Wednesday, August 22, 2007

DOWNers grove

What a weekend! After both teammate Randy Reichardt and I flatted out of stage 2 of the Tour of Kansas City last weekend, we pulled out decent 17th and 9th place finishes in 100+ degree heat and healed our egos in preparation for The Big Show: Downers Grove. I had earned 6th overall at the T.o.K.C. without even finishing the one of the three races, and I know that hot races are one of my weaknesses, so I felt my form was good for the Elite Men's National Criterium Championship, preceded by the very agressive Pro-Am the night before.

My Dad and I drove over to Chi-town the morning of the Pro-Am and left plenty of time to move into our nice digs for the weekend. When we arrived, those nice digs were only half covered in wallpaper because the rest had fallen off, and the room smelled like wet dog (we later found out that pets are allowed). I was glad it was so bad, because if it had been slightly better, we really would have been disappointed. As it was, we just cracked up with laughter. And tears.

The Pro-Am on Saturday night is always a fast and frenetic race--most of the top sprinters are resting up for the next afternoon, and their powerhouse teams are sitting back and staying out of trouble. This means that other teams have a chance to shoot off the front and constantly attack in the hopes of making the race. I couldn't tell if this was the case, because I started in DEAD LAST. Monsoon-force rains had been falling for the hour leading up to the race, and I was still pinning my numbers on with less than 20 minutes to go before race start. I tried to get a few minutes of spinning in my legs so I didn't redline and pop immediately, but those minutes cost me in starting position. I had crossed my fingers for a call-up to the line for the U23 time trial win, but no dice--not former winner Brad Huff was being called to the line.

The gun went off, and I waited. I waited. And then I waited some more. Finally, the ripple of 200 riders clipping in reached me, and I clipped in as well. The next rippled through the maxed-out field was one of laughter as an amateur went down in the FIRST TURN OF THE FIRST LAP! He had gone down in the first turn of the third lap in the Tour of Kansas City!! Laughing was quickly replaced by gasping for air as I sat at threshold for the next hour, slowly moving up a few riders at a time.

I kept thinking that I was in terrible position, since I am used to riding in the top-20 for the entire race, but I soon realized that most of the field was behind me. How did I realize that? I crashed and they all passed me, that's how! With 11 of 31 laps left in the race, I had moved to around 40th place, and a crash in the front of the field in the penultimate turn caused yet another ripple of braking. I hit the rear brakes ever-so-slightly, and my rear wheel locked and slid out. My left cheek was the recipient of the consequences (not the cheek on my face, that would come later!). No worries, I got up and took my free lap along with 75% of the field.

Chaos ensued after that, as the few riders who were not victims of the crashes came around at over 30 miles per hour and rejoined us. We didn't really know who the leaders were, since most had gone down in the crash. However, everyone started riding fast again and the race was almost over. I was still in the top 30 or 40 with just a few laps remaining, and I was continuing to move up as my lungs and legs were being incinerated and extinguished by gallons of water in each turn. Then a few guys slid out right in front of me after Turn 2 with 3 laps left--that was when I ended my race. I knew a top-20 placing was probably not in the cards, and I also knew a serious crash had good odds, so I soft-pedaled to the center of the course to watch the final two laps play out.

The race was great, and reminded me of a European event: everyone was aggressive but knew how to ride, and the field was single-file the entire time. That is my kind of racing! Now if only I had started at the front instead of the back!

The Elite race the next day would not be as enjoyable . . .

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