2009 Race Reports 14 – 16: The Race to the Race

2009 Race Reports 14 – 16: The Race to the Race It was a carnival freak show caricature of the real thing. Everything that took place during those swollen seconds was a bloated, leviathan equivalent of the norm. Reminiscent of the movie Wall-E, every healthy element was eliminated and replaced by a supersized, unhealthy counterpart.

In the race to the race of the Chicago Criterium, I desperately needed food “on-the-go,” and the Lake Forest Oasis became my “feed-zone” where I received my “hand-up.”  To explain: the feed-zone is the area in bike races like the Tour de France where racers pick up “musette bags” full of healthy carbs and proteins, “hand-ups” by helpful members of the staff who run along side the racers as they slowly climb the steep slopes. Shoulder straps allow the racers to sling these bags of healthy calories over their shoulders so they can eat as they ride. I might as well have strapped it to my face…

In my case, the mountain was the small hill of the Lake Forest Oasis overpass, and the “musette bag” was a folded McDonalds to-go bag containing two fatty hamburgers on white bread with ketchup. The “racer,” (me) was not pedaling a 15lb carbon fiber frame… instead I was casually pushing the gas pedal of a rusting RV getting 7mpg - a 10,000lb hulk of fiberglass and steel zooming awkwardly over the top of the oasis. My friend Matt, unwittingly involved in this sordid satire, stood balanced on the curb in front of McDonalds on his tiptoes holding out my feed bag as I snatched it from his grasp at about 10mph, wallowing back down the overpass to I-294 spewing fumes en-route to the Chicago Criterium.

Thus continued the single worst preparations for any race of my life…

Race Report 14: July 26, 2009 – The Chicago Criterium, Grant Park Chicago – Masters 1 / 2  

The night before the Chicago Crit started way too early, involving copious quantities of Red Zinfandel out of a plastic cup while hiking the Downer Avenue course with my 21 year old teammate Randy Rodd and my great friend Matt Dula while watching the Pro Race. We ended the evening with the usual routine of entertaining guests in the RV by the start finish line and then hit North Avenue, staying up until 2:30am. Randy had to leave just 3 hours later for his race and successfully woke in time. He’s 21 and gets no sympathy. I on the other hand had difficulty waking up at 8:30 when I needed to, and when I finally did get on the road, found myself racing the clock for the 12:05pm race in a vehicle that can’t go much faster than 60mph at 7mpg.

I began chugging water just like the year prior, but this time had no food. I polished off 9 20oz bottles of water in the 3 hour drive, but could already feel the lack of calories. There was no way I could race without eating something, but I didn’t have time to stop… what to do?

I called Matt who was speeding on ahead in his car – and we arranged the now infamous “Lake Forest feed-zone hand-up.” I had asked for a relatively healthy breakfast sandwich and was suddenly thwarted by the switch to lunch. I was stumped - I should have gotten a grilled chicken wrap rather than plain burgers – what was I thinking?!

Finally, 20 minutes before race start time, I parked the RV for $40 and sped to registration, where I received my number (104 – hence there were 104 race participants – once again I was the last to register) and then sped to the wheel pit where Jose and another mechanic helped to get 4 pins in my number just as they called out the racer instructions. The fourth safety pin was latched just as they shot the gun and off we went – and I joined the rear of the peleton about 200 feet past the start finish – no warmup, tired, dehydrated, and fueled with fatty ground beef, ketchup and white bread. I felt like hell.

The race was relatively short and I actually wanted it to be longer, because the longer it lasted, the better I felt. I started lazy and lethargic and gained a little bit of energy every lap. It was an easy race and it was amazing that the peleton let 4 riders escape.

Finally it was the last lap and I woke up. It required the urgency of the bell to finally spur me into motion. The video below captures the action of the final lap, beginning right as we cross the line with one to go where I’m still sitting probably 60 deep or more in the peleton. I learned later than a couple guys were watching my wheel and determined I had given up on the race when I hadn’t yet moved up with less than one to go.

I tried to sling up front into the second corner, but others had the same idea and it was a bind around the corner and I had to brake hard. Swarming continued on the backstretch and I was trapped in the middle and dropped from 12h to 25th before turn 3 of 4 where I had intended to be 2nd – 4th. However, as we passed turn 3 into the short uphill, I still had my one little match, and I lit it out of that corner, getting out of the saddle and shooting up the outside, passing about 15 riders over the top to slot into 4th place into the final corner. I’m sure the same move from 8th or higher would have earned me the field sprint win, but I was just too far back, and by the short final sprint I had no juice left and finished 4th in the field sprint, 8th overall. The video makes it look all in slo-mo, but in real life I felt like I entered hyper-space up the hill and loved that feeling of acceleration. I do love that course…

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1mhpbVuI2D8]

Race Report 15: August 1st, 2009 – Elk Grove Cat 1/2 75 Kilometers.

I arrived on time, warmed up, and suffered like a dog. For each of the 37 laps I determined that the next lap I would drop out. There was a crosswind and the peleton was spread out single file from lap one, and each long (1000m) finish stretch had me on the rivet. I quickly determine that I would quit at 35 to go (2 laps in), then I lied to myself and said, “at least make 5 laps”.

At lap 32 to go, I lied again and said, “10 laps would be at least a decent showing for your teammates in town” (I had 4 fellow Wolverines visiting and staying with me – Randy, Brett, Pat, and Sarah).  So with 27 to go I determined to quit again, but there they were, cheering, so I decided to go one more lap. Then another, and another. Even with 5 laps to go I wasn’t sure I would make one more lap. The idea of moving up did not enter my oxygen starved brain until 2 to go, and with gaps opening and wheels single file, I only managed to get into the upper quarter of the peleton by the finish despite using every possible fragment of energy in my body (see video below).

Race Report 16: August 2nd, 2009 – Elk Grove Masters 1/2 45 Kilometers. Every POSSIBLE mistake…

Saturday night ended nice and early despite my teammates being town, and after only one glass of wine with Randy and Pat, I hit the hay early and then returned to the course with them the next morning with over an hour to register, pin on my numbers and make the start of the race.

I registered, returned to the car with my number, and then started scrambling, tearing the car apart, searching for, but not finding my skinsuit. Mistake #1 – I forgot my skinsuit. My God – even when I’m early I’m late. I had to head all the way back to get my skinsuit – but Pat Robb had my keys, so first I had to find him… I did get somewhat of a warmup chasing him down while coordinating with Randy via phone. Once I had the keys, I had the traffic lights perfectly timed as I raced back to get my suit, and then returned to the course. When I parked, it was 10:27am, and I still had to get on my numbers, helmet, shoes, gloves and get to the start/finish line in less than 3 minutes.

Meanwhile, they were apparently calling my name at the start/finish, and co-workers John Cregier, Ed Perez, and Dave Torgerson were scratching their heads as I succeeded in becoming a caricature of myself by skidding to the line during the final race announcements with an unbuckled helmet, un-strapped shoes, no gloves, no shoe covers, and no number on. Randy was there to help put the number on, but a couple of ladies by the barriers took over and managed to get 3 of the numbers pinned on before the sent us on our way.

I felt quite good and stayed mostly mid-pack, biding my time for the very long (700m) sprint. Near the end I dropped back, and then as we came around and I saw 3 laps to go, I started making my moves to the front. Mistake #2 – I never looked at the lap cards again…I’m sure now, that when I looked up with 3 laps to go, I was probably dead last, and they had already flipped the cards, so there were actually 4 laps to go, not 3.

But I moved through the pack as though there were 3, then 2, then 1 lap to go. Around the final bend there were two riders off, and the pack, as expected in the headwind, bunched up and I launched off the front, bridging between the pack and the lead riders, knowing the race was mine… until I realized it had all been too easy, and, glancing back, seeing that the pack had done nothing. A sudden cold feeling rang through me with the bell as I sat 100 meters off the front of the peleton… “One Lap to Go!, one lap to go riders!” yelled the announcer. Mistake #3 – sprinting with one lap to go…

No what? I had burned most of my match and couldn’t possibly hold the lead… so I sat up and waited, and then jumped back into the accelerating peleton in about 15th. Over the final corners, things played out well and I was in perfect position, but had no match left and merely followed wheels to finish in 6th place, the taste of blood and pennies in my mouth like yesterday…

Still, my legs felt like they were finally coming on… and the Grand Cycling Classic – in Grand Rapids Michigan – where I had had my first win in a while the year prior was coming up next… I liked this feeling of possiblities...

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.”

“Deal.”

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.