2012 Race Reports 1 - 4

2012 Race Reports 1 – 4: It has been a while since I posted a race report – hopefully this season will see more racing and more writing: both are things I find joy in.

So far the season has progressed in a predictable sprinter fashion:

  • Race one (April): dropped, shelled
  • Race two (Early May): last place, exploded
  • Race three (Late May): 10th Place, purging
  • Race four (Mid June): 2nd Place, surging

As a general rule spring racing sucks for the sprinter. First, the roadies have been at it all winter, bundled up in smart wool splashing for hours on end through the slush or languishing through interval workouts on the trainer or doing group trainer workouts or “trainer racing” - whatever that is.

The unvarnished lungs of the sprinter are further shredded by the cold air and winds that rake the early season courses.  My first two races were noted by 15 – 20 mph crosswinds that created massive echelons and I found myself constantly riding in gravel by the curb or through puddles near the grass for much of the race. I lasted only half the first race, quickly shelled when gaps opened up. I managed to finish the second race, but exploded during the sprint setup, coasting through the last 300m having already lit my match. Race 3 saw some suffering, but I had a bit left at the end (despite the 98 degree temps) and a decent field sprint finish landed me 3rd in the pack and 10th overall.

 Race Four: Wonder Lake Criterium, Masters 1/2/3 30+. Distance ~18 miles (timed: 40 minutes) Temp 88 degrees. Wind = light. Avg pace 25.2mph, Sprint finish max speed 37.8mph

My second visit to the Wonder Lake Criterium was held in lieu of heading all the way to Waukesha, WI, to race on a ToAD  (Tour of America’s Dairyland) course that I hate.

I faced some of the usual pre-race challenges spending too much time relaxing over breakfast and not wanting to depart from my family. I finally hit the road without a great deal of buffer time to change, register, and warmup. Proudly though, I thought of pumping up my tires and oiling my chain before piling in the car. I couldn’t find lube, but I did find the pump and proceeded to quickly break off the presta valve of my front wheel. I checked the pressure w/ my thumb and it wasn’t terrible – probably 50 pounds – so I grabbed a spare tube and figured I change it at the race, assuming I arrived in time.


Sure enough the back roads to northern Illinois were slow going, and the 32 mile drive took an hour and fifteen minutes leaving me 30 minutes to register, pin on #’s, change and warmup.

Wonder Lake is a pretty little lake like the one I grew up on in West Bloomfield, and the smell of lake water & exhaust combined with the sun dappling off small green waves had me nostalgic for Walnut Lake, water skiing, swimming and… bike racing.

No time to change the tube, so I just lined up with the rest of the masters 1/2/3 field and listened to the race instructions. The course was the same as 2 years ago – 1.3 miles around with two long straightaways, one along the lakeside, the other up a small hill then running parallel. A long 4 corner crit, but with narrow roads, and some small changes in elevation. I never noticed the low pressure in the front...

The masters were feeling the sun and scenery and the first lap was luxurious – averaging just over 20mph. Then the attacks came and speeds in excess of 30mph down the straights were common. However, the few times I was on the rivet, things slowed down and I recovered. With a lap and half to go a lone rider snapped off the front, but no one chased. With one lap to go, I moved up to about 6th wheel assuming there would be a surge on the backstretch. Our lone rider was within reach, but with a 100m gap. Finally just prior to turn 3, the inevitable surge heaved out left and I joined a wheel slinging out right and moved up to 5th with 600m and 1 turn to go.

The pace held up front and we headed down a slight incline in view of the lake. The downhill created opportunity for the riders behind to encroach and I could feel but not see the jockeying behind me. I held my spot and exited the final corner with 400m to go in 5th spot, the lone breakaway still 75m out front.

The next 200m headed downhill and the speed increased and the leadout rider faded and the sprint was on, downhill into a slight headwind. I prefer not to sprint until <150m to go, but the inertia of the downhill was important so the 3 of us spread wide w/ 300m to go and for a moment we were 3 abreast screaming into the wind at 38mph w/ 150m to go. However, I had the slingshot from the later move and surged by the other two riders, suddenly closing on the breakaway rider. With 100m to go I was sure I would be second to the breakaway rider, until a sudden surge from behind by another rider who perfectly surfed our 3 abreast draft and shot around me and closed on the lead rider.

Coming to the line the breakaway rider and surging sprinter faded and I was able to regain 2nd position by passing the breakaway artist while closing the gap on the winner.


A 350m sprint is a really long way for me and when I crossed the line it was with a feeling of every circuit in my body on fire with the agony of lactic acid. As I drifted around the backside and the flames diminished and the embers remained I wondered if this kind of effort had any effect on the cardiovascular system – whether it could clear the cobwebs – or unhealthy deposits of the winter – from the circulatory system.

I circled around the start finish and was apprised of a protest regarding race #s (duplicates) that would take a while to resolve, so I warmed down by riding around the lake dodging in and out of spurs and cul-de-sacs to traverse the lake properties. I found myself wallowing in nostalgia for my lake-bound-youth: boats towing skiers, ramshackle homes with outboard motors mounted to plywood in driveways, the occasional massive home at odds with the cottage feel of the neighborhood, but all around the recognition that summer is for being outdoors – hunting frogs, swimming, skiing, bonfires, riding bikes, ding-dong-ditchit. Upon returning home I immediately commenced a search for lake properties.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enhance Your Weaknesses! Vol 4 1/2: A parody

A parody of my last post by my friend, Eric Hankins - teacher extraordinare and one of the funniest people I know. Too bad I can't post the original - alas here's the toned down version.
Enhance your Weaknesses, Vol. 197
As time goes by, I find myself contemplating what it takes to be a failure as an athlete.  I have trained with the best: Marek "My Waist Size is Smaller Than My Wrist" Kotrly; Dave "Could Anyone Lend Me Some Money" Dohnal; and John "I Will Be Wearing Adult Diapers Under My Spandex Skin Suit At The Nursing Home" Coyle to name a few.
In the book. "We Are All Failures" by Miguel inotrain, he makes a great point to say that every athlete has specific weaknesses that can be only appreciated by the athlete himself.  I maintain that there are four attributes that can make a for a truly terrible athlete.
  1. Lack of Motivation
  2. Substitutional Training
  3. Diet
  4. Deadbeat Parents
The first of these, Lack of Motivation, is something that I can relate to and as I reflect on my cycling career 20+ years ago, this is something that really comes to surface.  I remember my coach, the infamous Dr. Charles Kotrly, would yell at our team about sacrifice and being self motivated.  He maintained that consistent success is determined by consistent commitment and the desire to win will dominate at a critical time when an athlete is wavering on staying home and venturing out into the elements to train all day.  This lack of motivation is something that I not only had...I treasured.  When I think back to those rainy, windy days, I would think I should be on the bike, but then I contemplated how comfortable I was and realized getting lapped out of a race was well worth staying on the couch.  I would envision throwing my hands up, crossing the finish line in first place or being the last guy across the line.  Being a couch potato was well worth getting dropped in a race.
The second, Substitutional Training, is something that I was very good at doing.  I still remember looking out my window for Dave Dohnal to go cycling past my house while playing Atari.  While it might have made a difference between standing on the podium at the next race versus being fully changed with an ice cream cone in hand to cheer on the rest of my team because I got lapped out, three laps into the race, I still considered my substitutional activity to be worthwhile.  My max heart-rate and VO2 might not have equated to the same outcome as leaving the house and hooking onto Dohnal's wheel, but scoring my personal best on Pong was well worth skipping the training ride.
The third, Diet, is very important to failing.  There is no doubt that plenty of fruit and veggies along with a protein diet will make you strong, but consider how much more impressed we are of seeing the likes of my brother, Jonny "I look like I Am In My Third Trimester" Hankins pedal all the way across Wisconsin a few summers ago.  I actually look at fat guys with envy.  They have to work that much harder than everyone else.  I can remember how much I enjoyed an ice cream sandwich at races while everyone else was eating bars that tasted like cardboard and drinking energy drinks that looked and tasted like urine.  Eat like crap, get crap results.  It might not have been the biggest factor in my dismal performance, but it sure didn't make me any better.
The last is something that is probably the single most important - Deadbeat Parents.  My divorced parents were awesome.  I think they went to a few bike races and managed to not attend one speed-skating race.  When I was 8, my dad was rarely around according to my lovely mother who spent all her free time at the Unitarian Church conversing with middle aged hippies.  Whether it was talking to other ladies who shared books on astrology or how to make a casserole that turns your stool into something that looks like a yellow Baby Ruth laced with celery, my mom was always about enjoying life more than winning anything in it.  My mom would go to my cycling races and spend the entire event trying to get some random spectator signed up for Amway.  Meanwhile, the referee is blowing the whistle at her idiot son to get out of the race because he was so far behind.  To this day I remember coming up behind my mom while she was writing her phone number down for some rehabilitated inmate and she was always like "oh Eric, isn't your race still going on?"  Then there was my dad who was always offering ways I could improve my performance on the drive home with a cigarette dangling from his lip.  Blowing an entire pack of cigarette smoke in my face while preaching his ideas on how to improve performance.  Thanks for helping me win a certificate for asthma and sinusitis dad!
Stay tuned, more to come...

Kenosha, 2005

Fri, July 22, 2005.


After Manitowoc, Kenosha is probably my favorite course, and in terms of spectators and ambience Kenosha has it all. The majority of the course centers on a park, that every year is filled with restaurant booths (this year Thai, Mexican, Italian, Brats, Corn on the cob, shaved ham, funnel cakes, cotton candy etc.), activities – including a skateboard and bmx demonstration involving a half pipe, a Disney troup singing and dancing and teaching kids to use a hula hoop, vendors – including bike vendors, banks, real estate agents and… grrr Cingular, and then a host of blow up kiddie rides – slides, bouncy castle, etc.


We managed to secure a sweet parking space right off the square across from the food vendors and 10 feet from the course itself by moving a few cones, and I headed off to register. I had a good feeling in my legs and in my mind – the music, the reasonably successful last few days, and the fact is wasn’t overly hot or raining added to my upbeat mood.


I stopped by the wheel pit and promised Jose – the head mechanic – my profits for the day – as I have done the last few years, and then went back and got ready. I couldn’t for the life of me find my supply of “Goo” and settled on a half of a Clif Bar tucked under my shorts.  I warmed up a little and then headed to the line.


There were a lot of riders – I’d guess about 100, but things started fairly slow, and I stayed in the top 20 for the first 10 of 70 laps.  A breakaway made its way off the front including an old friend Bob Springer, but we could always see it.  Another break started shortly after that one and I bridged up feeling good, but we were caught by the pack shortly thereafter. And so the laps passed.


The Kenosha course used to be pretty rough, but the recently re-paved most of the surfaces, and now it is quite smooth. The first corner is huge and wide, and the second corner has a rather sharp camber on the inside and a slight off camber on the outside.  On the backstretch, the road has a little chicane that can tend to crush riders to the inside and then later to the outside when the pack bunches up. Major pileups have been known to happen. Turn 3 is fairly wide, but is where a majority of the accidents happen in the last few laps as everyone tries to use this corner to move up.


And so the race went on, and I surfed the pack from front to the very back, but mostly stayed just behind the A*@hole zone – in around 25th place – just in case a breakaway went. Meanwhile I tried my damndest to eat a dry Clif bar. I swear I chewed the first bite for 3 laps before using my water to wash the dry chunks down whole, and then the second bite I didn’t even screw around – I merely broke it up with my teeth and pretended it was a huge horse vitamin and slowed it down with water… And so the laps counted down… 60, 50, 40, 30, 20, 15 to go, 10 to go….. 5 to go…


And then that magic happens.. something odd happens in these last few laps.  The composition and harmonics of the race change – subtly at first, but quickly and completely thereafter. I would liken it to that feeling on an international flight – you leave the airport, taxi out and head off into the skies, and everything is English spoken, mundane, and ordinary, and then you take a long nap and wake up and suddenly the food is different and everyone around you is speaking German or French or Dutch and while everything is the same – suddenly everything is different.


For racing, for me, this change is a good thing. For me it means that the guys that used to be out there taking long pulls into the wind suddenly pull off earlier, saving themselves – but at the same time, there are more to replace them. The pack gets tighter. There is anticipation in the air, and the whole group draws closer together. It feels slower, though the pace rally doesn’t change. A whole new idling, surging, and revolving of riders begins – a series of eddies and flows of inside and outside moves surging to the front only to be absorbed and drained backward through the slower inner current.


For 65 laps I’ve been pretty much a lifeless black and white thing – a worn-out  husk of a rider biding his time, trying to finish the laps, and then this magic occurs and suddenly I’m awake and alive – riding the tides of the race. Suddenly the game is on and it is a test of wits and skill and courage and effort to try and maintain the right position. Get too far back and you are out of contention. Spend too much time up front and you’ve spent all of your energy fighting the wind. I have a weird love/hate of this moment – I dread it for the 65 laps or so it took to get there, and then once I’m in it I get a surge of adrenaline bordering on happiness. I’m suddenly aware of the breathing of the riders, I’m suddenly aware of the tiny spaces I can slide into. I notice the crowd and the announcer and the color of the banners. I’ll put my handlebars within one inch of another bike when 10 laps earlier, 10 inches was too close…


So, with 5, 4, and 3 laps to go, the whole pack rode this way – shoulder to shoulder, bars to bars, with only a few dangerous moves on the left and the right in the chicane causing any considerable movement in the pack. In the meantime a small breakaway of 4 that was just off the front began to get a few hundred feet, and then few hundred yards… I floated in about 20th, trying to use my usual tricks of downshifting into the corner to allow me to move up quickly into the open wedges out of the corner, but the pack was allowing nothing… I couldn’t find an opening, and nothing and no-one was moving.


Undaunted, I closed in closer – moved in nearer, touched a few bars or hips and drew closer to the front as we hit the finish stretch with 2 to go. I was probably in the 3rd row now of an 8 abreast clutter down the straightaway, and then a move went up the left side – fast.


I bobbed and bounced and pounced on the first opening in front of me as bars swayed and shot on through joining the chasers and closing the gap into 3rd – not counting the breakaway.


The man in red who led – he kicked it for a whole lap and drew us within about 150 yards of the breakaway as we heard the bell. We were heading down the finish stretch fast and stretched out with one to go, and I was in 7th place with a 2 man leadout and a small break of 4 just down the road. My prayer was that one of the two horses ahead of me would lead us to the break – because if they did I was pretty sure I could take this one…


Unfortunately horse 1 gave up the ghost and sat up just after turn 1.  Horse 2 took us well into the backstretch, but his efforts dwindled midway down the stretch.  With a half lap to go I was left with a tough choice – bridge the 300 feet to the breakway, or hope that someone behind me had the juice to take me there.


I decided to take it myself and launched into a full sprint down the latter half of the backstretch. Oddly, the 4 man breakaway had apparently decided to shuffle and position rather than hold the pace high, so when I did catch them entering turn 3, I was coming at them pretty fast – maybe 10 mph faster than they were going.


Again choices – sit up, wait, and try to outsprint whoever led-out the sprint down the finish stretch? Or use my inertia to try and go over the top and gap them before the knew what him them?


I decided to use the slingshot approach and I pedaled through corner 3, and accelerated into corner 4 using their draft to slingshot into the lead on the finish stretch. I took the breakaway on the outside of corner 4 and entered the 300m finish stretch in first place - with a gap. It is a lovely notion this - to be in the lead down the final few hundred meters of a race - hundreds of eyes willing you forward. The noise was incredible and I put my head down and prayed I had enough speed to keep me there…


And so the next 200 meters went, and I could hear the drumming of the crowd, and the voices to the left and right, and for a little while I thought I had it – my legs were still turning, and I still felt reasonably strong. But as we neared the line I could feel and hear the riders who had followed my wake – both of them from the breakway, and as we hit the line, both swarmed to the left and right and left me third place in the sprint – but not by much.


A bit disappointed, I was still pleased with a podium spot and headed up to talk to the announcer after the warmdown lap. He introduced me as “Mr. Stoughton” and I didn’t really care. After my competitors were introduced I found out more about them and was pleased to find out that the race winner was the Junior national road, time trial, and criterium champion. Good company on the podium. We were talking after, and I started describing my Junior World’s experience in Casablanca Morrocco, and then I stopped short saying, “but that was in 1986…. when were you born?” and he said, “1987.” I don’t feel old too often, but I’m often reminded…



I stepped down and then had to run 100 yards to help my daughter compete in her first ever race (age 4). She finished with “pack time” in the peleton but had a good time, and then we set up camp to watch the pros race.  Robbie Ventura showed, but didn’t finish, and in the end the ensuing battle for the sprint jersey became the main feature as Frank Pipp and Abrams fought it out for the sprint points and the $5000.



Walden Race Rule #3: Win it at the line!

Race Rule #3: Walden says: “Win it at the line!” 

Translation: in a sprint finish, master the timing required to come around or just get caught at the finish line.

The Science:

1) As the level of competition increases - from local to state to national to international, the differences in abilities between riders becomes more compressed, and winning by a huge margin in the sprint becomes less of an option. This is where strategy and skill replace the minute differences in ability. By mastering the 'surge to the line' technique using the draft to its maximal effectiveness, a racer with less endurance or with less sprint horsepower can make up for those weaknesses, and maximize their strengths using this technique.

2) Gauging the distance to the line, the movements within the pack, and knowing which wheel to follow - this is the science of this rule.

The Art:

1)       Learn to read the race patterns - and know exactly where to be in the pack to avoid the to antithesis to "finish at the line" which are a) being hung out to dry - out front to early fighting the wind or b) getting caught in the back - no place to go, energy available with no outlet

2)       Intuitively understand how corners, wind, gradient (uphill/downhill), heat, and race speed combine with the twitching mass of riders in the pack to create final sprint conditions. In one race it might be a single file leadout string where being in 3rd place with a lap to go is the winning strategy. In another, being 20th and following the pending surges might be the right position.

3) The best way to predict a sprint finish other than real time intuition, is to participate in prime sprints. I usually surf the prime sprints (I rarely contest them) in order to gain more information around how the sprint will play out. No guarantee that if the prime sprint surged on the right that the final sprint will as well, but odds are probably 60/40...

This race rule is much more art than science ultimately requires experience to develop. Back when I was racing on the 7-11 team, my teammates used to try to set up leadouts for the sprint finish and I found time and again that I could read the race better than I could utilize their leadouts and I usually abandoned the leadouts (much to their chagrin).



2006 Race Report #10: Elk Grove Cat II Challenge

Race Report Elk Grove Category II Challenge, August 12, 2006. 80 degrees, 55 minutes timed.  Flashback: August of 1977.

I am 8 years old and my father and I are pulling our GM Beauville van into the parking lot of the Dearborn Twin Towers office buildings where I was to participate in my first ever bike race. It was pouring outside and I remember not wanting to get out of the van into the cold rain. I dressed in the van into my wool jersey and black cotton and wool shorts (with a real leather chamois), my leather helmet and gloves, and then, with my father holding the umbrella, I climbed outside the sliding door and onto my bike, goosebumps standing out on my shiny forearms. 

He suggested that I “warm up” by riding around the parking lot a few times, and I did but I was immediately back under the umbrella and back into the van, shivering from the cold and wet. We waited until almost race time before heading toward the start/finish area. With his plastic raincoat on, and holding the umbrella, my father walked and I coasted on my bike over to the start finish line where a stocky, bald, grumpy older man with glasses and a mustache was yelling instructions to the parents, “Midgets! – midgets – you have to roll out your bikes before the race! – bring them over to Clair…C’mon Andreu – you know the drill!” 

His name was Mike Walden and I disliked him immediately. Clair, however, I recognized. Clair Young, wearing his referee uniform, was the reason I was there in the first place. During the summer, as I began to join my father on these long tours or “century rides” as these 100 mile bike tours were called, we were passed at one point by a fit couple in their 50's on a tandem who marveled at my tiny legs pushing the pedals in circles on this 100 mile circuit. When my father indicated that this was the 13th Century ride I had completed that summer – at age 8 – they expressed their admiration and then encouraged my father to get me racing. The couple was none other than Clair and Dorothy Young, parents of national and world champion cyclists and speedskaters Roger and Sheila Young.  

A few phone calls later, and there I was at the Dearborn Twin Towers just outside Detroit in the pouring rain, checking out my gears (12 and under or “midget category” racers were limited in their gears so as to not injure their knees) by “rolling out” my bike backwards for a full revolution of the pedals between two tape marks to ensure that my tenth gear was not too big (this was in the time where bikes still only had “ten speeds”)  10 minutes, and an eternity in the rain later, they lined up the boys, and then the girls behind us on the line.

There were about 12 of us boys, to the right of me was the tallest of the group, with dark hair and a fixed expression, seemingly unphazed by the rain. Next to him was a hyperactive boy who was badgering his father, “This rain is freezing me – why can’t we start? What are they waiting for? Frankie’s going to win anyway – why did we come?” Next to him was a pale, hollow cheeked boy of 10, whose father, like mine, hovered over him with the umbrella, guarding him as best he could. 

And so we lined up, myself – a few days before my 9th birthday: the tall one - Frankie Andreu – age 11 (eventual 9 time tour de France finisher and 4th in the Olympic games), the hyper one: Jamie Carney – age 9 (3 time Olympic team member, my arch-rival for decades to come,) the pale englishman: longtime friend Paul Jacqua – age 10, and a number of other boys, readying for a short 3 lap, 3 mile race. 

In the old Italian tradition Mike, (or was it Clair?) announced, “Torreador, Attencione, Go!” and within seconds Frankie had disappeared into the mist while I was still trying to get my foot in the toeclips. Once I finally did, I could see the outline of two riders ahead of me in the rain, roostertails kicking up high with the water flying off their rear wheels. Frankie was nowhere to be seen and I was left strugging through the downpour with Jamie and Paul and we headed through the darkened corners of the course, wheels whizzing with water and rain, pain and breathing only matched by wonderment of “where did he go?”  

I was not used to being beat – the fastest kid on my block during tag, and the fastest kid at school during recess, I felt a frantic, almost asphyxiating rhythm take over my pedaling and breathing. There was pain in every pore of my skin and my lungs were on fire but I was fixated on the mysterious disappearance of the rider ahead.  Jamie and Paul shortly established the pattern known to racers the world over as a “paceline” pulling into the wind for a short distance and then moving aside for the rider behind to pedal through, blocking the wind for the riders behind.

For perhaps the only time in my career, I took the role of a “roadie” and would pull through faster, chasing the elusive Frankie, or even making attacks to the side of our little peleton.  2 laps into the race and suddenly a dark figure appeared and quickly disappeared outside our little group. It was Celeste Andreu – Frankie’s sister, and she had already made up the 1 minute start gap provided between the boys and girls, and passed us. We made a fruitless effort to chase, but resolved back into the loosely formed paceline we had formed after the start, Paul doing most of the consistent work, and Jamie and I occasionally trying to sneak away off the front. 

We came by the start finish with one to go and the few parents remaining in the rain cheered and then disappeared and we continued our route around this urban maze. As we headed out of the last corner, Paul sprang out into the lead and as I started to follow, Jamie slingshotted past him. But I had grabbed his wheel (i.e. gotten into his draft), and as our tiny gears spun, and out little feet rotated at over 200 rpms, I passed Jamie just before the line to win the “field sprint” and come in 2nd establishing in that 3 mile microcosm a pattern in the world that would be significant in my life for the following 30+ years. 

After drying off (and the rain stopped) there was a medals ceremony followed by a trip to a tent where the sponsor of the race from the local bike shop provided me with my prize – a heavy, chrome plated bottom bracket tool kit.  I didn’t know what a bottom bracket was, but I could tell that this was a significant prize by its weight and shininess and I resolved to really like bike racing. I still have this bottom bracket tool kit, now 29 years later, and it has never been used as far as I know. But it is still shiny… 

August 12: Elk Grove is an unusual setting for a bike race. Instead of a criterium race run on a squared of circuit set in a downtown setting, or a traditional road race course with a long circuit and hills (the kind I avoid for obvious reasons) set out in the country where traffic would not be an issue, the Elk Grove challenge course was a mid length flat circuit of 2.3 miles set on and “out and back” pair of divided lane roads set in a quiet suburban neighborhood.  The course was essentially the shape of a sans serif “L” if you outlined it going counterclockwise: starting from the bottom: a left U turn, a right 90 degree turn, a left U turn, a left 90 degree turn.  

The course was quite narrow for the most part, and that, combined with the large field of Category 2 riders (approximately 120) made for a high degree of tension and nervousness in the pack after the start – elbows hitting elbows, and the occasional bumping of handlebars leading to tires locking up and panic around the fringes. This was a rare race where category 2 riders were separated from the Pro’s and Elite’s (Category 1 amateurs) who had their own race later in the day with a $125,000 prize list. First place in that event was $25,000. Next year…. Next year… 

I lined up on the front line and sprinted to the front after the start in order to have a good position into the first U-turn. I then found myself oddly off the front of the pack by 100 feet into the second stretch. I paused and waited for some riders to catch up and throttled up into 3rd as we headed down the long straightaway. I marveled that I was still up front in this new category of racing and wondered why the race was so slow, checking my cycling computer for the first time only to discover we were moving 33mph, and that my pulse was 180 bpm. Yet I was not suffering – wow – what gives?  

Backing up – August 10th, 2006, our Thursday Night “fast ride” training ride with the Stoton Velo Club. This is a weekly ‘suffer fest’ training ride attended by generally sick individuals that get a weird lift out of pain. I attend solely to improve my racing, but I’m thankful for the twisted individuals that show up to this weekly extravaganza.  We generally do 30 – 40 miles and use the “stop ahead” signs that signal crossroads as interim sprints, and use the tops of the hills as “King of the mountain” challenges. It is all for pride, but the competition is intense: last week we did 18 sprints, the first 10 of which came in the first 10 miles.

Several of us were about to vomit, but we kept going. Here are some of the usual players:

 Glen Gernert: “False Flat Glen” – haven’t seen much of him this year, but Glen holds a special spot on my pain-o-meter for a very unique ability to lift the pace at just the absolutely worst times. Picture this:  I am just barely hanging on to the wheel in front of me up yet another hill, and just as we hit the crest, I see yet another, slightly less steep rise following it. It is just at this point, when I’m absolutely beyond my threshold, when I need to rest, that the notorious site of Glen G’s steel bike will come slicing up the outside requiring the taste of blood, and acid in your veins in order to not get dropped. I hate Glen.  

Andy Nowlan – Andy N. is the reason I’ve even come out on these rides. A sprinter by genetics like me, he and I have spent a bit of time together getting shelled off the back, and struggling to regain the group. Andy suffers quietly along side me when the going is rough and then when we have a moment to actually breathe finds just the right way to describe exactly what I’m feeling, generally with a few f-bombs mixed in. From a pure speed standpoint, Andy’s probably the fastest of the group, but fortunately we (OK, the others) make him hurt just enough that he only occasionally gets to use it. 

Travis – Travis is just a motor – pure and simple. He gets the machinery turning and can keep it going indefinitely. I’m just barely fit enough to hang Travis’ wheel when he cranks it up, which basically makes him 30% stronger than me (after accounting for the benefits of drafting). Travis was Wisconsin state champion in the time trial. 

Glenn J. (or Glenn2) has the most massive calves in the universe. Glenn specializes in all kinds of hurts, but I think his strongest suit is cranking up the steeper hills at an insane rate of speed that leaves you racked for breath and (in my case) recovering for miles. 

Matt E. (or fast Matt) is a pro rider waiting to happen. He’s got a motor like Travis, a sprint like Andy, and the middle pain power of the two Glenns. He’s the triple threat and often gets away for miles at end by using his jump to get the gap, his extended sprint to put on distance, and then the motor to just tick away the miles. Matt is my primary trainer as I use him to gauge my fitness, sprint and “sticking power”. Matt is stronger, faster, and more powerful than me. I’m craftier than Matt. On the occasions where I beat Matt to “stop ahead” sign sprints, it is only through a careful combination of wheel sucking and sheer sneakiness. Hey – if it is worth winning, its worth cheating for… 

On this particular Thursday, the sign sprints are few and far between, but as we enter the “home stretch” toward the final sprint of the evening, I sense another evolution within my body – a change that only seems to respond to severe physical conditions...  I’ve read before about body builders, who, despite visible, incremental muscle increases, don’t see increases in strength correlating to the additional muscle. But then, days, or weeks later, suddenly, significantly, the increase in strength occurs. Physiologists hypothesize that the mass gain in muscle does not necessarily correspond to the electrochemical “turning on” of those same fibers, and that the two events are separate, discrete activities. So the lesson is that physical (and I would argue also mental and even spiritual) development is not so much a gradual curve rather than a set of discrete “jumps”. 

As we headed into the last set of small rolling hills and curves prior to the long stretch to the big finale sign sprint, I took off - creating my own little breakaway with Matt and another racer (Mark D.)  chasing. I knew I wouldn’t be able to stay away, but what I did do was absolutely maximize the power through the pedals up each of the small hills, coasting and recovering down the other side. In this way I was able to stay away for a couple miles before being caught. As we wended our way toward the final sign sprint, a series of moves occurred, with fast Matt initiating the ‘shake and bake’ movements that can often prove my undoing.

However, in this case, his effort was matched by Phil, and then Mark leapfrogged Phil with about 400m to go and gained a significant gap quickly. But as always, I followed Matt’s wheel. However, Matt has gotten a little wise and was determined to not lead me out such a distance and we waited and hovered and coasted, watching as Phil pulled away and Mark’s gap widened significantly.  With 250m to go I shifted up and got out of the saddle and rocketed up the right side. As I hit 35mph, I shifted again and I hit 37mph, slingshotting by Phil and heading for Mark’s rear wheel.

Just then a large deer loomed by the side of the road with a full set of antlers even as I swung past Mark to the stop ahead sign. Mark was certainly distracted by the deer and may have been able to counter my move, but what was significant to me was the ability to shift up during a sprint - not sure I’ve ever done that, and hit and extend 37 mph by myself was also pretty significant. As we coasted towards the short hill to the highway home, I considered myself “well trained” for my next race. 

Return to Elk Grove, August 12, 2006: And so the race progressed – I stayed in the top ten riders, generally single file off the front of the pack, spending only a few moments in the tense anxiousness of the wider pack behind us that were raggedly wending the corners and tensely hovering on the narrow straightaways, trying to get out of the soup. With one to go I stayed in excellent position and watched three riders sneak off the front of the pack. As we headed into the last mile of the race, the pace picked up substantially – 34, 35, 36 mph into the last corner, and we closed on the breakaway. Into the last half mile – a narrow, slightly winding stretch to the finish and the pace remained high – 36, 37, 38 mph and I huddled behind my protection of the 2 leadout men. As we entered the last 300 meters, a move up the inside and I jumped on it, and then I made my bid for the win up the inside, chasing down the breakaway men into the last 150m. I followed the inside line accelerating hard to 40mph and found myself suddenly blocked by the rearward trajectory of 1 of the 3 breakaway men who tried to put himself out of harms way and swung to the inside.

AGAIN I had to brake and then try to re-accelerate. There was a substantial muddle near the finish and I had no-where to go and I crossed the line 9th, frustrated with the finish – but excited about the pending Pro/Am race coming the next day – a chance again for a “W” or win. Hoping it wasn’t going to rain…  

Backflash – July, 1980.  It was 2am when my father woke me up. Numbly grasping my pillow, I tumbled down the stairs of the house and headed into the damp black air of our dimly lit driveway to sprawl into the back seat of our Chevy Chevette and immediately fall asleep again. My father pulled gently out of our subdivision and headed out of our Detroit suburb to head west across the state of Michigan on highway 94 toward our final destination of Milwaukee, Wisconsin for to my first “Superweek” series of bike races across Wisconsin.

It was July of 1980, I was 11 years old, and I had just won my second straight Michigan state cycling championship and was prepping for my first national championships. Midway through our trip I woke and sat bolt upright, sweating with fright, the quiet movements of the air and the unheard decibels of powerfully low apocalyptic rumbling signifying the portents of the moment, my body shaking, my stomach turning inside out. I ached with fear even as I turned with paranormal foreboding, knowing the inevitable outcome even before my eyes registered upon the looming shape in the rearview mirror… 

Even though we were moving, it was as though in a liquid fog – a slow-moving soup barring our progress even as the huge truck was bearing down on us from behind with an approach velocity of 50 mph over our own. I heard my screams even before I felt my lungs fill and they pierced the quiet gathering of forces like lightening through the black of night even as the headlights filled the moist rear window with the brilliance of the a million tiny lights signifying the imminent collision. The feeling was like that of being split in half as the world exploded around me and… I saw the headlights gathering, and the truck fast approaching, and the car and the truck revolved and we were in front of it, on top of it, underneath it and a world of sparks erupted even as the gas tank exploded and…. I watched the maniacal driver bearing down on us and could see the gleam from his menacing glare even as the rain drops in the rear view mirror glinted with the reflections of the huge semi about to strike us mercilessly from behind and I uttered a guttural stream of screams and a roar that broke the silence with fear and evil and longing…. And… 

I woke up, sweating, on the side of the road, my father’s arms awkwardly cradling my sweaty head and clammy cold and damp limbs in the backseat of the Chevette, as a husky rattle of the final scream trailed off and I found myself gasping to replace the air my lungs had expelled. I looked around and the glint of the grey morning light exposed the contours of the landscape hidden in the former blackness and despair of the fever-induced “night terrors” or hallucinations the onset of the flu had brought. My body and our car were all intact and the only remnant of reality matching that of my recurring dreams was the headlights flashing past our emergency parking spot on the apron of highway 94. I was trembling and sweating and then suddenly freezing and I shuddered violently in the backseat as I tried to tell my father what I had seen.

Even as I described the oddly mundane artificiality of a simple car crash the graying shroud of fear lingering over my thoughts and eyes lifted and I found myself fully awake, alive, and very sick in the backseat of a tiny yellow car somewhere in southwestern Michigan. He tried to talk me into turning around to head home, but I was having none of it. “I’m feeling better” I declared, and by drinking lots of water I was able to reduce some of the symptoms, and though I alternately froze and sweated all the way to Milwaukee, we made it there prior to the race, arriving at 7am local time – to find the lakefront shrouded in mist, unseasonably cold temperatures, and a steady downpour of rain. My race was a 8:30am and I remember putting on my shorts and jersey, still clammy with sweat, and pulling on the flimsy rainjacket we had brought along to attempt to go “warmup”. 

I immediately began trembling horrifically and my father could see my handlebars jerking as I tried to get my foot in the toeclips as I headed away from the car. Only minutes later and I was back shivering violently and nearly falling as I dismounted my little blue Romic bike which I left leaning against the car as I climbed back in and demanded that he rev the engine and crank the heat. We sat and watched as the other racers filed out of their vehicles and lined up to race the first stage of Superweek, in the rain and cold, without me, - without me! -  even as my father sweated in front and I shivered in the backseat. 

Still the grip of the competition pulled at me and I started arguing halfheartedly about going out to race, but my father was having none of it and I guiltily agreed with a sigh of relief to stay in the warm car, still feeling as though I should have argued better or pushed harder.  

I can still remember very clearly my feelings pulling out of that lot at the lakefront in Milwaukee that day, watching my rivals speeding away into the rain, disappearing, their fading colors yet remaining fixed in my head and leaving a streak across my psyche.  Quitter.