On Saturday the family celebrated my maternal grandfather’s 80th birthday. Good times. We stayed the night in the Chicago suburbs which afforded me more time with my siblings and parents, as well as an opportunity to race in Winfield on Sunday.
The Stone Pony was in attendance for the master’s race and gave me the scoop on the course. In a rare move he told me this circuit was tailor-made, and that the way I’ve been riding in the local slugfests, I should do well. I certainly appreciate the encouragement from a racer of Dave’s stature. The man is half horse. (He handily won his master’s race.) I did tell him about my training and “poor” prep for the race, but he brushed it off – “you’ve got 2 good days in your legs.”
The weather was fair, temps were warm but it’s August and we’re all used to the heat by now. The course was a 4 corner crit, with wide corners. The back side had a block-long two-tiered kicker, followed by a rough “descent” into a smooth wide left hander, with 500 meters or so to the finish. I liked the course. Breaks were a possibility, but if it came to a bunch kick, there was plenty of room to sort things out on perfect tarmac.
The field was small with 18-20 of us lining up in the cat 3’s. Burnham and Psimet had 2 riders, while Tower had 3 or 4 and ABD fielded 4 or 5 I think. The rest were solo guys like me. There was definite quality in the field as Tim (Psimet), Nate (Burnham), and Kyle (Tower) were racing. I got to catch up with Keith (unattached) during the warm-up, which was nice.
The legs were a little stiff during my warm-up as I had ridden hard Saturday morning (both pushing a big gear and doing my first “micro-burst” workout). I hadn’t originally planned on this race, but when the opportunity came, of course I jumped at it. The legs started coming around but I still felt “slow.” The race kicked off and Ben (Powerbar) went off the front on an early glory-flyer that wasn’t getting away. He stayed off for a lap or three, but everyone silently agreed: if we let him dangle, he’ll be done for the day. We caught him and he tried again, but soon after he was recovering in the pack for the duration.
I stayed in the top 5 wheels most of the time and waited for other guys to close gaps, conserving energy. I noticed I wasn’t breathing hard and most of the time I was breathing through my nose. A good sign. In the second half of the race more moves went but unrepresented riders and teams pulled them back. Nothing too dangerous got more than 50 meters.
With 7 laps to go (or thereabout) Kyle (Tower), Tim (Psimet), an ABD, and one or two others (maybe Chris (xXx)?) got off the front with a little gap. They started rotating through and I thought the move might have the impetus to stay away, so I jumped at the start-finish and bridged up without any hangers-on. Sadly, by the time we came over the kicker the field had caught us. Coming back down the finishing straight, I recall mentioning to Nate: “so glad I just bridged to that!” In retrospect, I wasn’t hurting too bad as I was chatting up my competition. Nate’s been injured and after the stunning form he had earlier this summer, I think he’s ready to hang up the bike for 2010. Not that it’s been a bad year – winning the cat 3 state crit champs and all. He didn’t look too hot at the time though and just gave me a nod.
Soon after I saw we were looking at 5 to go. Being in the top 5 or 6 wheels, I was happy with my position, and tried to keep attentive to moves coming up the sides. The pace started to hot up a bit and ending the fourth lap, I fumbled a bottle while coming into turn 2. I got it in and made the turn but opened a gap to the rider in front. I hammered for a second to close the gap and noticed the front end bounce with each pedal stroke, the type of motion you would expect on a mountain bike with no front shock lockout. Hmmm. It didn’t register at the time; I was only interested in closing the gap. Into the kicker I stood and maintained my position as the field was lined out. Coming around the left hand bend at the top of the hill it felt as though my front rim was locked against my brake pad – “what is going on?” - I thought. I look down to see the front tire deflated. I was incensed. There was sailor talk – and I don’t mean “talk like a pirate day” type sailor talk. Raising my hand I pull out of line and begin to slow. I took the corner to the inside (sorry guys!) and slowly pedaled to the pit. It had just closed. The official asked me for my number while I said I had a front flat. He asked me again. I showed him my back and walked off the course. My race was over.
The next time through, Tim and Kyle had a 200m+ gap on the field, entering the (next to?) final lap. I cheered for them despite the sting of fresh legs. Coming into the finish it looked as though Tim attacked on the climb or opened the sprint up really early trying to shell Kyle, but Kyle jumped him with 175 meters to go and Tim sat up exhausted. It was an earned victory for sure as Kyle had attempted a few moves earlier in the race.
Sitting in the land of would-have-beens I have no doubt that without the flat, I had a podium spot. Nobody likes the jerk who opines that he would have won had the mechanical/spectator/teammate/meteorological event not taken place – but I find I AM THAT GUY right now. I strongly think I would have won. How annoying. But I didn’t. Kyle did. I clapped for him, and later shook his hand in congratulations while honestly meaning it. I’m not sure if my 3-year old will remember this or not, but I have to think she got a lesson in how to lose. I hope that at some point I could, you know, change it up a little and show her how to win, too.
On the drive home I was reliving the race in my head, imagining sprinting with Kyle and Tim head-to-head (to head) in the finale that wasn’t. My wife would notice that I gripped the wheel intensely for a moment, and know that I was thinking through the critical moments of the race. My mind also wandered back to the Tour of Hermann. Not for comfort (I won an omnium – yeah!) but to remember Dave Stone in the criterium. The man had the field by the balls. It was his race. He jumped for an omnium points prime from the breakaway and made it look effortless. Nobody could respond. But on the last lap we watched him limp in last in the breakaway with a flat tire, ceding the omnium overall in the process. That’s bike racing.
P.S. I have a set of Ritchey WCS Protocols for sale for $75. The front wheel has gone flat on me in 2 races this year and I hereby consider it accursed. It is leaving the stable never to return. I’m sure it will carry you to dozens of solo victories though, so contact me, this wheelset is for you and priced to move!
P.P.S. Avg HR during the race: 158. That hurts, and not from being too high.