2008 Race Report #19: RV Racing - the Chicago Criterium

Race Report #18 – RV Racing: The inaugural Chicago Criterium, Grant Park, Chicago IL, Sunday, July 27. Category: Elite Masters 30+.  Weather: 75 degrees, light winds. Course: bumpy, mostly wide, 1.1 mile/lap, 6 corners w/ two small hills per lap. Distance 47 miles, Avg speed, 27.9mph, avg pulse 171bpm.


Gary and I awoke to church bells on Sunday morning after the antics on Downer Avenue the night before and absorbed the brown shag of the RV after just a few hours of sleep. I gruffly reminded Gary of his transgressions from the back of the RV hoping he would attend service and leave me aloneas he muddled around up front and I tried to go back to sleep but ultimately ended up joining him at Starbucks across the street on Downer Ave in Milwaukee at about 7:30 a bit tired and very dehydrated.


I used the wi-fi and Google Maps to plan out our day – I would drop Gary, his bike and his backpack off on a back road near Racine where he’d have a 50 or-so mile ride home. I would then continue on my path to Chicago for the inaugural Chicago Criterium – another big-money Chicago-land race – this time right downtown around Grant Park.


The race was set to start at 12:30, so we aimed to head out at 9am to give me ample time to make Chicago and drop Gary off enroute without using Chicago mafia drop-off tactics (i.e. pushing him out at 45mph). Alas it ended up closer to 9:30 before we headed out – but still – I had 3 hours to go 90 miles…  plenty of time – right?


You guessed it – wrong! I dropped Gary off in Racine around 10am and then hit construction on 294 and then the tolls (no IPASS for a multi-wheel vehicle) and my stress levels began their usual rise as the clock ticked on.


Meanwhile along the way I had realized that I was completely dehydrated. I seems so simple to stay hydrated, but it really requires a significant level of discipline when your body can lose over a gallon an hour during an intensive race effort. The wines and wheelies the night before didn’t help. So as I hovered in traffic, I began to aggressively imbibe those 16.9 ounce Dasani water bottles stacked beside me. I drank two in the morning and then two more before dropping Gary off and then proceeded to drink 7 more before I hit downtown. Only after 11 bottles of water (about a gallon and a half) did I start to feel somewhat hydrated. Obviously what comes in must go out – Gatorade doesn’t make those wide mouthed bottles for nothing…


Meanwhile with all the traffic, it was 11:30 when I exited Ohio street off 90 for downtown. Still – I had an hour to go 3 miles – no problem right?


WRONG again – Closing down Grant Park created quite a traffic quagmire. The RV is not exactly suited to traffic and Michigan Avenue was down to one lane and each light had a single policeman waving traffic off to sidestreets mostly and allowing only a couple of vehicles to pass straight through. As it turns out I would have been better off on the sidestreets, but I was hoping to park right on the course – wishful thinking.


At one point the lanes narrowed to one, and traffic followed the zipper effect of notching into the single lane – one car left, one car right. As it became my turn to merge, the car next toand slightly behind me began to tailgate the car in front of it – essentially ‘taking my place’ in the rotation – so typical of Chicago drivers.


The thing is – he was driving a 2500 lb, $40,000 car. Meanwhile I’m driving a 10,000lb, $5000 RV. It was silly I know, but I was in racing mode was determined not to lose my spot in the peleton – so I shoved my bumper within an inch of his shiny sleek car doors while looking calmly and arrogantly down at his passenger – who nervously shouted something unintelligible to the driver. Suddenly the car rocked and bucked from the stopping power of its disc brakes and I established my rightful place in the lane. I smiled grimly and raced on. Seriously I could have driven right over that little thing like a monster truck – don’t mess with an RV driver who races criteriums – you will lose…


I dodged through traffic like a tortoise strapped to the back of a rabbit and watched my countdown clock go from 50 to 40 to 30 to 20 before finally making my way back West to find a pay parking lot. After I finally found parking, I had 9 minutes before the start of the race.


Meanwhile, during various stops at lights I had run into the back of the RV and had gathered and changed into my racing suit – shorts, jersey, gloves, shoes, and helmet. Had I been wearing this getup during the traffic altercation, it probably would have helped convince the driver to give way…


I exited the RV, pumped up my tires, and brought my available cash and a credit card in my pocket and raced to the start/finish to register.

The registration guy was a bit amused… “Lets see – race starts in 5 minutes – hope you can pin your numbers on that quick. That’ll be $50 - $40 plus a $10 late registration fee.”

“Oh man – I only have $45…” 

“OK,” he says, “you owe me $5.” “Now let me see your license…” 

Oh boy…“Uh – that’s back in the RV…”

“OK you don’t have enough money and you don’t have a license and the race starts in 5 minutes… I suppose you’d like me to allow this anyway right?”

So I say, “tell you what – you give me the registration packet and I’ll run to the RV after I get my number on and show you my license before I hit the line.”


So I stripped down quickly, put four sloppy pins in for my number and threw away the second number and bike number and then raced to the RV and grabbed my license.

I swung back through and showed him my license only to hear those perfectly joyous words, “don’t worry – they are running late.”  FINALLY!

I got in a short warmup and then lined up with the field. There were 105 riders. I know that because my number was 105. Lots of money on the line and I was still tired and lethargic but I liked the course – two small sprinter hills and a relatively short (200m) finish stretch.

The first 46 miles were a mind numbing grind. The peleton stayed mostly together and sometimes stretched out on the backstretch and it was sometimes pretty hard. I actually considered dropping out about a dozen times in the race. I wasn’t completely burnt, but it was a weird sort of boring suffering – the race seemed to stretch on forever.

Suddenly, and finally, it was one lap to go and I yet again experienced that odd and faithful resurgence of energy and focus. My time. I slotted up to 30th on the long homestretch. Up and over the first sprinter hill into 20th and then into the single file high speed backstretch… waiting, waiting and then a hard move up the outside prior to corner three and as we entered the second to last straightaway, I’m suddenly, perfectly, in 3rd position with 450 meters to go and one small hill.

I was fresh. I had languished in the back for 46 miles and began to notice in the final 10 miles how quickly riders were going backward on this short hill on the short straightaway prior to the homestretch and finish line. For some reason these small hills hurt the roadies but allow me to leverage my strengths.

Time slowed – I was on the outside of a single file line riding the hip of rider #2 entering turn 3. We were traveling at about 34mph and bouncing over cracked pavement. This was considerably faster than prior laps and both riders up front used the entire width of the road to exit the turn, swinging all the way into the sloping gutter of the curb. Their nervousness was evident.

I followed the wheels to the outside, still feeling the draft. I looked up at the small climb facing us and knew exactly what was to come next. As our trajectories flattened out, I would hit the afterburners and use the 6 seconds of my tiny nuclear reactor to leap past riders 1 and 2 and hum into the lead. I would scream over the top of the hill and launch into the short downhill into the final corner at 40+ mph, flat on my top tube, leaning hard.

I would start pedaling early on the exit of the corner over the bumpy pavement and then,  using the final reserves of my fading strengths, I would streak to the line and cross well ahead of the field for the win. There was no doubt now, only the details of executing the plan.

All these thoughts accumulated and resonated in a half second of time as we exited the corner. All I had to do was exit the corner safely and then jump up the inside – my one little superpower, my little nuclear reactor ready to finally be lit.

And then, of course, it happened. Rider #2 clipped the curb, pulled out a foot, and meandered right into my launch trajectory.

I slammed on both brakes locking up the bike, grazing his back wheel. Riders went winging by, the hum and chatter of their wheels on the cracked pavement giving evidence to my backward motion.

I re-launched my explosion – but instead of coming from a 34mph slingshot, I fought the ropes against a deceleration to 25mph. Still, my little nuclear reactor got me back in the game and I shot back from 15th to 7th over the hill as we headed into the final corner.

Lined up neatly behind the contrails of draft provided by the riders up front, victory was still in reach except for that little nagging weakness of mine – I only have one 6 second sprint to use – and I had used it up. I had nothing, absolutely nothing left and drifted across in 7th, head down, disappointed. I was doubly disappointed when I realized I had completely forgotten to turn on the video-cam.

Still, I could taste it… I remembered what it was like to launch at the right time on the right course and I knew it was possible – completely possible that I could win a big race like this. I was hungry for it.

As it turns out I only had to wait a couple of weeks…

Next year though, Chicago is mine.