year I really didn’t have to do any maintenance, but now I’m thinking of upgrading – but on the other hand, it only has 31,000 miles on it…. I admit it, I love my second home – even though I keep forgetting to deduct it on my taxes…

Gary and I circled Downer Ave and found a spot after avoiding the ubiquitous “No Parking” signs posted for the race. I got a ticket anyway and I’m still fighting it with the city of Milwaukee…

The race the next day was not particularly noteworthy – it was a suffer-fest that I did not enjoy and without the panache of racing with the pros was hardly worth all the pain. I ended up 18th – last spot in the money (vs. last year where I was the first spot out of the money).

The only notable occurrence happened coming into turn 2 on the bell (final) lap. We were lined up single file and I was in about 10th place in perfect position. As we headed into the 120 degree turn, I suddenly saw a rider shoot up the inside and dive into the turn in a trajectory that could only carry him to intersect directly with the riders right ahead of me. This wasn’t a suble “slotting in” move like I used in Bensenville, it was a last ditch reckless maneuver that had only two possible outcomes –either the riders entering the corner on the normal wide-to-tight trajectory would have to brake and head for the curb, or there would be an ugly crash.

The reason this move was significant was because it was performed by none other than “Steve” – the same gentleman from the Racine race that had so aggressively closed the door on me into a mild bend on the backstretch and then blamed me for it…It was probably a good thing I wasn’t in the group of riders in his path – they swung wide and braked near the curb and all us following did the same as Steve careened around the corner and continued on his way.

If I had been… well, there’s no telling what my response would have been. Either way I consider the Racine debate closed : )Finally it was time to spread the RV’s wing one last time – directly after the race I took the gallon water bottle I had set out on the bumper to heat for “shower” water (keep in mind the pump had stopped working – so no water pressure) and enjoyed a hot shower. After toweling off and pulling on some clothes from the closet I exited the RV and extending the massive yet delicate awning off the side of the vehicle. Unraveling the RV

 

 

 I then collected my check and added it to my little pile.

Superweek Winnings

 

And now it was time to enjoy the fruits of suffering: we were parked one block from the start/finish line of the single best spectator race in the United States and party central was open for business.

Gary and I ran to the Sendiks market to pick up fresh produce and the ingredients for an excellent meal – chicken breasts, pancetta, fragrant fresh basil, olive oil, yellow onion, Pecorino Romano cheese, and vine ripened tomatoes.  We also picked up items for an appetizer: walnuts, prosciutto, honey, grapes, smoked Gouda and Edam cheeses.

I began cooking inside while Gary grilled the chicken outside. We sent Dave Dohnal to get water and a few other items and as the Pro race started, appetizers were served.

 

Appetizers

 

Already we were joined by a few old and new faces. Kelly Patterson and her husband Jay Moncel materialized during the masters race and encamped by the RV. Dave Dohnal joined Gary to jeer me on at the same time. Later other faces old and new were to join us as well.

As the pro race kicked off, I prepared to enter the ‘kitchen’ and prepare a big meal, but first I stood outside and watched the first few laps of the single hardest race I have ever finished the previous year (see 2007 race report # 14 ) In one lap the 180 rider field had strung out over the entire 1/3 mile finish stretch, and by lap 3 it had already become the single file death march that I had experienced last year.

It was exhilarating to witness the race back from the safety of the curb again – I had had some consideration of attempting it again despite the fact that it was exactly counter to my strengths, but upon witnessing the thrashing of the field and the drawn faces gasping for air after only 3 laps I was suddenly filled with joy, and as they rolled around, the words practically exploded from my mouth, “Welcome to SUFFERING boys!” as Jay (who had suffered through it the prior year with me) and Kelly began to laugh.

 

Toasting the suffering

 

I boiled the 4 lbs of fresh tomatoes for a minute, peeled the shiny fragile skin off, and then crushed the red fragile meat in a bowl before adding them to the pot on the propane burner. I sliced the onions and chopped the pancetta and browned both in the sizzling olive oil, as the whole RV began to smell like a fine Italian restaurant.

 

Preparing a great meal

 

I separated the leaves and stems of the basil and grated the salty tangy Pecorino Romano as Gary sliced the tender chicken breasts and wrapped it in foil in prep for the final presentation.

 

As the race continued we all sampled the prosciutto/honey/walnut/grape/Gouda/Edam appetizer plate and the Italian wines we had picked up from Sendicks. Kelly was every gregarious and funny and Jay proved to be her match with quick wit and clever humor. Dave played his usual sarcastic foil and Gary was his usual self as the conversational engine should there be a lull.

We laughed and talked and ate and watched the race inside and outside the RV until the tomato mixture reached its earthy textured half cooked/half fresh perfection. I then added the fresh and fragrant basil leaves, several dashes of Kosher salt and then we spooned it over the penne pasta cooking on burner 3, topping it off with the steaming grilled chicken and grated pecorino cheese. Gary helped me deliver plates around, and then after a second boiling of pasta I delivered foil covered bowls to Jose in the race pits, and to Eddy Van Guys in the announcing booth.

Jose and a Rock Racing bike

Freshly poured wine in cups all around we settled in, ate, and ate some more and watched the exciting finish of the race as Williams from Rock Racing repeated Rashaan Bahatie’s performance from last year winning a prime over $8000 and then retiring off the back.

We then wandered over to the start/finish to watch the awards ceremonies and along the way we ran into “Toolbox #1” an IS Corp racer that Kelly had developed a personal irritation with who also happened to have a rather unfortunate habit of wearing skinsuits either too short for him or that he intentionally scrunched up. Kelly wedgied up her shorts and rolled them under and then sauntered by as Jay tried to distance himself but Toolbox #1 failed to notice and we moved on to say hello to Jose in the wheel pit and many other familiar faces.

Toolbox #1

 

Toolbox Groupie

An aside – perhaps during the Tour de France you might have seen a long commercial (a “sixty” as its called in the biz) for Trek featuring a series of athletes on bikes of all ages and ending with Lance saying, “we believe… in bikes.”  Well at about 35 seconds into the commercial, the VO (voice over) says, “We believe in firsts…. And lifestyles that last” showing a young boy learning to ride quickly followed a very fit older man with triathalon numbers on his arms riding a triathalon bike.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xlH5I2IzRNc]

Well, in the small world of cycling, this older, fit gentleman turns out to be Gary’s wife’s uncle (does that make him an uncle-in-law?) and was at the Downer Avenue race watching. He joined us for a period in the RV and was a joy to speak with.

Trek Commercial Stud

I ended up talking with Eddy Van Guys while he ate dinner with his family, meeting his lovely wife and daughter and revisiting with his son who I had met a year prior. His daughter was preparing to enter college and I offered my services to help her make her selection – (that offer still stands Eddy.)

On the way back to the RV we chatted with Ben Renkema, Andy Crater and Olu and then we brought Brenda and Chris along back to the RV where we all imbibed too much wine and laughed and talked until well after midnight.

Ben Renkema

At some point I walked outside the RV and took one final picture to recognize the important role it has played over the past couple of years in creating memorable “really living” experiences.

Jose the 'wheel god'

With a bit of a deja-vu I retired to my feather bed in the back remembering, “Oh man, I’ve got the first inaugural Chicago Criterium tomorrow – that’s going to be really hard – and I forgot to drink water in addition to wine…”

I’d pay for that the next day.. but that’s another story…

-John

 

 

 

 

Andy Crater

2008 Race Report #10: Superweek Blue Island Pro/Am

2008: Race Report #10 Superweek Stage 2

                                                         

Race Report #10: Saturday, July 13. Category: Pro 1/2, Weather: 81 degrees, 18 mph winds. Course: 4 corners, 1 mile – mostly flat. Distance 62 miles (I made it 46 out of 62 miles) ~140 riders. Average speed, 30.3 mph, Avg. pulse 176 before getting dropped

 

Unfortunately, sadly, the biggest story here was the ‘race to the race.’ While this is far from uncommon in my experience due to the demands of work, home, and an absent mind, this day was different. With my wife and daughter heading up to visit family early in the day Saturday, I had the remainder of the day to focus on prepping properly for my debut pro race at Superweek. I wanted a ‘no excuses’ kind of race – so I cleaned my bike and cleaned my chain and cassette (discovering as a side product, that my chain was too short and couldn’t even go into my big rings in front and back without destroying my rear derailleur). That chain change at Village Cyclesport has been my bane...

 

I got the car loaded, and made sports drinks for before and after the race, ate pasta at exactly 3 1/2 hours before start time and then headed on my way, hydrating heavily. About an hour and a half before the race I was about to exit the highway – a mere 2 miles from the race course – and I called SRAM mechanic extraordinaire and former Wolverine Jose Alcala – and sure enough he was again working superweek. I was glad as my front wheel with its bent spokes was out of true and I have now lost any trust in any other mechanic. He kidded me about ‘showing up 10 minutes before the race’ and I told him, “this time maybe I’ll surprise you…” Sure enough I saw the sign for my exit off 294 South for Highway 50. I did end up surprising him though…

 

There was a wrinkle though – as always… About 5 miles back, the highway, under ongoing construction, had divided left and right and I had gone left. There was no indication of anything out of the ordinary – for instance, a sign saying,  “take the lanes on the left and you’ll be trapped in a concrete barrier from hell for the next 22 miles unable to exit until you drop out onto highway 80” would have been somewhat useful information.

 

And so I drove and cursed and cursed and drove as I watched each of my potential exits fade on the other side of my impermeable, infinite concrete barrier as the My Navigator application on my U.S. Cellular® phone kept saying “re-calculating route”. Honestly – I was screaming in my car – trapped behind a careful tourist driving 50 mph ahead of me and no way to go back or get out.

 

Finally I dropped down to highway 80 and exited Dixie Highway, following the prompts back to Blue Island – 8 miles or 15 minutes away – still 45 minutes left until race time.

 

Then, only a half mile from the course, I hit the train tracks. An engine was crossing with one car – slowly – but heck it was only one car. 5 minutes later and the gates lifted – but only for about 10 seconds – one car got through, and down they came again. The train now backed up and recrossed and picked up about 1000 other cars and they began trundling across the road at a speed of about zero-point-one. 5 minutes became 10 became 15. Meanwhile I had changed into my full racing regalia in the car – but still it trundled along… I considered parking the car on the side of the road and then running through an opening between cars with my bike and then riding the remaining ½ mile to the course. I actually would have done it – but the train was finally picking up steam – probably 4mph now.

 

So I used Google maps on my U.S. Cellular BlackBerry® Curve and found an alternate route and circled several miles around – putting the four liters of my V8 to full use – like a rental car - only two speeds – floored or braking.

 

I screamed into the parking lot in Blue Island with 5 minutes to go before race time. I dropped my wheel with Jose, registered with Chris who seemed amused and expectant over my mad last minute rush, put my number on in the wheel pit, and just as I was inserting the last pin, Eddy Van Guys announced, “and here, ready to shoot the starter’s pistol is the mayor of Blue Island – mayor?”

 

So much for warmup, though I did have an adrenaline rush to fire the muscles…

 

The race itself? Fast. First few laps were mundane, and then it began to string out. As the pack was stretched from 5 abreast to 3 to 2 abreast, I surfed and rode well, but when it became single file I struggled, and my pulse – holding in the mid 170’s the first 10 laps, began to rise and I was riding in the low 180’s – right at my sustainable max.

 

(Video 1 - joins the action a few laps into the race when it is still 5 abreast and the peleton is a still a crowd. By a 1:30 into the video things began to stretch out, and at 2:10 we begin a long painful hammer session down  the home stretch. At 2:40 you can see that the pack has now stretched 200 yards from tip to tail. By the end of this clip (video is 3:20) we are mostly single file...)

 

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dc_3i1pHiiU]

 

Meanwhile the front wheel I had borrowed from Jose was a bit misaligned with my brake pads, and they began to make more and more noise as the pad was starting to bite into the tire. After about 15 laps it began to make me nervous (it was the front) and as the pace continued to lift and I was forced to dive into corners and brake hard, I was using my front break more than ever. Finally I decided to risk a free lap (would it count?) and coasted into the pits where Jose put on my newly trued wheel and let Carl the referee know that it was a legitimate stop – “failure of critical mechanical part”.

 

The one lap rest was incredibly welcome and I swung back out into the field with 45 laps to go already very tired. But my legs performed and I rode the pack as best as I could despite finish stretch speeds in excess of 35 mph, and an average speed (when I dropped) of 30.3 mph. (this did not include the first 16 laps – when I had the wheel pit wheel on my bike without the magnet for my bike computer)

 

(Video 2 – Here I turn on the camera while I'm waiting in the wheel pit after my free lap - note the breakaway rider fly by at over 30mph by himself. I continually ask myself how that is possible. For the next couple of laps I ride behind or near Ken and another rider from bicycle heaven in the blue jersey and blue shoe covers. At about 5:15, I hit a manhole cover and the camera tilts up. Over the next lap, the pace picks up and more and more I'm riding a single file or two abreast line on a wheel where all you can see is the guy's butt ahead of me - pretty boring really. The rest of the video, unfortunately goes off the frame as the camera tilts even farther - nothing much to see anyway)

 

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ta079Nxk2ho]

 

The Columbian team continued to push breakaways and the field was unwilling to let them go, so the peleton resumed the strung out 2 abreast or single file structure for dozens of laps and I began to tire. I had fallen to the rear of the peleton and after passing the halfway mark at 31 miles, I was hopeful that I was going to finish, but the pace stayed high and riders were dropping out ahead of me forcing me to bridge gaps. Several of these were full out efforts pushing my pulse to 187 and 188 for several laps, and with 16 laps to go, after completing 46 miles or 90 minutes at an average heartrate of 176 bpm, another gap opened that I couldn’t close and I drifted away off the back down the backstretch.

 

It’s a terrible feeling – this. Pulse at 188 bpm and watching 100 riders pedal away from you as though it were easy. For a few moments, that deep morose funk hit me – “not good enough”, “couldn’t hack it,” “loser.”

 

But as I made my way back to Jose in the wheel pit, I was able to remember those good moments in the race – those hard accels from the corners where I neatly moved up 10 spots easily, the tight balance of my body over the wheels in the corners where I could swing up several spots by pedaling earlier and later than everyone. I also considered that, unlike last year, I knew, absolutely knew, that I had not killed my sprint by overtraining.

 

So I reframed this ‘loss’ as an, “I almost made it…”

 

When Jose asked me about my fitness, I waxed philosophical… “I think its about right – if I was able to hang easily in a race this fast, then odds are good I’d have overtrained…” and then, “I think, honestly, that all of my best, big races have had two things in common: 1) I was barely, barely hanging on for a majority of the race, and 2) Due to that, at the end I was one of the few with a sprint motor left…”

 

We’ll see if my ‘half full’ approach proves to be accurate.  After the race I was able to chat with the Garrison brothers, and Eddy Van Guys. I was particularly humbled when Eddy, out of the blue, said, “You are a great writer – I’ve been following your blog…”

 

That means a lot Eddy – thanks,

 

-John

 

PS: Coming soon - videos  and picutures from the Olympia Fields Master's Criterium - my friend Matt brought his camera.