2007 Race Report #10: Almost Crashing...

Race Report #10, Sunday, July 22nd, Superweek Stage 9 Pro/Am Criterium, Evanston, IL, 100K. Flashback, Friday, July 20th:Scene: standing undressed again in front of the scale. Again I inched forward, my toes wriggling across the tile floor in our new bathroom in the new house in Chicago. The LED lights began to whirl, and again I reflected on the preceding months leading to this moment: 6 races down, and now into the annual Superweek season. My goal was to be 175 lbs by this time of year. I felt fit but.. what would my weight say? The LED’s flashed: 177.8 – and parts of me warred over the result – on one hand I was still nearly 3 lbs off the goal I had set for myself months ago – with plenty of time to achieve the result. On the other – I had lost 20 lbs and  was lighter than I had been since shortly after retiring from speedskating 9 ½ years ago…

Evanston is a great spectator course – a six corner, figure-eight loop where the finish stretch and backstretch meet in the middle so that fans can truly see a large portion of the action of the race. It was centered right in the middle of downtown where there are a lot of people naturally present, and, once a lap, it carried a strong smell of curry from an Indian restaurant proximate to the course.


Initially disconcerted by the idea of all the corners, early on in the race I realized that the course favored my strengths – bike handling, agility in handling the multiple turns, short accelerations, and riding in the peleton. For once, my fear of getting dropped ebbed well before the halfway mark.


Eddy Van Guyse introduced me again to all the world and again I was chagrined to find myself too far back to be able to move up behind the race leaders and other “celebs” on the start/finish. “I need to do something about that,” I thought… After the gun went off we began our 100 kilometer, 70 lap, 420 corner race.


The race passed without much incident and I passed the first two hours hanging out near the back catching the echoing cheers of John Poplett, his daughter, and a friend rooting me on from turn two. With about 10 laps to go I began my climb up the long ladder to the front of the peleton, and by 8 laps to go I was sitting pretty in the top 15.


For the next 6 laps there were a series of fits and starts, charges up the inside and outside, and I had to use all my skills and put in a series of hard and tight accelerations to maintain my position – diving full speed into the corners and braking hard at the last minute when a line through the traffic did not represent itself, and then sprinting full out from a near stand still mid-corner to return to the 35mph pace down the straightaways.


With two laps to go I came across the start finish line around 10th again – perfectly positioned and we entered the rather wide corner of turn 1 at full speed, 3 or 4 riders single file out front and then a couple pairs of riders ahead of me side by side – perfectly safe on a corner that could take riders at least 5 abreast…


Then it happened – a rider a couple spots ahead of me shifted slightly – a tiny shiver of the handlebars – resulting in overlapping wheels: the tiny mal-adjustment in trajectory resulting in the wrenching of his handle bars out from under him as his front wheel turned across his momentum caused him to careen left and then burrow directly into the pavement, taking down the rider next to him as well.


A tenth of second later and the two riders directly in front of me were down, performing the cycling world’s ugliest acrobatic act – “the endo” overtop the downed riders. An endo happens when forward motion of the bike is stopped, but not the inertia of the rider, and the front axel acts as the fulcrum for the entire bike to cantilever up, over, and down, head first into the ground. Like a catapult gone wrong, a bed endo looks as though the rider is driven like a nail into the ground.


I had sensed that the riders were itchy entering the corner – my “spidey senses” tingling: something about the skittishness of the pack had made me nervous and hence I was on full alert before the first rider went down, with both hands on the brake hoods. Before the second rider even knew what hit him, I had begun to straighten up and apply pressure to my front and rear brakes – about double the pressure to the front vs. the rear – simultaneously initiating a transfer of my center of gravity rearward and down by sliding back on the saddle and tilting back my hips, hollowing my back.


My bike shuddered as the front brake tried to hold back my inertia and my rear began to lock up. Amazingly the deceleration offered by the two narrow rubber tires paralleled that of the tumbling riders and I stopped just short of the downed racers. Around me, like an arrowhead of dominoes, riders continued to meet the pavement in various ways as others swarmed around; however after about 50 riders made it through the mayhem, the road was effectively blocked by the bodies of the fallen or stopped.


I popped out of my left pedal and used my left foot to give several small skipping pushes before navigating a very narrow route between the wheels and limbs of the riders ahead of me and regaining the free air of the first straightaway, while watching the rearguard of the peleton disappear around turn two 200 feet ahead of me.


I punched the afterburners and gave it everything, legs screaming in protest as I fought the winds alone around turns 2, 3 and then 4, before finally rejoining the pack just before the final double corner leading to the finish stretch and the “bell lap” – the universal signal indicating “one lap to go.”


I tried desperately to regain some composure, but my pulse was already in the low 190’s and I had that taste of blood in my mouth indicating a significant amount of lactic acid already running through my veins and confounding my muscles.


I used every trick and took a series of risks through the next corners to move up through the field, but each acceleration, each effort brought me even further beyond my aerobic limits and by the time we reached the final straightline sprint for the finish, I had nothing left to give, and after exiting the final corner in about 15th, I dropped to 33th in the official results.


Thwarted again…


2007 Race Report #9: Moses and his rod...

Race Report #9, Saturday, July 21st, Superweek Stage 8 Masters Criterium, Waukesha, WI, 60K. 

Not much to say about Waukesha – a tough, short course that weeded out a lot of the masters. I rode up front for the latter half of the race after a large (10 man) breakaway got away. I set up a little far back for the sprint given all the corners and my late surge to the line only got me 5th in the field sprint and 15th overall.

 Flashback: Superweek circa 1995 – a North Milwaukee suburb I was riding category 3 back in 1995 – the year after the Lillehammer Olympics – and having a good time participating in the field sprints at superweek. I had won several field sprints already but had not yet won a stage, but was feeling like this particular course might be my day.  Nearly perfectly round with the exception of one corner, this particular course on the north side of Milwaukee was in one of the many excellent county parks dotting the Milwaukee area.  After putting in the requisite first 35 of the 40 mile race, I decided to move up and scout out the finish sprint.

The one and only corner was about 400m before the finish and I decided to hit it hard like I would in a sprint. The course was wide and I used the draft of the peleton to slingshot outside and into the lead – one of the things I used to be able to do before I started racing with the pros where the pace puts me in a different, more limited mode of moving through the pack. As I passed the outside of the peleton and coasted out into the lead – intending only to be re-absorbed into the pack, I noticed some movement off to the left.  

Just to the left of the course was a small, but popular fishing hole, and during the race there were dozens of fisherman sitting in folding chairs facing the lake, poles up at the ready. Each lap the their heads would sway in unison away from the shining surface of the lake to catch the wind of the pack of riders bearing down the park roads towards them for another round of the course. On this particular lap though, one of the fishermen had decided to pack up his gear and head home. Along with a styrofoam Igloo cooler strapped with bungee cords to the small rack on the back of his bike, he had also tied up his two fishing poles… sideways.  

I watched with detached amusement as this somewhat inebriated gentleman made his way awkwardly across the grass onto the sidewalk, expecting him to turn and follow the asphalt path toward some local destination. Instead, he continued, head down, pedaling right across the small patch of grass between the sidewalk path and the course, and then bumped down across the curb onto the course, lazily righting the bike as it veered left and right. He still hadn’t looked up… 

It was about this time that energy spiked in my legs and I stood on the pedals and leaned hard right… He was heading almost directly toward me… but worse, he had nearly seven feet of fishing pole sticking out at a perpendicular angle quite ready to take me down.  I completed my acceleration and adjustment and then began to finally recognize the inevitable next… he was riding, eyes down, poles horizontal, head-on, directly into the pack of 100 riders swarming behind me.  Even as I swung clear, I sat up coasting and rotated my torso, hand on my thigh to watch the inevitable destruction to follow.

Like the pin-setter at the bowling alley after two gutter balls, I prepared for the worst  as the lone fisherman and his pole made their way like a drunken snow plow straight  into the peleton with an impact speed of over 40mph.  

I will never forget what I saw next – it remains imprinted upon my retinas like that of a biblical event. Moses and his rods parted the multi-colored sea and with the elegance of a choreographed movie scene, the peleton separating neatly in the middle, creating a teardrop shaped ripple that flowed smoothly backward, the sudden reflection off the circular rims reminding me of a school of minnows reacting to a predator – flashing left and then right – and then the pack zipped itself up neatly back together behind the intruder -  all in the matter of seconds.  I’ve never been more amazed at the skills of men on bikes as I was at that moment – like detritus out the back the fisherman continued on his way – never even realizing the extent of his danger… 

A few laps later I reprised my outside sprint and was able to win my first stage of that year’s Superweek.

But all we talked about was the fisherman…