Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Lake Bluff + Glencoe Grand Prix Cat 2/3

70 miles in and I’m toast.  We have 35 to go.  Can I turn more than 100W?  My stomach is shutting down.  I’m hot and tired.  B.J. eases up on a miniscule climb and rides alongside me: “Just think, a week from now you’ll be pulling that jersey over your head.”  “Yeah right!” is all I can think.  Doubt consumes me.  I’ve been working my butt off in Cali and riding 3 times a week.  The bay area has been 65F, not the heat I need to ride in for summer racing.  I haven’t done any motor pacing.  My training plan is in shambles.  I’m doing a 100mile ride in the heat?  And I suck.  Oh yeah, and I was dropped on a climb by a cat 4.  Sure Beej, I’m going to win the jersey.  Sure.

My confidence was at an all time low for the season.  I was pretty close to calling the guys and saying “I don’t have it, let’s just go to Rolla for the local omnium weekend.”  But BJ laughed at me: “Yeah, your 5 hour 95F racing isn’t that good – your point being?”  He was right.  I only had to ride hard for 60-90 minutes.  I’m a crit racer.


The family had too much travel fatigue so we called off the aquarium trip and I came up to Glencoe alone with the guys.  It was a fun time of camaraderie and getting gassed out.  Originally I was going to skip the Lake BluffCrit but thought I should take myself a little less seriously (besides, we didn’t have room to bring the space legs and altitude tent...) and line up.  Any plans didn’t include me, I was just there for openers.

The race was a bit sketch as the tight turns really tested the driving abilities of the field.  It was great for me as I was really cornering terribly.  I needed the practice having not raced since the Urbana Grand Prix (which you would think was enough cornering practice for the season!) A guy from MN got off the front solo and won handily.  A strong move.  Part of me thought about bridging to him but I exercised enough discipline to keep me eyes on Saturday.

Jason finished 6th, I finished 10th, and Eric finished 13th.  We won enough cash to fill the gas tank of the Suburban - woohoo!  (We would fill it 4-5 times by the end of the weekend!!)  Eric and Jason turned around immediately and raced the Masters 35+ with Eric pulling down 4th.  A very strong result.  Guess he shook out the car legs!  Unfortunately Jason slid out in a turn and busted his new SL4.  Not to mention the epidermal donation to the city of Lake Bluff.  It was especially tragic since he had been really flying recently (and probably had the best fitness on the team) and was therefore to be shepherding me at Glencoe the next day.  


After a decent night’s sleep we had a team breakfast and headed to the race.  A good hour or so of spinning and everyone’s mood was pretty good.  Mesa Cycles (our sponsor shop) sent Nick (team captain) up with a spare bike for Jason.  Jason was pretty banged up but decided to race anyway. Nails Booty.  Nails.

Plans for races revolve around a handful of factors: the course and the field are major considerations.  In the field there are men of concern, worry, and fear.  Most everyone is of concern – if you’ve made it to the race and you’re in my category, I’ve got to hold you in enough regard to respect your attack or sprint.  But knowing who is coming off a crash or mega work travel or is really flying, well that’s invaluable information and I won’t divulge my recon on the field!  Nonetheless, we all know the danger men in the pack.  Men to fear. As I told my Missouri based teammates, we need to watch Ramirez, Fay, and Morici for a breakaway.  Meanwhile, I have to be positioned better than Friedman, Reyes, and (after Urbana) Speciale in a sprint.  If you notice, the entire Enzo’s team is mentioned.  Nuff said.  The game plan was to get Eric (who has really been on top form) to follow Ramirez’s wheel.  He was to be marked.  Meanwhile Jason (but after the crash, BJ) was to keep me out of the wind.  The rest of the guys were to stay at the front and mark anything that got a gap and boat anchor that thing back to the field.  The exception was Ramirez.  If he and Eric got a gap they were to roll.  I would follow a bridge attempt by a strong rider out of the field (Reyes? Stathy? Strittmatter? Naveen?) so we could have numbers in the break.  Otherwise we would set up for a field sprint.

Plans.  Ha!  It seems the Enzo’s boys had plans of their own.  Ramirez was relentless in attacking the field.  Four laps in the pace had been very hot and I thought a selection of 15-20 would be made at the front.  I quickly recalculated my breakaway plans.  I was definitely in survival mode!  Staying to the front I found myself behind a junior sliding out in turn two. Acting on instinct I straighted out and hopped the curb, channeling JPOW.  A few more bunnyhops, a sprint, and I was back on the pain train.  Heart rate had gone from 180 to 190.  Yay crits!

The rest of the race was a fight for position and with myself.  Thinking my luck was probably up, the next crash in a turn I probably wasn’t going to bunnyhop my way to safety.  I left gaps in front of myself in the downhill right hander and often found myself closing little gaps out of turns - a small concession to safety after the narrow miss early in the race.  

Sucking wheel.
Photo credit: Elizabeth Rangel

For the eleventieth time Ramirez was brought back.  The closing laps I was moving up but was farther back than I should have been.  After turn one on the last lap Speciale (Enzo’s) went all in on a solo bid for glory.  I thought “that’s the race” from my vantage point of 25th wheel (bad sprinter – bad!).  My teammate BJ had burned his last match moving me up the left side but he connected me with Nick.  Now Nick had been going to the front and doing work throughout the race and this is something worth noting.  The guy rides out of his skin at Glencoe.  It’s amazing. Anyway, Nick is ready to launch me up the left side into turn two.  A quick GO GO GO and we fly up the left side.  He takes 2nd wheel and I slot in towards the back end of the top ten.  Speciale is digging off the front and it’s full gas in the chase.  I rail the turns making up spots on the downhill (not something I’d done all day).  The switch in my head had been flipped.  I call on Nick to give everything – and he empties himself.  A lead trio is a few riders up from me.  Guys are blowing up in the single file line and I have to close a gap on the penultimate straight.  I take the turn even with Speciale but the leaders have a gap on me.  Light the afterburners, I’m a bike behind them at the line.  I need another 100 meters to come around at that speed.  Fourth place.

I was pretty disappointed at the finish.  My team had given everything and despite the odds I made it to the finale.  And yet I came up shy.  Surely I had another silver medal to add to my collection.  But then I start looking at the kits.  “Are yall from Illinois?”  “No.” “No.” No answer.  I wasn’t going to get my hopes up before I saw the results sheet but sure enough – two WI and one MN (the same dude that owned it Friday night).  I was the state criterium champ! 

I am not a little amused with how things played out – particularly the dance between characters Pride and Humility.  Indeed I won and have reason to be proud.  But I didn’t win the race outright and in fact was bested on the day by a junior (not the first time, won’t be the last time, either) – reasons to be humble.  I finally beat David Reyes in a sprint – reason to be proud.  But my teammates' hard work pulled back his early break attempt and put me in position on the last lap – cause for humility.  Frankly, the entire proceeding was tipped my way: the cat 2/3 format allowed me to utilize my strong and numerous cat 3 teammates, the temperate weather suited me (no 100F day), the absence of crashes ahead of me (save one) allowed me to stay in the top third of the race all day and near the leaders.  And on and on.  I am very fortunate and humbled by how it played out.

Each one of my teammates contributed to the win.  I may only mention one or two here in this narrative, but they all played a part and stuck their necks out there for me.  Most of the time I was too hypoxic to notice their efforts at the time but I saw Orange and White doing work.  To them I am very grateful.  Thanks are also due to my boss, partner at Quantum Solutions, who sponsors the team.  From lending me his bike and trainer on a business trip so I can keep training to extra hotel rooms at the race he has done so much for me. Thanks are also due to Mesa Cycles who keep my bike rolling despite all the parts I break and foolishness I get into on the bike!  Thanks to the Glencoe Grand Prix and their sponsors and the city for putting on a fantastic event.  This was my third year making the trip and it remains a highlight of the season.

It feels funny to write thank you to these people (who defintely deserve it, and more) but not thank God, publicly.  So I publicly thank God that I have the ability to race my bike at all, much less win stuff.  Thankful that I have a supportive family and that we have enough provision so that I can take time to train and race (as opposed to constantly working to make ends meet and fighting off starvation for example).  I've been healthy for long enough to train hard and race, this truly is a gift as well.  This blog has taken a turn away from being purely theological into being exclusively cycling race reports.  Not that there's anything wrong with that per se. 

Thanks for reading.  If I see you at the races, I'll be the one at the crit with the weight on my shoulders - this jersey is heavy!!

2012 Glencoe Grand Prix Cat 2 IL Podium
David Reyes 2nd (not pictured), me, and Kaleb Koch (3rd)
Photo credit: Brian Smith


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