2013 Race Report: Birmingham Bike Festival

2013 Race Report: Birmingham The drive from Chicago to Detroit began a structure of energy and feeling that emerged like a fractal: it started with the frenzy and stress of the busy suburbs, frequent merges required to traverse the ant trails of the city, my right foot a hummingbird between the nectar of the accelerator and the threat of the brake, bright sunlight from above burning twitching limbs and blinding eyes.

The transition to Indiana began with a ribbed series of long, straight, tarred concrete boulevards surrounded by a parade of ugly billboards pimping everything from hardware to strip clubs and then finally, the curve to the north and the relief of the Michigan border. The transition came quickly its first relief from the afternoon heat found in dappled wood-lined bends, shadows stretching in the late August sun. With the cruise control humming, calm emerged and I grew thoughtful, leaning into the curves.

As usual it was a “race to the race,” but this time merely to join members of my team the Wolverine Sports Club for a simple breaking of bread the night before the actual event. I arrived with ample time to spare and sat in the parking lot of my old grade school / middle school / high school in Southfield marveling at how it was both novel and natural to park the same parking spot of my 17 year old self and gaze upon the bricks that enwombed and entombed me for 13 years as a child, teen and young adult. Egg shells and dripping yolks by the high school entrance reminded me of a series of senior pranks including cementing the doors shut and painting handicapped symbols in every single parking space. Good times.

Pulling into Birmingham I felt the easy embrace of my cycling brethren: the graceful green intellect of Kelly and Jay, the joyful banter of the Rodd brothers and their ladies Chelsey and Sam, Sarah’s competitive curiosity and Kroske with his camera and quick humor. The night was warm then cool, conversation transitioned and groups reformed and I stumbled into Jay and Kelly’s house near midnight, content yet missing my family.

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I slept in the dark basement without setting an alarm never questioning the notion that I’d awaken in time for an 11:20am race. Wine and time zones conspired and I awoke at 10:20am and faced the usual mad scramble to make the race: eat, shower, dress, pack, lockup, drive, get money a the ATM, register for the race, pin the number on the jersey, assemble the bike, pump up the tires, and then, with 7 minutes left, “warmup.”

The race started fast and strung out quickly. For two laps I stayed in 5th position before folding and tucking back behind the draft of the larger peleton. I had forgotten to fill my water bottle and only had ½ bottle for the 50 minute long race and had to ration my sips. The first ten laps were difficult but eventually the pack settled in and I rode the eddies and currents of the rear of the peleton. I felt the newfound power of a clean drivetrain coursing through my veins and into the pedals and determined I would have a shot at the win. I could hear twice that my friend and competitor Paulo Eugeni won two primes in a row. Good for him.

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Then the pace picked up again and the pack slinkied out single file with 10 laps to go as a break of strong riders went clean. I danced inside and outside the turns with Ray Dybowski and had glimpses of fellow Wolverines Jay, John and Kroske for a few laps and then heard from Tim Finkle the announcer that Ray was putting in his signature move of a late break, but to no avail. There was already a break up the road and the peleton was determined to bring it back.

The sun was now heating the pavement and limbs. Families were lining up in advance of the kids race. Tires were grippy and risks could be taken on the tight yet smooth turns and I spent 10 laps enjoying the mastery of efficient pack surfing, gracefully pedaling through corners on cruise control. With 5 to go we gained sight of the breakaway and began to reel it in. The pace was high and the peleton single file – 200 yards from tip to tail. I was sitting 2nd to last and waited for the pack to hit the inevitable lull so that I could move up for the sprint. It never happened.

We caught the break with 2 to go but another surge happened and finally I realized I had to play the hand I had been dealt. On the backstretch with 1 ½ to go I surged up the outside, asking John Sammut for permission to move out. I jumped from 60th to 30th and then followed wheels through the turbulence and then heard the bell for one lap to go. Again on the backstretch I lit a match and jumped up the inside from 30th to 10th before entering the chicane, but now, with only 400m left I realized that my efforts were too late and that my weakness from the accelerations and the single file line ahead of me would not present any opportunity for the win. I skipped a few wheels and finished a reasonable but unsatisfactory 8th – in the money but hardly fulfilled.

Nostalgia reigned after the race as voices and faces from my youth emerged as the kids race and then the Pro race were sent from the line. My great friend Kirk had arrived and we meandered the course, I talked with Ray, cheered Randy and Ryan and Ryan and Ray, ate with Kelly and Jay, talked with Kirk, saw TJ and Duane and the Andreau’s and Stechkines. The sun angled early and I got back in the Jag and pointed the smoothly humming V8 west at 80mph for for the ride into the setting sun.

Something, many things stuck with me. Most of all what I recall was Kelly and Jay talking about their exit and return to Michigan. They had moved to Wisconsin, and then faced adversity. They looked for community; they cast hooks and reeled in empty lines. They realized, she realized, that they were lonely. The defined loneliness and I sat and listened in rapt attention. They realized that they missed their friends and the sense of belonging of Detroit’s cycling community. One year later they moved back. Despite the economics, despite the city’s woes, despite the climate they moved back and were once again happy.

I have been a Wolverine since 1976 and in some way part of that community since I was 8 years old. I always look forward to seeing anyone from the club or cycling community including previous members – Ryan Cross, the Rodd Bros, Ray D., Frankie, Jose, Sarah, Brett, TJ, Duane, Jason, John Sammut, Cullen, Duane, Mark, Scott, Kelly, Jay, Danny, Jamie, Tim, and dozens of others. Other than a brief stint with 7-11 I have always had a Wolverine cycling license despite many offers to switch to teams when I lived in Arizona, Wisconsin or Illinois. To be honest I didn’t give it much thought – I liked being part of the “club of champions” and flying my colors in remote regions.

The sun was setting as I turned off the cruise control and crossed the Indiana state line with a line of cars blocking my way as I headed west. I was having an unnamed feeling, one that I had felt on and off for a few years. The sun was lighting up the worn stones in the concrete like gold coins. I tried to thread my way through traffic but lapsed into the single file queue towards the border. The feeling grew stronger and I avoided naming it. I tried the radio, flipped stations but the sun dipped lower and lower and avoided my visor and lit up my retinas with its brilliance and eclipsing descent towards my current home.

A rush of nostalgia for the previous hours returned. Perhaps my feelings had a name. Perhaps I too am “lonely.”

Perhaps I too need to head “home.”

2008 Race Report #18: Downer Avenue Revisited

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

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

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

Driving the RV

 

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

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

 

equal value

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Superweek Winnings

 

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

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

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

 

Appetizers

 

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

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

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

 

Toasting the suffering

 

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

 

Preparing a great meal

 

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

 

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

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

Jose and a Rock Racing bike

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

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

Toolbox #1

 

Toolbox Groupie

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

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

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

Trek Commercial Stud

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

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

Ben Renkema

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

Jose the 'wheel god'

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

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

-John

 

 

 

 

Andy Crater