2008 Race Report #6: Sherman Park Criterium - the "reverse breakaway"

2008: Race Report #6: Sherman Park Criterium, Chicago, IL

Saturday, June 14. Sherman Park Criterium, Chicago, IL. Category: Pro 1/2. Weather: 78 degrees, 12 mph winds. Course: large oval, 1.1 miles, slight uphill into the finish. Distance, 90 minutes (approx 42 miles), 38 riders, average speed, pulse, distance etc. – none – DNF.

(This is a re-write as the first one disappeared somehow) I was excited to attempt my first pro race of the year – especially when I discovered a course shaped like a giant velodrome – a 1.1 mile oval in the heart of Chicago’s South side.

After arriving  I registered and then bumped over broken sidewalks, dodging broken glass and bouncing to the thumps of massive subwoofers as I warmed up for this 90 minute race in the late afternoon on a brilliant Saturday. As we lined up I was a little disappointed with the size of the field though – only 38 riders at the start. What I should have noticed is that the field was characterized by 5 or so large teams – which was a major factor in the race.

We started out slow, and after a lap or two cruising underneath the park trees, dodging shadow and light, I joked to my friend Chris in the field, “This is the best race – EVER” – in particular because my pulse had never even risen above 150.

Eventually though, the race heated up and the pace began a series of fits and starts. A small breakaway of 5 riders assembled a short distance off the front. I considered bridging – it was still within my 5 or 6 second reach – but decided it couldn’t possibly get away – what with no corners and great visibility.

After another lap, the pace stayed high and now the pack split in two – the breakaway, and about 12 or 13 riders in between, and then the rest of us. I began to worry.

A 5 or 6 man break is one thing, a 15 man chase group is another – I figured our pack just needed a little motivation, so I swung into the lead and pulled a hard half lap up the backstretch into the small rise across the finish line: 31mph hard and steady, and swung off in a world of hurt, but with the chase group within 100 feet. I assumed that someone would quickly bridge that gap and I could return to the embrace of the peleton.

Nothing happened. I pulled off and coasted. The pack coasted. We slowed – 29, 27, 25, 23… The breakaways began to recede.

I cursed and fired up again, heart in my throat, a roaring in my ears. The downhill section was full of bumps and I again brought us close to the chase, but couldn’t quite get us there. I swung off again and yelled, “Let’s go! Let’s go!”

And nothing happened again. As we slowed to 20 on the backstretch I began to berate the small “pack” that was left. “That’s not a breakaway gentleman – that’s the FIELD!” “Whoever you are protecting, you are not granting them anything!” Doesn’t ANYONE want to race?!”

No response.

I suddenly realized - we were in a reverse breakaway. 20 riders up the road and for whatever reason or discipline, teams were still blocking. I took over the front again and led - and led some more. I suck at leading, but I probably led 4 or 5 laps before I completely gave up the ghost. “

As I finally sat up and watched our speed drop – 25, 23, 21, 19, 17mph, I couldn’t help but have a frustrated thought rattle through my head, “THIS I can do all by myself – I don’t need help to get DROPPED!”

Still despite my frustration, the easy answer is, “then you should have been up the road in the breakaway”… of course, playing to my strengths, I don’t DO breakways…

This is where friend and co-worker Cregier would say, that I must learn acceptance. Ah Grasshopper – so much to learn…

We coasted two laps and then were caught by the now 8 man break and the pace returned to a semblance of a race. The formerly docile team members now switched into protect mode and we kept the chase group at bay (the plan all along?) while chasing down any further breakaway attempts.

I hung out in the back, still frustrated – the idea of sprinting for 21st place did not particularly intrigue me, but I still was considering it good practice for the bigger races to come… and I wanted to crush these guys in the sprint just for some semblance of pride. Well… pride goeth before…

My bike had other ideas. After about 60 of the 90 minutes I began to notice a subtle ticking as I rotated the pedals. I didn’t like this feeling – not at all. With memories of my friend Jeff’s nuclear detonation in Spain just a few weeks prior in my head, I began to be careful and stopped getting out of the saddle.

The ticking feeling grew and pretty soon I could hear it too – though I couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary. Then, sure enough, 75 minutes into the race, my legs suddenly swung free (“no chain man, no chain!”) and my broken chain dragged behind the bike on the rough asphalt.

I coasted to a stop near my car and roughly put my bike into the trunk and sped home. At least I got home in time to swim in the pool.