2012 Race Reports 5 - 6: Strategy is Great Until You Get Punched in the Face

2012 Race Reports 5 - 6: Tour Des Villas, Wood Dale State Criterium Championships

Race Five: Tour Des Villas, Masters. Distance ~20 miles. Temp 94 degrees, 67% humidity = 105 degrees “real feel”. Wind = light. Avg pace 25.2mph, Sprint finish max speed 37.2mph

You pass them on the sidewalk, in the supermarket, in the parking lot, at the movies, and even at the race course – some of them even leaning on sleek but untested bikes: non racers. You feel sorry for them. What do they know of suffering in the heat, of penetrating the turbulent airfoils of racers shuttling at 35mph across cracked concrete lined with sticky pits of soft hot tar? Of leaning 4 abreast through the final corner knowing that 1/1000th of a second stands between potential victory and a burning, tumbling, skin-tearing disaster. Poor souls.

What then can they know of freedom, of the liberation from petty worldly concerns boiled and burned away through the crucible of the race? How can they know clarity? 

Walking – that innocuous benign activity known by billions the world over – is a different matter after a bike race. Unlike any other sport of intensity where ligaments are strained, muscles are sore or stiff: after a bike race, the neurons and filaments of the leg structure are alive with light. After a race even the simple walk from the car back to check results is filled with an absurd sense of mastery – every articulation of bone, tendon and synapse sending signals to the brain through channels cleared for instant communication. It is not an overstatement to say that a racer walks with a kind of confidence unique to the world.


“Where has this course been my whole life?” I asked Brian from Enzo’s as we began our first lap around the one mile oval shaped course. With no wind, no corners and no hills, there was little chance for a break and a great setup for a sprinter victory.

“Strategy is great until you are punched in the face” – Mike Tyson.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Two riders managed to gain a 50m, then 100m, then 300m gap. Laziness born of heat perhaps, but we weren’t moving, so I ended up taking a series of pulls on the backstretch (yes, me) to try and close the gap. Each hard pull at the front at about 31mph for 400m left me gasping and would bring us within reach of a bridge to the break – but, of course, I was toast and incapable of bridging at that point. No one took over, though one tall strongman kept the pace going in between efforts. After a few of these yoyos I gave it up and prepared for the sprint. It was going to be easy – I’d sit about 8th and w/ 400m to go I’d light it up on the outside using a slight tailwind to shoot into the homestretch.

Except… on the backstretch the race fragmented with an Enzo’s rider hitting it hard w/ 800m to go and I was suddenly gapped and 60m back from the race leaders. I burned most of my match to close the gap and found myself coming on the lead 5 riders with too much momentum and 500m to go… Too early and already hurting, but I decided to keep it going and lit the rest of my match… jumping into the clear air of the lead, the breakaway suddenly looming ahead and within reach. 400m, 300m, 200m, 100m to go and I’m in the lead but I’m dying, I’m dying, like a fish trying to breathe air I was gasping and struggling and sure enough 5 then 6 riders went sailing by just at the line and I finished 6th in the field, and 8th overall, just within the money.

Race Six: Wooddale State Championships, Masters. Distance ~20 miles. Temp 88 degrees, 80% humidity. Wind = light. Avg pace 26.3mph, Sprint finish max speed 36.1mph.

A massive thunderstorm had rolled through during the Master’s 40+ race and they had to stop and restart. It was cool and when I was warming up but by the time we headed off the start/finish it had warmed up and the road was dry.

The Wooddale course is a great sprinter course – bowl shaped with a small hill and only 2 real corners. I felt good right from the start and was dismayed when a group of 7 moved off the front. Again I put chase along with a couple other riders, but the Bicycle Heaven and Enzo’s team played a smart hand and insinuated themselves in the front immediately & repeatedly slowed things down. I even bridged 100m to a 2 man break and rode a lap in a breakaway (! I didn’t actually pull…). Like Tour Des Villas I tried some hard pulls in front to bring us within striking distance hoping the pack would surge with the break in sight, but to no avail.

With 5 laps to go I retreated to my comfortable spot on the back of the field. Oddly, with 2 to go the pack came to its senses and started to reel in the break, taking a 600m gap down to 300m with 1 to go. I followed my instincts sitting 10th across the start/finish line and then jumping up to 5th on the backstretch, waiting for the surge. It happened right in front of me, a powerful rider in green (one of the chasers as well) lit it up just before the 3rd turn and then hit it hard up the hill. I followed and was impressed – I was geared perfectly and this guy was cranking a monster gear up the hill leaving the pack behind. We entered the final corner 1, 2 and I dared a quick look back – no one had followed. I waited until 250m and then lit the remaining fuse I had left, jumping out of the saddle and suddenly seeing the breakaway within my sights. I shot ahead winning the field sprint with a good margin and picked off one breakaway rider along the way coasting past 3 more just after the line finishing 7th.  

I changed clothes in a burning hot car and then walked to check the results, marveling at how alive my legs felt…