2009 Race Report #5: ABR Cat 1/2 Illinois State Criterium Championships

July 5, 2009: I was too lazy to show up for the master's event at Wooddale - the day was just too nice and I was enjoying sitting outside by the pool reading and writing. Finally I dragged myself into the car for the 20 minute drive to Wooddale for the Cat 1/2 race. A few thunderclouds threatened but only threw a few drops our way. The pace was hot and cold - we only averaged 26.8 for the race, and one rider ended up getting away solo with 6 laps to go. Oddly I didn't suffer much and started to realize I might have a shot a the "W" - that is until the solo rider escaped. Still, I felt I had jets on my legs up the small hill to the final straightway and determined I would use them.

My plan was to sit about 10th on the last lap and then hit the afterburners 2/3's of the way down the backstretch into the final two corners with the short hill in between. My assumption was that with a hard accel in the draft, combined with the corners and the climb, I might not get caught despite the long (1 minute?) sprint.

All the best laid plans... Well, the pack was swarming and the pace too low on the last lap so I found myself sitting third across the finish stretch and down the hill into the back stretch. I could sense the pack ready to spring and knew I'd be buried in the swarm so I did the unthinkable - I made a leap from the front into the lead with 700m to go. Instead of the my planned stealth attack from bowels of the pack shrouded from the wind, I was completely visible and had to fight through the suddenly howling gale as I accelerated up to 37mph down the backstretch by myself.

I was already dying by the time I hit the 3rd corner into the hill, but shifted carefully and was able to put some energy into the pedals up the hill and then shifted up just before the final corner and cranked some cold hard low rpms toward the finish line 250 meters up the road. I could feel the chasers on my tail and just before the finish I saw colors to my left, (Ken Delo and Robert Krohn) but I had it - the field sprint win, and 2nd place.

I enjoyed a post race vibe talking to Ken Delo, Ara, and  Robert Krohn and others before finally heading back to swim in the pool with my daughter, the yellow sun and warm water a perfect aperitif to a successful race.

Saturday is my re-entry to the Pro races of Superweek with the Blue Island Pro/Am. Last year I got dropped - I'm shooting for a top 10 this year - but we'll see...

2009 Race Reports 1 - 4, and 2009 Race schedule:

So I've been slacking in many ways - I've now raced 4 times (sort of) and haven't posted a thing.. I haven't finished my tour of Albania from nearly 6 weeks ago, and I haven't figured out what races I'm doing this year... Work has been quite busy.. 2009 Race Report #1: ABR National Master's Championships, Winfield, IL - June 7, 2009

This has to be the most uneventful race of the last few years for me. I planned ahead to do the race, knew my way to the course, got there on time, had money and my license, warmed up properly, made the start line on time, moved through the pack on the final lap, came out of the final corner in decent position and then ended up 3rd in the field sprint, 7th in the race (4 guys off in breaks) and 4th in the Men's 40 master's nationals. Afterward I was changing and missed the podium call, but the real highlight of the race was spending the post-race vibe hanging with fellow Wolverines Maia, Brent, Cruise, and Luke at a local restaurant.

2009 Race Report #2: Sherman Park Criterium - Pro 1/2, Chicago, IL - June 13, 2009

Thwarted twice! Last year I experienced the reverse breakaway where the Triple XXX team practically pushed the field backward from a large breakaway - now this year I missed the start altogether. I had printed out the flyer for this event about a month before and lo and behold, they had changed the time - earlier by 30 minutes. Underestimating Chicago traffic as usual, I arrived after fighting traffic for over 2 hours with only 30 minutes to spare and was devastated to discover that the race just heading from the start line as I stood at registration was MY race. The guy working the registration, when I showed him my flyer with the incorrect time said, "so sorry man - not sure what happened.... Why don't you just jump in on the backside and at least get some laps in..."

So I did - I got my skinsuit on and kept on my number from Winfield and jumped in 10 minutes later on the backside and rode the remaining 70 minutes of the Pro 1/2 race with the medium sized field.  I felt really good but knew I couldn't do anything or sprint for the finish, so as a gesture of defiance, I led out a friend on the backside of the last lap gaining 100m on the field and setting him up for an easy field sprint win - it felt good and I felt good. I skidded to a stop and rode over the grass to my car before the race was over and headed home.

2009 Race Report #3: Tour of America's Dairyland Stage 8: Sheboygan Pro-Am - June 25th

The Sheboygan course looked like candy for my sprinter's sweet tooth, but I had meetings until 5pm on Thursday - or so I thought. Mid-day I realized we would be wrapping up early, and that, if I was out of the office by 2:30, I just might make the start of the big Pro race up in Sheboygan as part of the new "Tour of America's Dairyland" series put on by Tom Schuler and Bill Ochowicz. I sped up 294 and realized a couple things enroute: 1) I didn't have my helmet - I had only planned to ride at Bussy woods, not race, and 2) 294 traffic is horrible right now due to construction.

It took me 3 hours and 15 minutes to make it to the course and I changed in the car enroute. I assembled my bike and sped to registration even as they were doing the pre-race announcements. The reg ladies were awesome and let me just leave my credit card and license to finish up later, and they gave me a number. I stripped off my shirt right there on the sidewalk and put on my number, and then sped around the barriers as they were about to start, casting about for a familiar face. Aha! Mike Beuchel and Kent Savit - I borrowed Mike's sweaty helmet and rode to the line just as they were about to start. I had time to text Jay Moncel and Kelly Patterson that I was lined up next to "tool #1" with his short shorts (an IS guy we like to laugh about) and then we headed off.

The race was fast - we averaged 28.7mph - but my kind of course - I only had to pedal in 10 second spurts, so I never really suffered too much. The last few laps saw leadout men take the helm and it strung out and the draft was hard to find as we screamed around the course at 35, 36, 38mph down the backstretch. I was sitting 15th into the last two corners - the heart of the a!*hole zone but I was unable to get far enough up due to the pace and sure enough, there was a crash in the last corner. I breaked hard and dodged bodies and bikes and gave my remaining effort into resuming speed. I maintained position into the finish line crossing 18th - in the money. I was pretty happy actually considering...

2009 Race Report #4: Tour of America's Dairyland Stage 10 - Downer Avenue, Milwaukee - Masters

I knew I was not ready for the Pro Peleton at Downer Avenue - actually I'm quite sure I'll never race pro there again - the course just does not favor my limited abilities - you have to pedal for more than 10 seconds in a row for god's sake! So I decided to join my cronies in the master's event - including Joe Holmes - friend from Toledo since 1983, Aaron Frahm - fellow Morocco world championships teammate from 1986, veterans Mike Beuchel and Kent Savit, and fellow "Slurpee" - i.e. 7-11 team member Jeff Bradley on the line for the 70 minute event.

Either the pace was not so high, or I'm in better shape that I've been for a while, but I didn't hurt too bad (my cyclometer got bounced around too much and refused to read speed/distance) and found myself a contender for the sprint. I moved up just right and came around the final corner 4th and finished... 4th. Too long a sprint with a slight incline - not the best sort of finish for me. Beuchel was 5th, Frahm was 6th, and Jeff Bradley was 7th, so I was in front of good company... Feeling good about the coming season..

Speaking of which, here's a tentative schedule:

  1. June 7 (complete) ABR National Criterium Championships, Masters: Winfield, IL - 4th place
  2. June 13 (complete) Sherman Park Criterium,  Pro 1/2: Chicago, IL  - missed the start, raced for training and pulled out on the last lap to avoid trouble
  3. June 25 (complete) Tour of America's Dairyland - Pro 1/2: Sheboygan - 18th place
  4. June 27 (complete) Tour of America's Dairyland - Masters: Downer Avenue, Milwaukee - 4th place
  5. July 5, ABR Illinois State Criterium Championships, Wood Dale, IL: Masters 12:30pm, Pro 1/2 3:30pm - 2nd place
  6. July 11, Superweek, Blue Island Pro-am: Pro 1/2 - 5:45pm - 100km - dnf
  7. July 12, Superweek, Elgin Cycling Classic, Elgin, Il: Masters 9:45am - 40 miles - 4th place
  8. July 14, Superweek, Arlington Heights, IL: Masters 12:50pm - 35 miles - 7th place
  9. July 15, Superweek, Bensenville, IL: Masters 12:00pm - 30miles - 9th place
  10. July 19, Superweek, Evanston Grand Prix, IL: Pro 1/2 5:30pm - 100km
  11. July 23, Superweek, Racine: Masters - 12:35pm - 35 miles
  12. July 24, Superweek, Kenosha Pro-Am: Pro 1/2 - 5:30pm - 100km
  13. July 26, Chicago Criterium - Grant Park - Masters 12:05pm, Pro-Am, 2:15pm
  14. August 1, Elk Grove Criterium #1 - Cat 1/2: 1:45pm, 70k
  15. August 2, Elk Grove Criterium #2 - Masters 10:30am
  16. August 8, Grand Rapids Cycling Classic - Masters and Pro 1/2  (tbd)
  17. August 15, Downers Grove Nationals: Masters 4:10pm, Cat 1/2 7:10pm
  18. August 16, Downers Grove Nationals: Cat 2, 10:00am
  19. August 30, Windsor, Canada: Tour de Villa Italia Pro Am, 5:00pm 100km

Race Report #26: Pack Sprint in Curacao

It was the third day of our Caribbean cruise and I was out riding. Yesterday had been a frightening 3 ½ ride on Aruba with the last hour filled with heavy traffic and roads with jagged sloping soft shoulders falling to wheel grabbing sand, and no passing room for the aggressive  islander drivers.

Today was different, better. 4 hours into my ride on Curacao I was returning from a long, lone foray into the wild reaches of the windward side of the island – desolate stretches of broken coral, windmills, cactus, and heavy breakers from the Atlantic. Despite the heat and the long ride, the light winds kept me fresh and I attacked the return down the puddle cratered dirt road with vigor, headphones on, alone.

The windward side of Curacao - ocean is behind me

 img_0299

Then, around a corner and I was on them – an entire pack of local competitors – 50, 60 or 70 of them, in the usual shape of the peleton – a narrow lead group, a fat middle, and a trailing line of followers. They were drifting – they didn’t know that a race was upon them.

I latched on and declared an arbitrary sprint point ahead – a street sign sprint – would they recognize that the game was on?

I dodged and weaved and then caught the draft of the rear-most participant, and then quickly accelerated around. The group drifted left and right and I followed the eddies, staying protected from the wind. I had now been seen and they accelerated: seems all nationalities and types know the significance of a street sign sprint. I moved up.

I entered the bowls of the pack and bodies shifted all around me dodging into and out of my way but I plowed on, certain now in my sprinter strengths, my little rocket power to crush the opponents.

Sure enough, despite last minute attempts to thwart my progress, and the sudden appearance of a giant, I hammered through the middle and shot into the clear blue sky, hands in the air.

Another end-of-season  victory in the Netherlands Antilles and my first win on Dutch territory.

Too bad they were just goats…

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-nv3QHx7FQ8&feature=channel_page]

2008 Race Report #20: Elk Grove Criterium Elite Cat 1/2 - Day One

I’m working backwards – I drafted many of these as the season progressed… I enjoy writing, but I’m not enthused about editing…)

 

Race Report #20: Elk Grove Stage 1: Saturday, August 2. Category: Elite 1/2. Weather: 84 degrees, light winds. Course: flat, 2.85 miles circuit with two U-turns and two 90 degree corners. Distance, 49 miles, average speed 28.1mph, Max speed 39.1 mph. Average pulse 172, max pulse 192.

 

Over the last few years, Chicagoland has risen as the center of U.S. cycling, with races every weekend, nationals of various disciplines held here seemingly every year, and the most lucrative purses in all of domestic cycling. Topping all of these in terms of $$$ is the 3rd annual Elk Grove Cycling Classic with the single highest prize list of any race in the United States.

 

I must admit I was a little apprehensive registering for the pair of Elite Category 1/2 races after experiencing fairly serious high speed crashes on the final lap each of the last two years racing the event (and to think I have gone 300 races in a row without a crash in the past). Something about the narrow long, snaking course, and the large field full of aspiring 20-something riders looking for a shot at the massive paycheck ($45,000 in total) has repeatedly created a nervous, skittish racing environment fraught with danger.

 

The worst part about the peril during the Elk Grove series is that there is no predictability to these train wrecks. Most races you can pick the dangerous corners or sections of the course to avoid where crashes were likely to occur, but at Elk Grove, the entire circuit tends to feel like “running the gauntlet.” As prior Superweek champion and one of the U.S.’s best criterium racers Andy “the Volcano” Crater shouted to me during the middle of the race after a random explosive crash against the barriers on a straightaway, “Holy F*@! I’ve never seen worse riding or bike handling – this is some scary “sh*#!” 

 

The fact that Andy was even having a conversation with me in the very back of the peleton belied the reality of the situation – the entire front half of the field was a gigantic assh*!# zone – a crush of riders repeatedly trying to find a route outside to the front, only to be confronted with the swirling winds accompanying a peleton traveling upwards of 33, 35 – even 37 mph, and like the fumerole behind a jet engine being sucked backward into the same compression they aimed to escape.

 

The long straight sections of the course at Elk Grove allowed for some extremely high speeds – particularly on the return half of the course. On laps 2 – 9 of the 18 lap race I consistently hit and held 36 and 37 mph down the mile long finish stretch. Each of these single file sprints had me in that unfortunately familiar state of acid-for-blood agony I’d experienced during Superweek. At one point as we hit the halfway point I looked over to see Michigan sprinter Ben Renkema suffering near me at the back of the field and I said, “I think I may get dropped.” He didn’t reply - instead he sprinted forward a few spots – perhaps realizing that being near me quite possibly meant being too far back. Ben remains my litmus test of a race – young and talented, and gifted/cursed with a similar set of fast twitch muscles, my basic sense of a race is that “If Ben gets dropped, then I’m OK – there is no chance in hell I could have stayed in.”

 

Given my tenuous position in the single file train near the back of the field I decided to trade my risk of getting dropped for the risk of crashing and slotted up about 60 spots on the backstretch right into the danger zone – or rather, where the danger zone had been on earlier laps.

 

Fortunately, the field had settled into the course a bit and it had become much safer in the front of the field. As we headed down the homestretch I was quite surprised to discover that instead of the 37 mph single file sprints I had been experiencing as the slinky re-compacted, there was a relatively sedate steady state of 32 mph two rider abreast situations that were completely manageable. I began to recover a little bit from the massive efforts of the first 25 miles.

 

As we entered the last two laps, I was physically drained and despite the relatively easier laps for the latter half of the race, I could tell that I had frayed my lungs and legs in that first 25 miles. But I set my jaw and determined to follow a certain discipline I knew: “Get in position to win.”

 

-----------------------------

 

Walden Race Rule #4: Get into Position to Win.

 

This principle is really the predecessor to Race Rule #3 – “Win it at the Line”.  You can’t ‘win it at the line’ from 60th place. For a ‘roadie’, “get into position to win” may also imply “Make the breakaway” – I’m not exactly sure, nonetheless, let me make the attempt and share those elusive and counterintuitive elements of the breakaway art as I have witnessed through my experience watching them take place.

 

First – hang on for dear life during one of the hardest accelerations of the race where you are just about to get dropped. Then, just as you are about to get dropped…

 

Second - invent a new pair of legs and lungs and accelerate through the group and double your output as you now face the wind at the front of the peleton at over 30mph unsheltered from the draft.

 

Third - continue and accelerate as required to break completely off the front of the pack.

 

Fourth - now, make contact with the breakaway riders and enter the echelon rotation of the paceline facing that same wind for long periods each lap until the end of the race.

 

Honestly there can hardly be anything further from my experience.

 

Instead, let me tell you of the sprinter’s approach to placement in the peleton during the field sprint. For the roadie reader this is still relevant info: if you are not strong enough or lucky enough to make the breakaway, then you are stuck with the field sprint, and at this point you have to make the best of the cards you’ve been dealt.

 

Welcome to my world.

 

I have a very limited retinue of strengths. Interestingly, since my study of ‘strengths’ began about 3 years ago, there has been a pattern to my discovery – my list of weaknesses has grown by leaps and bounds, and my strengths have gotten ever more specific, isolated, and limited. Here’s a short list:

 

­       Wheelsucking: I’m definitely in the top 2 percentile when it comes to drafting.

­       Coasting: well, I suppose everyone is good at that.

­       Cornering: I’m probably in the top decile (10%) when it comes to cornering.

­       Short Intervals: I can produce a 1 - 3 second “pseudo-sprint” which, followed by a short rest, can be reproduced virtually ad infinitum without serious consequences. This also features into my ability to move up during and at the end of the race.

­       Max Power – <10 seconds: as indicated in other writings, as a sprinter, I can produce a significant amount of watts for 5 - 8 seconds – but one time only without significant rest.

 

My weaknesses would take a book to compile – basically I suck at anything not included in the list above, including, but not limited to: aerobic endurance, hill climbing, time trialing, long intervals, medium intervals, steady efforts, multiple sprints, fighting the wind, leading…

 

I do have one other strength that may actually be the single strongest tool in my arsenal: I can often predict where to be – in another man’s words, how to “get into position to win.”

 

Now, given my list of weaknesses above, ‘get into position to win’ guarantees me very little, but my short list of strengths above does help to deliver this Walden rule.

 

Back to Elk Grove: As probably the single most consistently skittish and dangerous peleton I’ve ridden, this circuit serves as a singularly great case study on “get into position to win.”

 

With one lap to go at Elk Grove I was in the rear guard of a dozen riders backing a compressed peleton ahead of 85+ riders twitching and convulsing through the long narrow course. As we crossed the line with one lap and 2.85 miles to go, suddenly the residue of the preceding 46 miles, the brutal long sprint efforts to hang on to the field on the homestretch, the wheezing in my lungs and hot goosebumps in my legs were forgotten. For the next 2/3’s of a lap what I faced was an effort of a different sort – like a game of Frogger or Tetris, my mission for the coming 2 miles remaining in the circuit was a combination of analytics and anerobics: to anticipate openings and find the energy to slot my body into those spaces.

 

This will probably sound odd to a roadie as this is probably the part of the race they hate the most, but for me it was like suddenly coming off life support – for the preceding miles I was just suffering, hanging on, desperately trying not to get dropped – and then the masochistic exercise in suffering for suffering’s sake was over and now it was time to use a different discipline: to answer the looming question of how, exactly to move safely through 80 riders compacted into a tight, dangerous mass – and do so safely.

 

One of the luxuries or perhaps a penance of being a sprinter is our relegation to the mid-peleton position. Without any need to focus on or consider breaking away, or the conditioning of rivals (everyone is stronger), or any real need to hover at the front, we are provided with ample time to scour and evaluate the course and actions of the peleton for weaknesses.

 

If it looks easy, sometimes, when I move up, that’s because it usually is – on a relative scale – I never move up on the “hard parts” unless out of desperation or it is the final sprint. For me, the dozens of laps preceding the finish are like a giant science project – how does the peleton move? What are its weaknesses? Where does it consistently slow? Most courses have their Achilles heels – places where the dynamics of the race create opportunities. Elk Grove had no Achilles heel – the whole thing was scary, fast, and dangerous. I had to use other opportunities.

 

The video to follow shows the sort of ‘slo mo’ version of the high speed nervous exercise that I went through on that last lap. The slow frame rate fails to capture virtually any of the relevant frenetic action in the peleton as we vibrated through those final two miles - coasting, sprinting, braking, bumping, crashing and sweating through those narrow boulevards at over 30 mph – sudden sways echoing through the field, the sudden hiss and burning smell of brakes, and rapid swings to avoid wheels and limbs. Nonetheless, what the video does capture is the suffocating closeness of the field preparing for the final sprint, the closed road ahead when it comes to moving up, the proximity of other riders, and the press of bodies blocking any forward progress.

 

The video starts about ½ mile past the start finish as we are about to enter the first of two U-turns on the course. Just to my right a couple riders cross wheels and almost go down – bodies bumping all around and then suddenly we are all leaning left and finding a path around the U-turn at about 8 mph. We then immediately sprint back up to 31, 32, 33 mph and I shift around in the back for a few moments trying to find a line forward through the pack. I don’t see much but decide to slot up the right – only to be shut down moments later against the curb. 

 

I then resolve to the only recourse left available to me (no Achilles heel) – to move right through the middle of the field. For the next 90 seconds I wade right into and through the mashing mesh of bodies comprising the 85 rider ass*#@ zone the entire front of the field had become. What is hard to ascertain is when I’m accelerating quickly or when the field of riders and slowing - to the hiss and stink of burning brake pads.

 

So, what are the key mechanisms that enable the Walden rule of “Get into position to win?”

 

1)      Shift down. This is the single most important part of moving through a crowded peleton. Tired limbs and ragged lungs prefer slower RPM’s, but, having the discipline to pedal rapid circles and taking on the additional aerobic burden it carries it provides the reward of being able to take advantage of opportunities before that of your fellow riders. When riders suddenly divide in front of you creating a Tetris-like body space – only the swiftest acceleration will garner that spot. Be that rider that fills in the gap…Do it 20 times and you can move through an entire peleton without feeling the wind…

 

2)      Get a better view: ride on the hoods (upper part of the handlebars) with your head up. I never even realized I did this until someone gave me a hard time about it a few years ago. Riding head down makes perfect sense when in the front of the field or on a breakaway, but when trapped in the compression of the peleton, use the draft to get a good look around. This is probably the single easiest thing to do to aid you during this critical portion of the race. Visibility of the swaying patterns of the peleton is critical to being able to ‘read the tea leaves’ of the race and find a space to move up.

 

3)      Broadcast your intended movements – herd the cats. Oddly most riders seem intent on maintaining their position – and if you, through your body language and the occasional hand gesture or touch on the hip – indicate a direction you wish to go, more often than not they’ll accommodate. For myself I use a combination of the “slow drift”, the flip of the hand, and the touch on the hip to try and create my path. Sometimes you’ll encounter the cycling equivalent of the ‘Chicago driver’ who actually goes counter to your intended movement and shuts you down – but they too are creating space and sometimes you can anticipate this reaction and quickly swing around them on the other side.

 

4)      Use EVERYTHING to get into position: finally, and most importantly, be willing to use everything you have to get into position. As your body moves beyond its VO2 max and enters oxygen debt, it is easy to give into the physical and mental malaise that accompanies this searing agony and ‘settle in’ and hope that somehow, somewhere, an opportunity to get into position will emerge.

 

The single greatest lesson to be learned from this Walden rule is that you have to make it happen – and if necessary use every single ounce of energy at your disposal, sacrificing your actual sprint to get into position. Said differently, a ‘non-sprint’ from 3rd position as you blow up and drift backward is 99% more likely to land you a top ten position than a somewhat rested move from 25th. 

 

Let me say this again with more urgency: there is NO POINT to sprinting from 30th… (unless you have just moved up from 60th with every ounce of your power.) The first priority for every single available ounce of your energy is to get into striking distance of the win – after that the subtleties of 10th vs. 5th vs. 1st around the final corner is a luxury to be considered for Walden Race Rule #3 (Win it at the Line!)

 

At Elk Grove, with thousands of dollars on the line on a dangerous course against hungry men 15 years my junior, we entered that desperate last lap and the peleton was erratic, frenzied. I moved from 80th to 70th , from 50th to 30th to 20th and then 90 seconds later swung all the way to the front before the set of corners that would determine the race outcome. I lit half of my match to get into position, and the other half to maintain it into the final corner. I had absolutely nothing left when we entered the sprint with 600 meters to go.

 

That is a simple statement, but let me paint it differently. With 600 meters to go in a huge money race I was sitting in a top 6 position – a race winning position – in the biggest amateur money race in the United States – sounds great – right? The other view is that with 600m to go in this huge race I was in an anaerobic oxygen debt filled chasm of fear – palapable fear – unlike anything we face in regular life.

 

Think of those moments as a kid where you tried to stay underwater to swim a distance or find an object at the bottom – and then of that last burst of frantic, lung burning energy as you exploded to the surface and finally breathed the fresh air of recovery.

 

Now imagine the same maneuver - doing that same impulsive set of thrumming kicks to break you back to the surface just as you are running out of air – but now knowingly doing them into a closed long tunnel between pools with nowhere to breathe – your lungs are on fire, your legs become molten lead and every evolutionary fiber in your body tells you to dart for the surface – but instead you duck lower and now you have another 50 feet of tunnel in front of you before you can rise to the surface.

 

This is asphyxiating fear in one of its most raw, painful, debilitating forms – and deep inside panic starts to simmer and boil over – to pervade everything – it tells you to find a way to surface, to escape this intentional drowning. But there is no short cut and those that try to find one – by diving into corners or by taking them too fast – find disaster and wash up on the shores of the barriers. It is through exactly those kinds of panic attacks that I’ve ended up burning through my own skin on the tarmac at Elk Grove – not my panic, rather the dying gropings of another drowning swimmer pulling me under.

 

It is this element of fear that makes this probably the hardest of all the Walden rules to follow...

The video starts after 1 to go, just before the first U turn - with a near crash. I’m in the back about 80th place and after the corner manage to move to first over the next mile - directly through the innards of the pack for the most part. 

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j0y2kX6z_Lg]

At 2:13, near the front, I finally sprint clear and find my way to Cat 1 extraordinaire Andy Crater’s wheel – (grey Menasha shorts) and use the first half of my one match that I have to burn. Andy Sprints up again at 3:17 (the second half of my match), and at 3:37 the pace picks up again (my final oxygen starved kick). We slow after that and then the final acceleration to the line begins at 4:12. By then I’m drowning and can barely see, much less respond.

Nonetheless this was a near perfect race in terms of positioning: I can hear Walden say it, “you have to get in position to win!” I end up 17th – getting passed by about 10 riders in the final 50 meters. Still – I picked up $150 – and while not ‘happy’ I was satisfied.

2008 Race Reports 8 & 9: Wood Dale ABR State Criterium Championships

2008: Race Report #8 & 9: Wood Dale, IL ABR State Criterium Championships
 
Race Report #8: Sunday, July 6. Category: Master’s 40+, Weather: 84 degrees, 9 mph winds. Course: 4 corners, 1 mile, small hill. Distance, 45 minutes plus 2 laps, ~70 riders Average speed, 26.1 mph, Avg. pulse 164

As I tell my friend and new racer Matt on some interval, “You can never judge your future performance in a race by how you feel when you line up: some of my best races ever were begun with overwhelming feelings of tiredness, weakness or even sickness.”

This was a bit of my mantra as I rolled to the line for the first of two or three races that day. I was hoping to complete the Dybowski ‘trifecta’ and race and place in 3 races: the master’s 40, master’s 30, and Pro ½ races. As it turned out I only ended up starting the first two. My friend Matt also started both and as the pictures will show, was having a good series before disaster struck.

Masters 40+ start

For myself it didn’t help that the day before was comprised of a pool party at my house:  I blame Mike Dienhart for any wine consumption that occurred that evening. The fireworks I provided myself and we knew it was a good party when the police arrived to politely shut down the 2” mortar display I was in the middle of shooting off over the pond beyond our house.

 masters 40 field

My legs didn’t feel good at first and that, for whatever reason, is typical of any ride following a swim in the pool – it is as though all that freedom to kick and use all the unused muscles in the legs in all directions causes those straight and narrow cycling muscles to get distracted and I ‘pedaled squares’ for the first half of the race. The pace was fairly consistent – not brutal – but never slow. These Master’s 40’s clearly proved their dominance at Winfield nationals over their younger bretheren.

My favorite spot - the back

I didn’t bother even thinking about chasing breakaways considering that I was planning on racing 3 times and over 100 miles. Eventually, a 6 man breakway did get away – I considered attempting a bridge when the gap was within my range, but decided to save that energy for later races.

With two laps to go, Chris Black – a very strong Master’s racer – pulled his signature move and broke away off the front of the field. I watched him go from the middle of the pack and symbolically tipped my helmet with respect - as I decided at the end of last year my job is the last lap – everything else is merely preparation. Luck will have to decide the one-lap-to-go situation – from there I’ll take the reins if I can..

So suddenly it was 1 lap to go and in fits and starts we passed the start/finish line. I surfed the peleton near the middle. My plan was a little different than normal – rather than ‘finding the perfect wheel’ to the line, I intended to lead out the sprint with about 500m to go – due to the proximity of two back-to-back corners with a short uphill in between shortly before the finish.

 

I figured I could get a gap before the corner to the uphill, put all my horsepower out up the hill, and then try to hold it to the line.

 

However, in between, several riders had strung themselves out in front of the peleton in pursuit of Mr. Black. If you watch the video, I stay safely in the bowels of the peleton until about 50 seconds into the video, and then the camera starts shaking as I get out of my saddle and kick off my sprint. In the video it looks odd – there’s no where to go – but what I’m shooting for is a sudden opening up the right side. Meanwhile you can also see the distances to the lead riders…

 

After my accel I swing all the way right with some momentum and then ride the wind shadows of the riders, following the “string of pearls” of the leading riders, passing each in turn, saving the last two for the uphill stretch. The beauty of this approach was that I never really had to face the wind on my own and could instead put in short sprints (my strength) before putting my head down on the final stretch trying to close in on Chris Black.

 

These are the moments of racing I love – that sudden knowledge that there is gas in the tanks and that despite my heart rate being above 190, that the legs and pedals and bike are willing. Its hard to tell from the video, but my full on sprint only started just as the lead rider looked back on the uphill – that’s when I kicked in the turbo and passed him on the inside setting up the final turn. I actually thought I might catch Chris – but he accelerated yet again and I didn’t catch him – what a stud.

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

Race Report #9: Sunday, July 6. Category: Master’s 30+, Weather: 86 degrees, 9 mph winds. Course: 4 corners, 1 mile, small hill. Distance, 45 minutes plus 2 laps, ~45 riders Average speed, 26.3 mph, Avg. pulse 165

Clearly a pattern is developing: there are more 40+ racers in Illinois than 30+, and quite possibly they are stronger as well. Overall the pace was only slightly higher – and that was only from a significant organized chase of a breakway. Otherwise the race was relatively mild.

My friend Matt and I

The first half of the race went quickly and Matt and I rode together quite a bit – switching wheels, sometimes following, sometimes leading. As a breakaway got away, I began to feel guilty for my mentoring of Matt. Yes, for me, a breakaway is a distant target and not something to concern myself with. But Matt’s got an aerobic motor – shouldn’t he be up there?

Matt in the forground of an early crash

As the pace picked up and things began to string out, I swung up the outside on the downhill and said, “we have to get up there” to Matt – and sure enough his motor kicked in and he actually took one of the hardest pulls of the race after a series of hard laps.

 

Ultimately we closed on the leaders and caught them, but in between things went a little haywire. After Matt’s hard pull, we entered the 3rd corner at high speeds and behind me I heard the train wreck explosions that are unfortunately all too common in cycling. I wouldn’t have given it much thought except that Matt had just swung off the lead and was just behind me in the general vicinity of the noise.

 Matt taking the lead

As the next laps unwound, I found no trace of Matt – but neither did I see him on the sidelines, and his 11 year old daughter Rose continued to take pictures – so assumed he was at the tail of the peleton or safely on the sidelines. As it turned either – neither was true.

 Getting busy...

And for a second time it was one lap to go…

 

I had the same general intention of the previous race – to lead out the sprint from the backstretch, but given the smaller size of the field I didn’t move up as aggressively and suddenly found myself boxed in. In the video you can see my switching left to right looking for a hole – I was still intending to lead it out – but when I finally squeezed through a 1 inch hole, I found myself neatly tacked right onto the leadout move - I timed it right and found a hole 58 seconds into the video to follow the leadout, taking the second to last corner at 35mph in 5th, with a lot of power to spare having never seen the wind.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oLM94sE1fEc]

Shrouded by the field I still had not used any real juice and anticipated on using my full sprint on the uphill. As always, plans need to be adjusted – as you can see on the video, just as I began to exit the 3rd corner for my big sprint, the rider in 3rd position clipped a pedal, lost both feet, bounced off rider #4, and then careened into me – feet flapping wide, sending me towards the curb, as I locked both brakes up.

Due to the slow frame rate, what is missing from this scene is the absolute terror of that half second…

In those milleseconds I went from an adrenaline soaked anticipation of a sprint to a two handed skid toward the curb, slowing to 20mph from the 35mph sprint speed around the corner.

My saving grace was the parking lot entrance that allowed me to just miss the curb and then immediately get out of my saddle (camera shaking) to attempt to regain all that lost momentum as my 3 leadout men disappear into the distance. So much happens so fast that the camera misses much – meanwhile as they recede, two new riders winging around me as I try to undo the damage and I find myself in 6th with a big gap to 4th

But I had some horsepower to spare, and I furiously put on the afterburners and re-accelerated uphill back to 35mph and entered the 4th and final corner in 6th, swinging wide with a visual lock on 3rd place coming out of the corner.

This is where the camera really misses the most terrifying moment of the whole race for me. As I accelerate up the outside from 6th position, the the rider in 5th suddenly gets out of his saddle and swings 3 feet to the left, hitting my front wheel, to the sound of angry xylophone, and bending several of my spokes in the process. I lock up both brakes again and swing left and manage to hold onto my bucking and endoing bike.

I screamed an epithet at this point and then coasted to the line. (Virtually all this happens between frames or mostly out of view – all you can see is the sudden appearance of the rider to my right and then the sudden ‘backward’ movement of my sprint). 

At this point I coast in for 5th… feeling lucky.. and scared.

I coasted around and found Matt sitting in the grass in turn 3 - right where I almost went down. His seat was destroyed, and his helmet cracked nearly all the way through. With just a couple key questions I realized he had a concussion - "Matt, what city are we in?"  "Ummm  I don't know - how did I crash? I don't remember..."

Matt's road rash was mild, but his hand started to swell up pretty good. In his short term memory state he reminded me and others several times, “I don’t think it’s broken – just some ligaments – see I can move everything”. But even as his memory returned, “Oh yeah – I had a flat – that’s how I crashed!” the swelling in his hand continued. Eventually he had all his memory back as we sat in the shade near the cars after I was able to obtain ice and water from the very helpful promoter Vince.

Even as he recounted the flat, the skidding, and the eventual contact with the pavement I was reminded of my two close calls in my race and considered myself lucky. A day later and he got his X-ray back – and the base of his thumb joint had basically crumbled (see picture)and was impacted into the other joint, requiring the surgical imposition of metal pins and 6 weeks recovery off the bike minimum. Damn. At least it was his left hand.

Matts thumb Xray

Perhaps I’m a bad friend, but I did remind Matt that time trial handlebars use only forearms and that they might provide him a new, safer outlet while he mends. It is amazing that after 32 years of racing I've never actually had any kind of serious injury - I'm thankful for my luck...

Tomorrow begins the 2008 Superweek series – see my 2008 Race Report 2 ½ for the schedule I’ll be attending, I’m both nervous and excited for the races. I’m nervous because of getting dropped at Grafton… I’m excited because I clearly still have my sprint and if I ever get a chance to actually use it I’m reasonably certain it might bring me results.

Til then,

-John

2006 Race Report #8: Downer Avenue, Milwaukee

Non-Race Report, Saturday July 22nd, Superweek Stage 15, Downer Avenue, Milwaukee, WI 62 miles, 75 degrees.  No, I didn’t race this night. Downer Avenue is a “Pro 1/2 only” event. As it turns out, I could have but I wanted to enjoy the Downer Ave. race one more time as a spectator.

Early in the evening I had a conversation on the announcers stand with Heidi, the chief referee –  “After many years,” I said, “I’ve decided to go ahead and move up and race with the pro 1/2’s.”  Somehow I expected her to know who I was, but of course I was just another of a zillion racers… “Well, to move up, I’ll need a race resume, and I’m not sure I’ll have time to review it before registration closes…” 

“No, not for tonight” I said, “For tomorrow – but I can write you a race resume tonight and bring it by later.”   “OK,” she said and we agreed to check in later that evening, where I brought her some of the race finishes I’d had over the last year – more than enough to move up. (In order to move up to the elite categories you need to prove that you’ve earned it by earning points. Basically you can move up with 3 top 3 finishes, or 5 top 5 finishes or 10 top 10 finishes.  

Downer Avenue, 5pm: Gemutlicheit is how the Germans would describe the intangible positive vibe in this wealthy North Shore neighborhood on this evening. Promoter estimates suggest 20 – 30,000 people line the course of this annual event, though it feels like more… The one mile triangular course consists of two tree lined neighborhood streets, concluding with the third: the long finish stretch with the finish line right in the heart of the boutique coffee-house and restaurant lined section of town. The outdoor seating of the cafes, the upscale markets, all accentuated by the elegant lines of the wealthy patrons and their automobiles makes for rather excellent people watching. As the picnicking public arrives, it is not beer and brats – rather wine and brie, steaks and shrimp that they carry in their coolers. 

Jeff and I arrived early enough to get a decent spot for the RV, next to a tiny little green space lining the final corner of the race. We dressed in our cycling gear and headed out for an easy 40 minute ride down the lakefront area of Milwaukee, and then returned and “prepped” for the race. The game plan was for

  • A) me to hit the Chiropractic services as my back was killing me, and
  • B) to walk the course, and
  • C) for us to cook an excellent pasta dinner in large quantities, and
  • D) to deliver some of it to our favorite people – Jose and Todd in the mechanics wheel pit area, Sarah in Chiropractic/massage, and to Eddy and John on the announcing booth. 

As it turned out, that was a rather aggressive game plan, as the grocery shopping, followed by the “back cracking”, followed by the walk around the course put us nearly halfway through the 60 lap, 2hr. race. On the backstretch, we ran into Robbie Ventura’s father and chatted for a few minutes about old times, and Floyd’s amazing success in the tour (Robbie is Floyd’s coach – as well as the coach my friend Jeff). 

Finally, we made it back to the RV and boiled water for the penne pasta  on one propane burner, and began chopping up the onions, garlic, yellow squash, and zucchini to fry in olive oil in the pan next to it. Meanwhile I quickly boiled, peeled, and crushed fresh tomato, and pulled fresh basil from the stems in prep for the sauce. Meanwhile, outside Jeff grilled the chicken on our portable grill and then sliced it.  After finishing the pasta, we added the chicken and fresh tomatoe to the vegetables, and added in fresh basil, and pecorino romano cheese, and only then realized we had no salt! 

We wrapped 5 portions in bowls and aluminum foil, and then headed of to deliver them, stopping to “borrow” a salt shaker from a local restaurant, properly salting the sauce. We delivered dinner to Jose, Todd, Sarah, Eddie, and John and then headed back to serve ourselves. However, by the time we returned to the RV, served up our plates, opened some wine, and retired to our previously placed folding chairs, there was only 2 laps left to go in the race. 

We watched the final laps, and then wandered down to the awards ceremony while still carrying our fresh pasta to watch the medals being distributed. Finally, we broke camp and loaded up the RV to implement the final stage of the plan… Earlier we had picked up a number of bottles of wine to share with whomever came by. We pulled out in the RV, bypassed the barricades and drove right into the center of town, parking right next to the wheel pit and the announcer’s booth.

We unrolled the awning, turned on the interior and exterior lights, broke out the folding chairs, turned up some music, and sat out on the sidewalk under the darkening skies as the bulk of the spectators faded, and the post race rituals for the initiated commenced. 

A little about the RV… well… it is “retro.” Meaning “old.”  It is a 1987, 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.

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… 

Soon Jose and Todd from the SRAM sponsored mechanical support team materialized, and Todd gave me a signed copy of his recently published tome on bicycle maintenance, jokingly suggesting that now I’d at least know SOMETHING about taking care of a bike when he signed it for me.  Eddy Van Guys (the announcer – and former actor who played the “evil Italian” racer in the Oscar winning movie “Breaking Away) and his son came by next and he ended up chatting with Jeff at length while I talked to his son. Eventually Eddy and I talked and I told him of my intent to move up to race with the pros the following day. He said, “John, I’ve had a few glasses of wine, but I want to celebrate this long overdue occasion – do me a favor tomorrow and give me a brief bio, and then wave to me on the start line to remind me OK?” I promised I would. 

Next came the chiropractic/massage girls and doctor and a number of racers, including a couple of the German Milram riders, followed by Chris (the coordinator of the registration, payments and everything in between) and Hillary (a former race coordinator) and several others. Pretty soon we had a good sized group hanging out in and out of the RV and we ended up staying until almost midnight – right on Downer Ave. 

At one point I remember stepping out of my “home” with a bottle of wine in hand ready to pour into the empty glasses of our “guests”, the remnants of our pasta in a bowl for one of the cyclists and I paused to look out at the relaxed smiling faces… and I felt home. For that moment, on that street, with old friends and new, it was though we were hosts to the world and the street was ours, and I smiled and breathed deep before heading down the final step to the curb.. 

The Milram team racers indicated they were going to the “Eastsider” on North Avenue, so we packed it up and joined Dennis Hauweizer and his teammates and a dozen other pros on their last night of the Superweek classic at the Eastsider in Milwaukee. Dennis already had enough points to win the overall title for the series and would soon be heading back to join his somewhat defamed teammate Jan Ullrich. We talked for a little while at the bar and mostly people watched. Jeff and I sipped the last of our wine, said goodbye to Chris, Hillary, Dennis, Sarah and various other racers and support personnel and then finally headed off to Whitefish bay.

As we pulled into an empty lot behind Sendicks, I was happy to discover the air had miraculously turned cool with the proximity of some large storms. Even as I collapsed on the bed in the rear of the RV, I remember thinking, “I need to drink some water….”

It was 2am and I was not exactly preparing properly for one of the most competitive professional races run in the USA… or was I? Dennis and his teammates were still there after we left, and I bought them a round of beer just before we headed out the door…

I smiled before drifting off to sleep.

Race Report #7: Cudahay

Race Report, Saturday July 22nd, Superweek Stage 15, Cudahay WI 40 miles, 71 degrees, overcast, bumpy.  So Jeff and I woke and started watching the tour – Landis overcoming the odds by winning the time trial and securing his yellow jersey for the next day.

Meanwhile we loaded up the RV with food, water, bikes, blankets and food. Our plan was to race, watch the pro race at Downer Avenue, and camp in the RV overnight at Whitefish bay in prep for Sunday’s finale. 

We arrived at Cudahay a little late – between watching the tour and loading up, we had little time to spare for warmup. For the first time Jeff and I would finally race together, and I was excited to show him the “lazy man ropes” to cycling that I had perfected through the years. We met at the line and proceeded around a course full of aged, cracked concrete, complete with major potholes and off-camber corners full of mysterious cracks. Turn two had both – an off camber approach, and a cracked convex surface. It was followed immediately by a short hill. Nothing major, but for those riders unaccustomed to risking their life with a large pack over terrible surfaces, a climb of monumental magnitude. 

Due to our late arrival, Jeff and I lined up in back, and sure enough, his second big race of the season on a dangerous course, Jeff found himself gapped after that first round of turn 2. He reconnected after a long hard uphill upwind stretch on straightaway 3, only to be gapped again the next lap.  After 3 laps, he was somehow managing to ride all alone and still keep up just 30 feet off the back, even as a few others peeled off.  I dropped back to bring him into the pack. He followed my wheel into the group, and I gave him a little shove. But sure enough, next time around on the moonscape of turn 2, he was gapped again, and even as I drifted back and brought him back into the fold of the draft, I could feel the anguish coming from his legs.  One more round of this, and I had to sprint back into the draft as Jeff folded slowly off the back.

I remember thinking, “I could never last that long facing the wind alone.” But the race continued, and the corner continued to take its prisoners as the pack whittled its way down. After 40 laps, 4 men had managed to lap the field and I was then in the unhappy position of sprinting for 5th. The rough course created quite a landgrab for the front and I was forced again and again to sprint up to the front to defend my position – quite unlike my “internal” work in previous races.

With 3 to go, I sprinted up to 2nd, only to find myself back in 15th on the backstretch. Same with 2 to go. Finally with one to go, again I sprinted up to 4th on the homestretch, only to find myself blocked by a rider failing to address turn 2 properly. I fell to 9th on the backstretch, finding no openings to move up. On the second to last stretch, I stayed outside and moved up to 8th, following the leadout that was hammering down the left side.  

We entered the final 300m downhill stretch of the course and … nothing happened. I stayed in 8th, but the pace stayed the same.  I got out of my saddle to make a move up the inside just as a flyer went by to my right. I jumped on the wheel and we swung up the inside, as I darted around one rider that put himself into my path. We accelerated past the chain on the left and I gave it all I had to come by the rider ahead of me, but missed by a wheel. 2nd in the field sprint, but another 6th place finish.

Nonetheless, I had made my decision. Tonight I would commit – to move up to the Pro I/II category and race with the full time professionals.  

I’m 37, working full time, with a family, but it was time to put myself to the test in the biggest series in the US, against full time professionals whose sole job is to eat guys like me for lunch and win money and fame for their sponsors. Tomorrow night, at Whitefish bay, the last of the Superweek series, I would skip the masters race, and the category 3 race to do 100 kilometers with Jan Ullrich’s teammates from the Milram team, the Jelly Belly professional team, and 155 other professional or near-professional riders.

 I remember lining up at Cudahay with Jeff. He looked visibly nervous even as I stretched. I asked if he was nervous.. “Absolutely” he said, “I don’t want to get dropped.” The following day I would know that feeling, but in between, a lot would happen. As it turned out,. Cudahay was a footnote in the broader story of the day… But Saturday night deserves its own entry…. 

Race Report #6: Kenosha

Race Report, Friday July 21st, Superweek Stage 14, Kenosha WI 50 miles, 67 degrees, pouring rain.  Another memorable day, though again, the race itself paled (literally) to the circumstances surrounding it. We woke at our campsite in Kohler Andrae State park, and after some hot coffee, eggs, bacon, cereal and a banana, Katelina and I headed off to ride her pink bike and explore the park. 

The AC ran on and off all night and by morning, we opened the windows to smell the sweet pitch of pine, and the rolling humidity of the lakeshore.  I had re-assembled Katelina’s training wheels in a very off balance position and we began practicing “riding without the noise” produced by the training wheels rattling against the asphalt. Sure enough she was able to go long stretches without touching, balancing well and I was quite proud and excited for her.  We ended up going off-road over a windswept grassy hill that became a dune and rolled down the other side toward the lakeshore.

We parked her bike and raced up and over the last dune separating the camping area from the beach. We were all alone on miles of lakeshore (it was still 8:30am) and there was a huge flock of seagulls loitering just south of us. Katelina looked at me with a particular gleam in her eye and I nodded and said, “I know exactly what you are thinking.” She nodded back at me with that  mischievious little smile or hers and went streaking off across the dune. 

I was filled with wonder and humility as I watched my tiny little offspring, limbs flailing, run directly into hundreds of seagulls on the shore, as they took to their wings and circled her tiny frame, legs splayed as she pranced among them, face filled with glee. I found myself smiling so much that my cheeks hurt.

She would stop, let them circle back to the ground a little further on, and then rush at them full speed again mouth open screaming bird cries. As I traced her path, I could see her little accelerating foot prints, spaced widely in the wet sand, with toe shaped clumps of detrius littered behind each print reflecting the ferocity of her approach. “Another sprinter?” I thought… 

We stayed down at the beach for an hour  and then headed back for another round of riding the bike and balancing, and another pass at the beach, the sand, the waves, and of course, the seagulls.  We collected seashells and amazingly circular and flat polished pebbles that Katelina added to her rock collection. Finally it was time to head back to the campsite and get on our way to Kenosha.

We made sandwiches and I guzzled Gatorade as we headed into the darkening and graying skies over Milwaukee and eventually Kenosha. We found a very nice parking spot right by the course in Kenosha. I was also in touch with my former boss and partner from DiamondCluster – Jeff Huff, who had taken to cycling in a big way. Jeff had recently hired Robbie Ventura as his coach (Floyd Landis’s coach) and helped me get much more scientific about my training. More on that later.

Jeff had raced earlier in the Master’s category hanging in very well for his first big race of the season. I registered but did not find Jeff, so I went off to warm up, following the seashore and feeling some tired legs and truculent heart as I tried to get a decent pre-race warmup. 

Finally, I took to the line – 70 laps, 280 corners, and just as the first few big drops came down, they started the race. Kenosha is probably my favorite race of Superweek. Centered right on a sizeable city park, it is filled with music, tents with vendors providing food, massages, banking, cell service, and lots and lots of giant blowup activities for kids (rock climbing wall, slide, fun house, pirate ship, mystery house, trampoline tent etc.) There are a lot people around the course watching and cheering, and more importantly I knew that Katelina would have a lot to do – Including her very own race – the big wheel race slated to start right after my race finished. 

Meanwhile, by lap 5 or 6, the course was fully saturated with water, and by lap 10 it began coming down really hard. Racing in the rain is particularly hard for me. Not so much for the skill needed in cornering (have to be extra careful) but because it forces the pace into a “sprint, brake, sprint, brake” format due to the extra caution into the corners. So the pack strings out pretty much single file and it becomes a wet death march toward the finish.  This, and the fact that its just impossible to see anything. Each tire in front of you sends up an amazing peacock tail of water, that, when you are more than a few bikes back, adds to the overall downpour, with the special additive of “silt.”

Roads are dirty – with exhaust, gas, oil, sand, dirt, garbage – whatever. All of that is picked up and flung directly into your eyes by the bike tires in front of you. Which is why we wear glasses. Glasses that get full of dirt and fog up after a few laps and then get put in your pocket for the rest of the race. So the laps counted down, and my tear ducts filled with black gunk that would come seeping out over the next 24 hours. (Middle of the night, I rub my eyes, and boulders of black junk come out that were… where? Behind my eyeball?) Later I would shower and the floor of the shower was black with all the stuff from the road… and my jerseys – will never quite become as bright as they used to be. 

60 to go, 50 to go, 40 to go, 30 to go, 20 to go. I sat up to drink some water and have some “goo” (liquid food) and realized that it had stopped raining – the water hitting my eyes was merely from the bikes in front of me.  In the meantime I had stayed in the top 20 to stay out of trouble. With the lessening of the rain, it was time to relax a little before the final effort to the line. Drifting back and starting to see some dry patches on the road, suddenly a major accident occurred in front of me on turn one: 7, 10, 12 riders sliding out to avoid the first rider that had leaned to far on the still-wet surface. I locked up both tires going straight at the rider down in front of me, but avoiding the turning/lean mechanism that would have put me into the asphalt with him. I stopped completely 6 inches from his body, turned and leaned out of the saddle, re-accelerating back into the strung out masses of riders filing up the inside. This effort hurt, and I remember thinking “I’m too tired to sprint.” 

With 10 to go I was riding dead last. Same with 9, 8, 7, 6, and 5 to go. There were short moments when the pack slowed down and I thought it was time to move up, but I still felt tired and worried over the slick pavement. In particular, turn 2 had some very large white paint stripes that caused virtually tire to skip, slip, and grab on the way around. 4 to go… I guess I should move up. Too lazy to move outside or inside with all this wind. Lets see if I can just slide up a few spots in the middle of the pack.

Unlike Sheboygan, there was no sudden energy boost. Just the discipline to know that with 3 to go I had better be at least halfway through the pack. So as the pack fanned into and out of turns, I picked off 2 riders here, 4 there, and dove into narrow gaps, making my space into the corners.  75th with four to go, 40th with 3 to go, 10th with 2 to go, and 5th with 1 to go.

We screamed past the start finish and I had a good position heading into turn 1. Into the backstretch, but the pace was too low. I drifted outside the draft, waiting for the inevitable surge due to the low pace. Sure enough, 7 riders flinging up the inside and I attached in 8th going into turn 3, 400m to go. I slipped up to 6th on the second to last straightaway, and decided to go full bore into the final 250M stretch hoping for a draft and leadout to perhaps get me the “W”. But to no avail. I was all alone on the far right, charging forward even as riders #3 and #4 used the draft to spring up the inside. No way to get their wheels, and any move inside would have put me into the backward movements of the disintegrating leadout men. I surged up the outside, but could only muster 3rd place. 

Again thwarted at Kenosha, where I have finished 2nd or 3rd for 5 years running, but not mastered a win. As I finished, I found Shannon with Katelina and Jeff, as well as some friends, who were surprised at my finish, “amazing! great job! we thought you were done!” 

Apparently the dirt from the road had given me a “grey-green” appearance, and my inability to see anything beyond the dirt had given them the impression that I was “done for.” Jeff, apparently, had chided a friend for yelling “move up!” with 6 to go by saying, “Maybe we should leave him alone – he looks grey – even sick…” After a brief warmdown lap, it was time for Katelina’s race. We had to borrow a helmet, and she had to wait, impatiently for the 3-4 year olds to finish, and then it was her turn.

She pedaled like a madwoman against her 15 peers, and mustered a 3rd place finish to two boys, only to disintegrate into tears, and then a tantrum for “not winning.” Appears that she is a bit competitive after all.  We were ultimately able to calm her by indicating that she got the same place (3rd) as her papa, and that it was GOOD to get 3rd. (I swear I will never be one of those “3rd place is ‘second loser’” kind of parents) 

We then ate some excellent Thai food and watched the pro race under clearing skies, with the sun eventually coming out. This, of course, after I took a nice hot shower in the RV where the dirt ran of me in black rivulets. I decided to take Kat on some of the rides and ended up missing the pro finish due to the lines for the rides, but she had a grand time jumping, bumping and sliding until time ran out and we headed for the RV for the 2 hour drive home in the gathering gloom. 

Jeff and I watched the Tour de France as Shannon and Katelina went to bed, and we each headed to sleep after midnight with the plans of doing it again (on Saturday), and again on Sunday. 

As my mind wandered as I headed off to sleep, I was again struck by what a day full of life it had been – a true full day – riding bikes with my daughter, time at the beach one on one, seagulls and wading in the water, more beach time and shell collecting, a downpour, a podium finish, a race for Kat and then playtime with Kat, and watching the Tour de France while  catching up with an old friend – all in one day… What could Saturday bring….?

Amazingly life continued its full pace the next 2 days….

Race Report #5: Sheboygan

Race Report, Thursday July 20th, Superweek Stage 13, Sheboygan, WI 50 miles, 81 degrees.    Sometimes life packs a lot of life into a few days. Regardless of being good or bad, unique experiences tend to fill your memory, extending and expanding time, turning hours into days, and days into weeks in your mind.  

The 4 days of this extended weekend were definitely one of those times where I was able to “suck the marrow out of life” and live fully – if not always pleasantly. Take, for instance Wednesday night, July 19th. Arriving home after a long trip back from my job in Chicago at 5:30pm, my goal was to have us turned around and in the RV by 6pm so that we could get to one of our favorite state parks – Kohler Andrae – in Sheboygan on the beaches of lake Michigan, before dark. 

I had picked up the RV from a repair shop where I had had a few minor – and I mean MINOR repairs completed. Specifically a CD player installed (that I already owned), a replacement sunroof, a new battery cable, and a new seal where the toilet connects to the septic system (was leaking a little – not a good thing). I could have done the work myself, but my work schedule didn’t allow a lot of time for this so I brought it in. The parts came to $126 – about what I expected, but the labor came to $1100 (for 13.2 hours of labor).  No estimate, no call on expected time – nothing. And when my wife picked it up earlier that day, the guy there had the gumption to say, “I spent most of the time putting in the CD player”. So basically, an operation I could have had done for $50 at Best Buy cost me $800 for some guy at the RV shop to “learn while doing”. This still irks me just writing about it and I wonder if I have any recourse.  Lessons learned.

Anyway, I arrived home and began loading up the RV. One of the other repair items for the “stellar team” at Custom RV was to fix the exhaust/muffler from the generator. Specifically, the exhaust pipe coming from the generator was rusty and getting shorter each time it banged loose from the C-clamp I had installed.  They called just hours before we picked it up to say, “we didn’t fix the generator – we still have to order that part” indicating to me that they hadn’t even looked at it in the preceding 5 days they had had the vehicle.  

So after loading up, I disconnected the 120 volt power from the house and fired up the generator (which runs the AC) to keep it cool while we started our drive.  It started rough and bucked around a lot, and the muffler detached itself yet again, taking another inch of rusty exhaust pipe with it. So I crawled underneath the RV, body half up on the curb and angled awkwardly in the gathering dark and slid the C-clamp upward to the next length of rusty pipe and re-attached the muffler.

 I started the generator, and it continued to run a little rough but kept the AC running cool. We decided to eat dinner at home prior to our departure, so made a quick meal, and then headed out to the RV. The generator had quit, and furthermore, the muffler had come loose AGAIN! I spent another 30 minutes reattaching the muffler with the associated, bruised knuckles and showers of rusty flakes into my eyes, only to find that the generator would not even start.  

It being 90 degrees, with a hot night expected, and not having an electric campsite to plug in and run the AC, we finally gave up the ghost and decided to not drive to Sheboygan that night. I was frustrated and disappointed. I had been anticipating all week waking up on the shores of Lake Michigan and having an early morning walk, riding bikes with Kat, and cooking out under the clean lake air. Instead I watched part of the tour de France and then retired to bed. 

The next morning I awoke early with a new plan. The AC unit run by the generator was one of two units in the RV, the other was the typical type found in any vehicle, but it had never worked well. So I brought it over to the local GM dealer to have it charged with Freon. I arrived at 7:45 am, but the process took until after 10am, with the caveat that “there may be a leak” and cost another $200. But… it did blow cool air. 

So finally, at 10:30 we hit the road to Sheboygan, with the AC keeping it fairly reasonable inside except when we slowed down passing through Fond Du Lac. We arrived at the State Park around 1:15pm and were able to get an electric campsite (thank God!) but were told that the checkout time was 3pm so we may not be able to get in. Sure enough, there was still a camper there at 1:30, and again at 2pm when we stopped by again.

Meanwhile we had walked down to the beach to pass the time and I took a short swim with Katelina who was just a doll. But now it was getting late, and HOT again. With a 5 year old girl, and a new puppy of 8 weeks, we were concerned about the heat getting to either of them. So I set off towards the race course (the race started at 3:50pm) with a new mission – to find a house where we could plug in the RV to run the rooftop air conditioner. 

Traffic was tough and we arrived near the course at 3:15pm – not giving me much time to get ready and warmup – and still I need to find a house to plug in the RV. I circled the course slowly, meandering down dead end lanes and finding no one about. Finally I found a house with a woman and child playing out front. I must have seemed odd with my conversation as I asked, “I’ll pay you $20 to be able to plug in an extension cord somewhere into an outlet in your house….” She responded, “well, as long as you are not going to kill me or break into my house or something….” So I unraveled the power cable, which she plugged in down in her basement (and we promptly blew a circuit breaker) and another 5 minutes later while she located the fuse box, we were in business – the overhead AC unit was blowing cool. 

Now I had 20 minutes to dress, pump up my tires, register and warmup… Not exactly the best race prep. 10 minutes later I was checked in, and after 7 minutes of warmup, I lined up next to the 90 racers who would share my suffering for the next 2 hours. What came next was unexpected.  In tears, the race announcer then let the crowd know that something terrible had happened on the preceding day. In the first accident of its kind in the 37 year history of the superweek tour, a rider had been killed in a collision with a car during a road race. We held a moment of silence on the line, and they announced by name and pulled forward to the line all the teammates of the departed racer.  

As a pack, we solemnly followed Aaron Beberitz’s teammates quietly around the course, noting the black arm warmer and front wheel being used by Aaron’s closest friend and team mate who led the lap. A few riders started to move up on the outside or inside and each was interfered with to keep the moment proper. After we finished the lap of silence, the race began in earnest and a light rain began to fall, cooling things off, but not wetting the pavement fully.  

Shortly after the start I realized two things: 1) I had hydrated properly all day, drinking more than a gallon of liquids, and 2) in the rush of things I had not been able to relieve myself in the past hour… my discomfort began to build. 

Oddly, about 20 laps in, the race was stopped. “Please stop racing, leave the course, there is a medical emergency – please stop racing, leave the course.” Never in my 29 seasons of racing had this happened, and my heart sank as I considered that perhaps another racing tragedy had occurred.

However, as we all peeled off in ones and twos to side streets, the arrival of ambulances, coincided with an announcement, “there has been a medical emergency in one of the houses lining the course and the fire dept. and ambulances are blocking the road.” Sad that anyone should be experiencing a medical emergency, but at least it was not another serious cycling incident. 

Just then I had an idea – I leaned my bike over and headed across course to the Port-o-potties and was able to complete my pre-race preparations – 20 laps into the race. Sure enough, within minutes another 20 or 30 racers rolled over to take care of business… We all milled around the start line for about 20 or 30 minutes and finally they recalled us to the start. They removed 10 laps from the race and off we went – now with 30 instead of 40 laps to go (they shortened the race to try and keep on time). 

I was feeling pretty good and maneuvered around the pack getting a gauge of the wind and how to finish the race. With 27 to go, they rang the bell for a $30 prime sprint. I moved up easily through the pack to watch the sprint unwind on the backstretch and found myself in 3rd coming through the final corner. I decided to go for it and came up inches shy of winning the prime. More notably though was the significant gap we had on the field. 

So it started – the dreaded breakaway death march. For the next 7 laps I maintained my stance as the significantly weakest player in a 3 man breakaway. Each of the other two would lead somewhere between 1 or 2 straightaways at a pace of 27 – 29 mph, and I would pull half a straightaway at 26 – 27 mph, struggling to re-connect each time I pulled off. After about 3 laps we had a full straightaway lead, and I resigned myself to the possibility that my suffering would continue for another hour. 

Instead, the pack gave chase, and I was, frankly, relieved when I looked back and saw them close behind. I immediately sat up and faded into the rear of the back as we saw 20 laps to go. I continued to suffer for a number of laps from the oxygen deprivation I had undergone during my short stint in a breakaway (only the second of my whole career) and even as the laps read “5 to go” I was still uncertain as to whether I was going to muster the courage to set myself up for the sprint. I felt tired, lazy, moribund. 

But… something changed. I can’t exactly even put my finger on it. It is emotional, it is physical, it is…spiritual. With a lap card showing “4” in front of me, something physically changed within me, as though there was a subconscious galvanizing of forces and energy previously unavailable at my disposal. I dropped my hands to the drops (the lower part of the handlebars – more aerodynamic) and started using each corner to move up a few slots. From 60th to 55th, from 55th to 42nd, and so on. I can’t claim any real rationality to this complex maneuver except to say that it felt pretty easy, as though the position I “needed” to be in on a certain lap was exactly where I was… 25th with 3 laps to go…. 15th with 2 laps to go, and 6th with one lap to go… All with no greater perceived effort, really, than riding the race.

A glance to my heart-rate moniter, and I was operating in the upper 170’s – a big effort, but I didn’t feel it…  I moved up to 5th on the backstretch and with 2 corners and 400m to go I had that “feeling” that I was going to win.  As we headed through the downhill corner into the short uphill prior to the finish stretch, I prepped for the maximal effort ahead. Just then, rider #4 directly ahead of me, clipped a pedal and was suddenly sideways on the course. I locked up both front and rear brakes and narrowly escaped hitting him full force before he flopped over the curb onto the grass. 

The good news was – the whole pack behind had watched the unfolding debacle and braked, meaning that no one passed me even as my progress slowed from 30 mph to 15mph. The bad news was that there were 3 riders that were unencumbered by the crash who were now 2, 3, 4, now 5 bike lengths in front of me as we headed up the short hill to the final corner into the finish stretch. 

I was still fairly fresh though, and I got out of the saddle and strained every muscle and tendon in my body to regain my lost inertia. As we headed up the hill, I kicked with every ounce of power I had and started closing the gap, and as we swung wide round the last turn, I reconnected with the 3 riders even as they fanned out across the road, each seeking his own path to the finish line. I headed straight at the back wheels of riders, 2 and 3 (on the right side) even as I had no real place to go, but fortunately, they left enough space for me to squeeze through. 

I rocketed between them, and lit it up toward the finish only to miss passing the inside rider until well after the line. I was slightly disappointed, but yet pleased with managing a second place in the face of near disaster.  As we coasted toward the first corner, it was only then that I noticed the black armband of the winner.

It was none other than the best friend of the recently deceased rider, riding on pure adrenaline, honoring his departed friend.  Later, friends and acquaintances congratulated me on having the “most appropriate” second place in tour history. I didn’t give it to him – he won it fair and square – but I’m glad he won….

 I returned to the start finish line and watched the start of the pro-race as the tallied up the results from my race. As it turned out, the generator for the operations crew had quit with one lap to go, and there was no video record of the finish. The race official, Craig, gathered us together to say, “other than first and second, we really don’t have any idea who placed in this race, so we’ll be using the honor system to sort it out…”  Thank God I was second.

The racers argued for the next hour so we sat and watched the pro race and I ended up speaking to a man who’s daughter Maddie (shorthand for a Sanskrit word) was playing with Kat. He was in a movie we had watched last year called Endless summer II – essentially a surf documentary – as the “king of freshwater surfing.”

Apparently Sheboygan can get 10-12 foot waves when the winds are right. Eventually Craig and the racers settled their differences, though none of them seemed satisfied, but eventually I collected my $100 check for second place and we headed back to the campsite to cook dinner. 

Jose and Mark joined us and we cooked out at the beach, sharing some wine and grilling chicken breasts, zucchini, squash, with salsa, refried beans and tortilla chips. The sky was so blue with humidity that the lake and sky were exactly the same color and there was no horizon. There was a sense of vertigo as though the beach ended at the edge of the world and there was only sand and sky and an endless dropoff into space.  

Race Report #4: Bensenville

Race Report, Sunday July 16, Superweek Stage 9, Bensenville, IL 40 miles, 96 degrees, 105 “real feel”, 132 degree pavement temperature.    The real story regarding the Bensenville stage was the “race to the race.” The race was slated to begin at 3:30pm, so I figured I had better get out of the house by 12:00 – 12:30 at the latest. I was just finished packing up around 12:15 and Shannon was due to be returning from a bike ride when I received a call on my cell phone – she had gotten a flat out in the country and I needed to go get her. So I headed off 7 miles into the country, picked her home and drove home. Now it was 12:45 and I didn’t finally hit the road until 1pm. Still – Sunday afternoon – how bad could traffic be? 

I started calling Jose (the head mechanic) at 3:15 – still sitting in 294 toll traffic. “Jose – can you get me registered? I’ll pay you back with an extra $20 when I get there…”  “Sure John – we’ll take care of you – just get here.” I finally found the course at about 3:28pm – 2 minutes before race time. Meanwhile on the way in, while on the tollway, in the crowds of weekend travelers, I had managed to wriggle into my spandex cycling jersey, shorts, shoes, glasses, - even my helmet, as well as refilling my water bottles.

 I must have looked odd racing down Irving Park Road in a green Cadillac, wearing a brightly colored spandex jersey and a helmet. I jumped out and assembled my bike, put my bottles on and went to look for Jose – I still needed a race number as I had lost one of the two they had given me before.  I headed toward the start finish, stopping at the wheel pit but Jose was not there, but one of the referees was – just as they blew the whistle and started the race – without me…. “Damn!” I hopped on my bike following the departing riders and headed past the start finish and found Jose. He had my racers armband (proving my registration) but not my numbers… “Just jump in…” he said. 

Well, I didn’t want to race without a number, so I went off-road back to my car and pinned on the one number I had – (and, as it turns out, I pinned it on the wrong side) and then headed over to the back side of the course, where the 75 racers were just completing their second of 45 laps.  As they came around, I drifted out onto the course and melded neatly into the back of the pack. Illegal… yes. Unethical – not really – I did not really gain any advantage from missing those two laps.  

The race was fairly uneventful except in the fact of how strong I felt. I rode up near the front for the next 30 laps going off the front of the pack with a series of small breakaways. Everything was pulled back by the pack though, so I decided to rest up for the final sprint and drifted back in the pack. I was surprised at how small it had become – the heat had taken its toll… 

A few more small breakaways drifted off the front and as I moved back into the top 10 riders in prep for the sprint I was surprised to find that they were out of sight – damn – another race with no chance for the “W” (win). I lined up in my usual top 5 position going into the last lap, and then 4th coming into the second to last straightaway just as a rider swooped up the inside going into the last 110 degree turn. I tried to catch his wheel prior to the corner, but became concerned over the speed he was entering the turn. Sure enough midway through the turn, his rear wheel skittered and for one second I thought I was going to “t-bone” him and locked up my brakes. But he held onto it. 

I had lost some speed, but got out of my saddle and kicked with all my strength and caught him just at the line and blazed past him – just after the line, second in the field sprint and 6th overall due to the breakaway…