Monday, September 29, 2008

Back to the Drawing Board

It rained in DC for 4 days straight-- Thursday through Sunday and, as if it was not already bad on Sunday we raced bikes around lily pads. This was my first ever cyclocross race. I had taken the bike out the day before for the first time and practiced the art of jumping on and off a bike while it's moving. I see little kids do it all the time in the park but for as a grown-up it's a touch more complicated than it appears.

Cyclocross is mountain biking on a road bike or better put a test in bike handling skills. I think a lot of people can say that they are good bike riders but until you get out there in six inches of mud on a 10% slope and pedal up it you are an amateur (still haven't accomplished that myself). Pictures were taken of me at this race but because I was such a pathetic version of my normal self I am posting pictures of Taylor Jones, a true esquire of cyclocross:

(credit to Jim Wilson for this shot). Taylor raced about 3 hours after I did and during that time frame the course dried out and the sun rose. My race featured a 200 meter long ankle-deep mud pit, two short steep run ups and some of the slowest single-track I have ever witnessed (not a far stretch of the imagination since this was the first that I have witnessed).

As this was my first cross race, I definitely did not get a call up and with a field of 63 guys I started dead last. I tried a couple classic crit manuevers to move up in the first corner and succeeded in passing ten guys only to find myself in a full on stop as the single-track section began. Every single obstacle that I encountered in this first lap was a first for me, i.e., mud, grass, barriers, dismounting, near death experiences. So the fact that I made it through the first lap was nothing short of amazing.

Troubles for me started on lap three when I somehow landed flat on my back going through a little mud section. Normally this wouldn't have bothered me but the trajectory of my fall threw me right off the course and three feet into a patch of thorn bushes. Admittedly I have crashed into some unique places before like hay bales, light posts, car windshields, car doors, ditches on the side of the road; but I have never crashed into a thorn bush. It took me a couple moments to extricate myself from that experience and needless to say I got passed by a couple guys.

Later on during lap four of five I was mocked by the guys in the beer garden because my soaking wet hands missed the beer hand-up. In my defense I was running up a wet grass hill carrying my bike over my shoulder with so much mud in my eyes that I could only see the back of my eye lids. To the contrary, Taylor was able to take two beer hand-ups during his race. Clearly, I have quite a bit to learn.

On lap five I had my second crash of the race when the course suddenly turned on me and I found myself back on my butt. Two guys saw this happen from the roadway above me and chuckled. They assured me that no one had seen it but to our dismay this was wrong as a 12-year old girl warming up for the women's race happened upon me right as I was getting up again. Again, I was passed by a few folks at this juncture. There is symmetry here, in that in my first crit I crashed twice--once into a mailbox and the second time into the aforementioned hay bale.

Despite all of my efforts to finish last, I ended up beating a couple people finishing 49th and not getting lapped by the leaders. A rather interesting start to my cross racing career. My bike was covered in mud and grass. I had leaves and sticks hanging out of kit. And now a desire to try it all over again on Saturday. First I have to let my body heal a bit. My encounter with the thorn bushes left me looking like I had picked a fight with a particularly frisky feline (and lost). Not the sexiest image ever but it's not for me to make up the facts.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Off Season

I woke up on the floor of Princess Lillian's house two days ago. This was the end result of a comedy of errors which began with my hatred of carrying keys and ended with me locked out of my house and office. I went to sleep in Washington, D.C., but some how woke up a couple hours later in Belgium.

The weather turned from 80s and 90s to thirty degrees colder with no sun and lots of rain. All we are lacking is the women with wooden shoes and the tulips. It's that time of year when the arm warmers, gloves and shoe covers come back out from storage and long slow rides predominate. It's a great time of year to sit back, have a drink and just enjoy the results of a good road season.

Of course drinking leads to excess and sitting around leads to watching way too much college football. Actually the two go hand-in-hand. For a lot of folks when they get drunk they'll do something crazy like get a tattoo, meet a girl and fly off to Vegas to get married. However, when I get drunk I buy a cross bike, decide to race cross and make plans to go to Kansas.

My first cross race is Sunday and I am actually nervous about it. I've watched Taylor dismount and re-mount his bike a ton of times and have practiced myself doing the same but nothing prepares you for the first time you have to do it in a race. It's been raining now for a couple days and I'm sure the ground out at the course is going to be good and muddy. My nice white kit is bound to turn a shade of brown.

From my spectator's position this is what I've learned about cross. You start off sprinting like crazy to get into the front. Then you make some crazy turns on grass/mud. This is followed by dismounting and remounting your bike as you leap over barriers and other obstacles. Occasionally someone throws sand or snow or some other terrain in your way. You sprint some more and then you finish. Sounds easy enough. Maybe I won't end up in the hospital.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

ING Crit: Racing in the Shadows of the Capitol

Part of the squad that went to battle this day:

Thinking of all the history and architecture, it's awe inspiring to ride your bike down Pennsylvania Ave. I do it on a weekly basis and I never get tired of riding past the FBI building, the Archives and right up to the Capitol Building . The idea of racing on this same street was beyond a dream. That is until it happened on Sunday morning. The first ever ING Crit is now my favorite race of the year.

It was a technical course, a short steep hill and a 180 degree turnaround over .6 of a mile was what we were up against. The Harley team had been called up to the invite only pro-race which was the headline of the day, so the 1/2/3 race was more wide open than a lot of our other races. The thought was also that it might decrease the horse power in the race too. However, the thought of racing on Pennsylvania Ave, brought out the best of the Mid-Atlantic this morning.

A short steep hill in a crit is typically enough to separate the wheat from the chaff and today it did; however, add in the 180 degree turnaround it turns the course into textbook example of cycling darwinism. Each lap you were required to go from 30 to 5 to 30 mph in the course of 400 meters.

My old car found such an acceleration challenging. After an hour of doing so my legs found this process to be down right soul-breaking. After 20 laps I found the sweet spot in the field and rode out the hardest parts of the course until I could move up in the technical 4 corners in 4 blocks section (this came right after the uphill and right before the 180).

I tried to move up every lap. My thought was that if I could get to the front then it would make the accordion effect less. So I kept passing two or three guys at a time. I'd look back a little later to find those guys blown off the back of the field and myself again hanging desperately onto the end. I made a lot of bargains with myself that day to stay in the race looking for an opportunity to get up the road. You know those bargains where you say to your legs "just give me five more laps and then I'll pull out." All along I kept looking for an opportunity to exploit, a momentary slowdown, but none were forthcoming. I was very content with my field finish and am looking forward to next year's version of this race.

One of the real highlights of the race was the cowbell which I received from the promoters. A toy which came in handy when I voyaged with the legend of cross racing Taylor Jones over to the Charm City Cross Race that afternoon (it's a loud cowbell and would put those used at MS State to shame). It was my first experience at a cross race and I have to say I am impressed. I cannot wait to get my try at one of these. However as of today I am launching the Taylor Jones Supporters Groupe. We are an organization dedicated to cheering on Mr. Jones in all of his upcoming cross races so if you are interested in joining this organization (first give me a couple days) and then check out facebook for more information.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Urban Wonder

Living in the great mindset that is Washington, D.C., you come to expect certain things that you would otherwise not expect anywhere else. First, that the staff at the Washingtonian magazine has an unnatural obsession with Ben's Chili Bowl on U St. I admit that they make darn good food but why must this restaurant make an appearance in every single issue of your magazine(this month it's even the answer to a crossword clue)? I mean is it really the only restaurant on U St. that makes good affordable food? A simple Google search shows more than 20 restaurants on U St itself between 18th and 12th streets.

The second thing that you become accustomed to is the ever present political wind. It seems every politician in America, be it the senior senator from your State to the county committee chairperson comes to DC to announce a new agenda. That's great and wonderful, because I do like to stay informed on the news and politics. However, it leaves you in the middle the geographic equiavalent of a conversation with that other person who is simply waiting for you to shut up before it's their turn to talk. I guess it's the natural result of being so close to power yet having none of it yourself. It's like being talked at all the time and never being talked to.

However, one thing that struck me as odd today, and which I have not come to fully understand is the manhole epidemic DC faces. I had noticed previously a large number of manholes in DC streets (especially in Georgetown) but today on my ride I came across the following image:

This is the corner of Columbia and 14th St. It's a regular location for me to cross because I live a few blocks away and it is near to my local Target, Best Buy and a dozen other stores that I love to get lost in (thankfully there is no office supply store there otherwise I might not make it home). This image is just a portion of the intersection but you can clearly see no fewer than 12 manholes. I promise you that when you add in the remainder not seen it is more than 20. My question thus is why on earth did this intersection require that many manhole covers?

Can't we consolidate a little here? Or is this a classic example of pork barrel spending. If it's the latter I can support that as I am a huge fan of pork and the American steel industry. I am glad that my neighborhood has put the children of Bethlehem, PA through college through this kind of behavior. Sadly, this is probably the end result of a bad acid trip for some civil engineer. He woke up one day and realized the mistake of his recommendations unfortunately too late to stop the city planners from going through with this intersection.

I guess as long as they stay in place I cannot complain. On a side note it has become clear that Russia's worst beer has officially made it to America. The below poster is from the market half a block from my house. Baltika 7, advertised below, was the terrible beer that I drank on occassion while living in Russia. Even the Russians I lived with admitted that it was terrible and drank it during hotter days as a substitute to water or kavas (fermented bread served in a two gallon bottle like pop).

It's clear by the add campaign they are using that the bottlers of Baltika are seeking out the more sophisticated beer drinkers of the world.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Giro di Coppi: MABRA Championshps

I haven't done this race in four years and I had forgotten how hard this course is. It shadows Sugarloaf Mountain and you would think that since it doesn't go up the mountain that it would be an easy flat course. This is quite to the contrary. This course is hard and can wear away a field.

We started with something close to 50 guys and finished with fewer than 30 and the lead group was down to 12 or 13. People out west talk about how only they have "real" climbs in their races but I argue that the east coast races are equally challenging. Admittedly in the Mid-Atlantic we are lacking the Rocky Mountains which eliminates the 2 hour long 6000 foot climb. However, the rolling courses like ours provide a lot of challenges because you can never get into a rhythm and spend your time adjusting to the newest climb, decent, turn, twist etc..., that just popped up in front of you.

This course had two challenging hills and a series of flat twisting descents. One of the hills was on the back side of this 12-mile course which wound its way through a forest. It wasn't that long of a climb but at the outset I knew that it would be the climb that would separate the field out and I knew that I had to be in the front. With two laps to go I looked back after we crested the hill and our field was destroyed. What had been 50 guys was down to 30. One of my teammates snuck away right there and solo'ed away for what would be a win 15 miles later. Another strong time trialist got off the front at some point during the final lap and stayed off too.

We crested the hill for the last time a lap later and then it got serious. With about 2 miles to go I joined a small group of two guys off the front. Another guy joined us and this group comprised a lot of the horsepower left in the race as it included the BAR leader and last year's MABRA road race champion. Unfortunately we couldn't get organized and the break got caught by what was an unorganized chase.

The finishing stretch was a 1-km long rise up to a hill top. The last 200 meters peaked out at over 18%. I was holding myself back about 4 guys deep at the 1-km mark. I knew that at 18% there was no way that I could hold a 200 meter sprint so I decided to wait for the 150 meter mark. That was a small mistake on my part and I should have waited for 100 or 75 meters. At 150 meters to go I jumped and put in a full 10 second sprint and looked up to find myself still 100 meters from the finish. I sat down in the saddle and started spinning. My sprint had given me a strong lead on the rest of the field but I lit every match doing so.

I dug deep and I kept going. I got passed by one guy, then two, then three. I just kept going and the finish seemed to not get any closer. Mercifully I crossed the finish line for my first top ten of the year. In fact looking back this might be my first top ten since catting up. I'm really happy about this result because it was on such a hard course and required every tool in the toolbox to be used.

Friday, September 12, 2008

As If The Work Day Was Not Tough Enough

Since leaving the green hills of Mississippi behind for the urban jungle of D.C., I have become deeply involved in a niche law practice. I have had the great fortune of landing my dream job and am so wonderfully happy that I cannot imagine doing anything else. For the most part I practice admiralty, which sounds like an arcane phrase best reserved for life at court in England in which the Queen or P.M. would call for the The First Lord of the Admiralty. However it is a real life area of law.

In a nutshell, admiralty is the law surrounding events like this:

Or sometimes like this:

Or when your clients get particularly frisky you end up with moments like this:

None of these are particularly good situations and sometimes are rather tragic. However, they almost always lead to me getting involved and when that happens I am a pretty excited guy.

As in law and athletics sometimes you are forced to raise your performance to the level of your competition. My Grandfather, as most do, gave me many great pearls of wisdom. The most poignant of them was "never engage in a battle of wits with an unarmed foe."

With this logic, I cannot argue.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Progress: It's not Just a Campaign Promise

The weird thing about progress in athletics is that if you work hard it actually finds you. The even weirder thing is that a good coach has a way of sneaking up and showing you how much you've progressed.

Adam was being his typical sneaky self this week and threw a pair of tough workouts at me early in the week. It came as a rather unpleasant surprise to me because I had grown used to the idea that the road season was coming to an end and that it was time to transition back to 5-hour endurance rides. You know the rides where you remind your friends that you only have to go fast to outrun the dog that chases you. Even in that situation you only have to beat one person in your group (sorry Joe, you were young and full of promise, but we had to leave you behind).

On Monday I go to check the calendar and there suddenly appears a set of intervals, darn it, a set of I-have-to-go-hard intervals. [For Kelly Longergan's sake, an interval is that point in time in a cycling workout where you have to ride hard for a while.] Normally these intervals were short in duration and few in number. This time, they weren't, they were triple the number and double the time that I had recalled. Despite that fact I still housed them and it didn't kill me.

Today it got worse. Today was the day when you have to suck it up and know that by doing this workout you are making yourself a stronger rider. I realized about half way through the workout that I had done it before. In fact I had done this exact workout about 2 months prior. At that time I failed miserably. I didn't complete one of the three sets. Today was a different story. I'm not going to say that it was easy or that there was never a time that I couldn't hold my pace, but I did the workout. I had improved by more than 150% and this was on legs that were worn from the day previous. This was evidence of that elusive goal of progress.

Today may be a sad day, however, because I fear my beaver might have departed this world. Of course by beaver I am referring to:

yes, the small woodland creature that populates rivers like the Potomac. Training routes are slowly created over time as you learn new roads and new areas. There are different routes of course: 1) long let's get lost on the back roads routes; 2) shorter let's get focused and ride a workout routes; 3) specialized routes for specific workouts; and 4) I hate the idea of riding today let's find a route that goes from my house to a coffee shop and back.

Today I was on my training route for doing a workout which required no stop lights and was close to the office so that I could get back easily once my legs cracked. It uses a road that follows the Potomac as it snakes it's way from suburbia into DC. It's a great road that most cars don't know about and as a result I love. Along this road a beaver normally sits and watches me ride by (I typically do loops on this road). I've seen this beaver maybe 6 times in a row now. I'm starting to think he/she was my first real groupee. However, today the beaver wasn't there and I am of course unnecessarily concerned.

It's strange what things you come to expect along the road. Adam and Ben once believed that there was no such thing as a living armadillo.

We had passed millions of armadillos on our rides but they were always the victims of road kill; likewise, with opossums (playing dead in the middle of the road is not a good defense mechanism by the way). We spend so much time out there and a great deal of it is by ourselves. I just find it funny to think of what we end up spending our time thinking about. This is the randomness that goes through my head. I hope my beaver is just busy building his dam.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Return to DC-- Crossing the Rubicon

[In the saga of Gateway Cup, if you are interested in knowing what happened, at U-City it's quite simple, sometimes you got nothing. Then there are times that you find yourself riding behind another set of idiots who crash uphill on a straight away. This time they broke my cleat and my race was over 20 minutes in. Lesson learned from that, McDonald's Sausage Egg McMuffins do not sit well with me while racing. I thought I learned that lesson earlier this season but it appears that I did not.]

Tropical storm Hannah made her way through DC yesterday. She brought with her a lot of rain, a little wind and a day off the bike. After being gone for two weeks I had a lot of chores around the house to do. It took me two days to get them done. Today, equipped with a new pair of shifters, a new fork, cables and housing on my bike I set out for my first long ride back on the roads of Montgomery County and elsewhere [thanks to Taylor for all of the above bike work.]

I have crossed some metaphysical Rubicon in my life. After some great and very unexpected success at work coupled with my results at Gateway I have a whole bunch of happy energy. I admit that top 20 finishes aren't what I train for but rather are the gateway to better things. Through Adam's help and my bullheadedness I feel that I have found something that I lost about two years ago-- racing form. Two bad years of terrible training and worse racing had worn me down to a dull lackluster unvarnished shine.

I'm hoping that my discovery of form with three races left on the road calendar is a great sign for the end of this season and the beginning of the coming season. I've found a great set of training partners (if Bodge ever forgives me...please?) and have finally figured out this whole training thing.

I found myself today riding back in on the Rock Creek Parkway. A little unusual for me because that's normally my way out of town on a Sunday but what fun would life be without a little change thrown in? The creek was swollen from the rain the day before and I was rolling along with the little rapids. I had gotten a late start today because I was visiting with a childhood friend for coffee this morning. So by the time I made it back to DC it was already after 3PM and the park was filled with little kids, picnics and couples lounging along the side of the road. It was picturesque and reminded me of a Seurat painting and my high school days at the Art Institute.

On longer slow rides by myself I listen to an IPod. It helps to pass the time and helps me forget about the klingon whose sucking my wheel all the way down McArthur Blvd (did you have fun going up the hill on Falls Rd there little buddy?). My IPod appears to have enough music on it right now to last about three hours before it starts repeating itself. If anyone has any suggestions about music to download I'm all ears.

On a side note, the new song by Kelly Pickler, while catchy and empowering to women and girls of all ages, doesn't really help me all that much while riding. This is just another example of how easily persuaded I can be and how ITunes might actually be too easy to work. At $.99 per song (in England that's just about free, right Ben?) it almost feels like their are no consequences. I'll be the first to admit that I enjoy her picture when it pops up on my IPod and the thought of her in red high heels is pleasant but it's just not cutting it when grinding out miles. I can almost hear Princess Lillian (and the Southern Belles she represents) quoting some age old adage right now..."only women of the night and little girls wear red heels." But you'll never hear me complain when a woman wears them.

I digress, a lot, well when I arrived back in the park today, J-Tims had popped up in my ear, and together we are definitely bringing sexy back. I'm sure that I could have been taken for an idiot riding down the street bobbing my headed to the beat, but darn it I was happy. It was warm, sunny and I was doing exactly what I love doing. It's a long trip from here back to the rider I was in Kansas. Six years and a lot of miles between then and now but I've finally found the same love that I had for the sport that I had back then. And this time I'm not letting go.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Gateway Cup: The HIll

If the Gateway Cup has a queen stage, the Giro de la Montagna would be that stage. It's been happening in the same neighborhood for over two decades and everyone there has come to expect and enjoy watching the race. The race has adapted to the neighborhood too. It starts later in the day so that everyone can go to the small Italian-American church and after lunch they can turn to watching some top notch racing.

The Hill is a perfect little Italian neighborhood and reminds me a lot of some of the places on the southside of Chicago where my Mom grew up. The grass out front of the stoops of the little houses is perfectly manicured and lush. I was watching another race and heard a passerby remark to the owner of the house I was sitting in front of how nice her grass was. The woman who owned the house seemed to beam with pride when she heard that, as if someone had just told her that she had won the lottery.

The last time I did this race I was joined by a blonde-haired New England woman of Italian decent. It was her first trip to St. Louis and she fell in love with the neighborhood. At one point in time she turned to me and said that "we" could move there and just be so very happy. That's the kind of neighborhood The Hill is, a warm and inviting place where you forget about cell phones, traffic and political corruption. The race through it however is not that kind.

It's a four corner race with narrower streets than the two previous days. Aptly named there is a long slow hill that rises up on the backside of the course and that you quickly descend on the finishing stretch. Along the backside someone was nice enough to string a sprinkler along a telephone wire which stretched over the road. When you passed under it the cold water which came down gave you a refreshing "take your breadth away" shower.

This race was a battle of survival, not from the fast pace, but from the million crashes that seemed to happen for no good reason. No doubt the guy who won was the guy who didn't crash. The crash that I got involved in was going up the hill. I'm not sure what manner of stupid one has to be to crash while going up a straight-away on a hill, but the two guys right in front of me where that manner of stupid. I saw it slowly develop for about 30 feet. One guy leaned into the other. Then shoulders came together, elbows followed and finally handlebars locked. I looked to my left and to my right for an escape but there were guys on either side of me. When the two in front of me went down I joined them.

The field dodged us but a few others joined in the fun. A spectator asked if I was "ok." I responded by saying yes just "fine," but that I was going to have to get a beer from him after the race was over to be "good." A quick smile on his face and I took off to cut the course and head for the pit. The pit was located at the bottom of the finishing stretch where the field would pass with the most speed. This made it a little hard to get back into the race at the front. About 2/3s of the field passed me before I was able to get up to speed. I spent the next 10 minutes fighting through crashes (I counted a total of 7) and corners to get back to the front.

My plan had been to slingshot into the first spot through corner 3 at the top of the hill and then jump going into corner 4 for the sprint. It's still a good 400 meters from there to the finishing line but it was all downhill from there and it would be hard for a lot of people to come around me. I took the outside line in corner 3 and found myself rubbing elbows with a guy who thought he could go even wider than the road would allow. A 4 inch tall curb separated the pavement from the grass and he found himself dancing along it scratching his carbon wheels up for good measure. A little angered by this and all the other crashes I started my sprint for the front from midpack. A top 20 finish in another 140+ person field made me fell good and helped ease the pain of a cut up elbow.

Still missing the elusive victory story I resigned to try again the next day.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Gateway Cup: Riding for the Brewery

The largest American-owned brewery in St. Louis is for a beer known as Schlafly's. It's a crisp no nonsense beer that pours easy and goes down great with a french dip at any restaurant in U-City. The brewery in which this beautiful amber liquid is brewed served as the site of the second day of racing at the Gateway Cup.

The course was a lot more technical than the first night. It was a little more than a mile figure 8 loop which formed the shape of a bowl. Each end was up a small hill and the middle, where the 8 came together, was down a pair of fast downhills. The top of one side of the course was a minefield of potholes, ruts and manhole covers which would take their toll on my arms and knock my handlebars down a few mm by the end of the day.

The backside of the course was up a long chip & seal road (slag for those in the South) which was literally strewn with remnants of bottles drank at the night-before's party. Having lived in college towns for the better part of a decade I've become used to broken glass just not in the middle of my crit courses. Beer bottle throwing is an art mastered by a great many fraternity pledges and perfected by their seniors. In fact in colleges in the South Eastern Conference I have heard that competitions are occasionally held. A few houses are rumored have applied to the IOC to make this a competition in the 2012 Olympics. However, I digress.

The race started off weird. A crash in the final corner of the previous race sent one of the riders to the hospital. However, it took a long time for them to clear the road so my field sat at the start line for a while. We sat so long that the officials called upon us to take a neutral lap. I cut the course and returned to the start finish line but many people didn't move. Suddenly the calls from the back of the group, i.e., the former front of the group because they had done a full lap, began in earnest complaining of how this was unfair. The officials responded by making everyone do another neutral lap. Both of these laps were probably the fastest of the whole much for neutral.

I ended up in the middle of the pack. I knew that in order to make this a good race I would have to get to the front quickly. It's another one of those moments in a race were I looked inside and said, aw hell this is gonna hurt for a while. The whistle went and I clipped in. I hit the first two corners like a bald eagle aiming for a salmon in a river. I chopped a dozen people in the first corner and took the sidewalk line on the second corner. By the time we reached the third and fourth corners I was riding in about 15th wheel. I was gassed from the effort but happy that I had found the front.

140+ guys started this race and only about 50 would finish. The field would get ragged going around this figure 8. A lot of accelerations and the heat took its toll on the field. A small break of 3 got up the road and was joined by 2 others shortly. I missed out on this one and am kicking myself for that. I tried to bridge to the group of 2 but when I moved going up the chip & seal backside of the course. I ended up pulling the entire field. So I sat up and waited for another move or for the finish.

With 5 to go I got into an elbowing contest with a douchebag from a St. Louis team. Since we were so far from the finish and only riding in about 15th wheel I let him have it. It wasn't like that particular corner was going to be the end all of the race. He gave me a smile, like he had just won a big pink elephant at a carnival. I thought to myself "you douchebag, what are trying to prove?" The last laugh was all mine because he bit it hard on the final corner of the race and opened up a huge opportunity for me in doing so.

There is an old lesson that I learned back in my early Jed-Adam-Ben-Kansas days: there is always room on the inside. I took the inside corner as we lined up for the field sprint in the last two corners. In the final one my new best friend went down and slid to the outside blocking a whole crowd of people. I went inside and accelerated. It was a long drag race down to the finish line. In the end I took 13th in the field sprint. I was satisfied with that finish after a hard day of racing.

Afterwards I joined the HRRC/Trek guys for a couple beers and a few co-eds at the Tap Room. All-in-all a solid day of racing.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Gateway Cup: Racing at Night

Now to begin the process of telling the stories of four days of racing and the tomfoolery that comes along with it. From Lawrence, KS it is a short four hours to St. Louis and the site of the Gateway Cup. The weekend is comprised of four crits in and around St. Louis. Each one offers its own unique challenges and come custom made for someone.

The first race is Lafayette Park which is done at night. The course is a flat 1-mile four corner course. It takes the term not technical and raises it to the next level. It's wide open and the corners are all 90 degrees...oh and did I mention it was flat? It's the kind of course where you can push 30+ mph without actually being clipped into your pedals.

Every time I've done it, the race has ended in a field sprint, but that sure didn't stop me and others in the field from jumping off the front like mad men. About 20 minutes into the race a small break of two was about 5 to 10 seconds up the road. They rang the bell for a prime and it seemed destined that those two would fight it out on the next lap for the prize.

I had been riding at the front of the 140 man field and jumped about half way into the lap. I bridged the gap within 5 seconds and just rode right past the two leaders like they were waiting in line for ice cream. I took the corner-next-to-last fast and then took a quick look over my shoulder to see who I had brought with me. To my surprise no one was on my wheel. I had gotten clean off the front and had 100 meters on the field going into corner four. It was a quick sprint up to the start/finish line and I took me a prime.

Looking back at my cycling life, it turns out that this was the first contested prime that I had ever won. I have no idea how I've made it this far without winning one before but the omen was great. I stayed off the front for another lap before being swallowed by the field. I sat in for 10 to 15 minutes and then found myself in a small break dangling off the front by about 5 bike lengths. I jumped the break and got clear again. However, again the field swallowed me up a lap or so later. At least I heard the announcer say my name this time, which would have made Mom and Dad happy.

Racing at night is an odd experience. The course is lit at each corner with huge flood lights but in the middle of each stretch only street lights show the way. You go from dark to light and back to dark again rapidly. It gives off the impression of moving in a giant strobe light. However in this one you get to hook handlebars and dodge potholes; oh and try to go fast too.

I sat back in the field and waited for the field sprint. With a course like this one it has to be assumed that a field sprint will decide the race. In order to get away someone has to be some kind of strong and determined, it would take almost a herculean effort to do it. With 140 guys chasing you down and frankly nowhere to separate yourself from the field with anything other than pure power, it just makes it too easy to get caught.

With 3 to go I was swamped in. I fought and scraped and dug to try to find any room to move up. Holes would open and close in the field quicker than one could react. Suddenly with 1 lap to go the field paused for a second. I shot to the front and around 30 guys. I realized at that moment I was a player in this race again and not just along for the ride. I prepared myself for the fact that it was about to get stupid fast. I looked inside myself for a second and hell it just hurts for a second anyways.

I took the final corner in good position but had chosen the outside line. Almost every single lap up until that time, the outside line was the better one. This was not that time. With only about 10 guys in front of me in my line I took to the sprint. One by one they started popping under the pressure of 300 meters of massive wattage. I just couldn't get around enough of them and the sprint went to the guys who took the inside line.

My prime covered my entry costs and was a great sign of things to come. Plus racing ended that night just as the little bars that flanked the park closed which made for endless entertainment as we cleaned up and headed for the hotel.