"It never gets any easier. You just go faster." ---Greg Lemond
"Don't buy upgrades. Ride up grades." --- Eddy Merckx
"You drive like shit." ---The Car Whisperer


Learning From the Crowd

There were a lot of lessons learned in today's race...where do I begin?

Coming out of my first ever race two weeks ago at Whitnall Park, I had one goal in the Category 4 race at Monster's of the Midway- don't get gapped, and consequently, don't get dropped. As I stood at the line waiting for the whistle to blow, I felt much more nervous than at that first race, as now I had a benchmark that had been set for myself. The course was flat, a lot of guess work had been removed from what my abilities were through the first race and initial team rides, but the wind that beat me before was there, and the field was much bigger.

There was a bit of an unnerving moment 2 races before my Category4 event. As the 1-3 Men's coming to a close, a former teammate now racing for another group came down the stretch sprinting for 3rd place. He was going to get it, too except he was extremely far forward over his handlebars, and well, so was his center of gravity. About 20 yards from the finish line and a top-five finish, his back wheel began to skip and his feet came out of the pedals at around, oh...38 mph. He sort of surfed with his chest on his seat for a bit before finally rolling off onto his ass and back, and then into the curb. That he was able to hang onto the bike for those few precious seconds is what saved him from going over headfirst. I later saw him talking to a teammate, with only some skin missing on his palms, and probably a bit on his legs, as well.

And that wasn't the only crash of the day. Immediately after the whistle, a rider went down straight in front of me, taking around a fellow xXx-er, Matt Moran. I barely dodged the bouncing frames and spinning wheels, deliberately trying to not to watch beyond getting myself past so as not to loose my focus.and settled into the first lap. I first "zenned" in to staying on pace, periodically peeking up to see where the front of the pack was. I found myself alternating between sucking on good wheels, and...well, sucky wheels. There was many a lap where I would rest my legs for a second after burning after a turn only to see a gap opening up on the rider I was drafing on. But this was actually a blessing, as it would keep me honest, and I have to jump out into in the wind, and bridge up to the next rider keeping up with the pack.

The turns were chaos. People shouting out constantly "slowing!" and " hold your line!" as thought it were a training ride. Too many brakes, and it was impossible to find a steady wheel on which to carve a clean line. Yet I found it easier to make up position after the turns, and felt really strong on the straight aways, heart racing and legs burning.

My one change in approach to this race coming out of Whitnall Park was to be more aggressive. Getting dropped in that event taught me I needed to stay up further and longer. But, intuitively knowing where I am in the pack is going to take some more experience. Maybe it could be surveying the size of the field more objectively. Or it could simply be to focus on where the pullers are, and stay close to them. Probably a combination of both.

Yet at the same time, I since my goal was to not get dropped, I wanted to make sure I didn't blow myself out at any point. While I have established a lot of personal growth in my first 6 weeks on the team, my threshold is a crap shoot, and I still have no idea where my real limit is, especially on just my second race, which had such drastically different conditions as the first one, when I bonked and got dropped on the second to last lap after getting gapped in the wind. I really wanted to make sure I had some gas left in the tank for a strong finish.

Along the way there were a couple of dumb moves, including trying to take a gap that narrowed immediately and I found myself crowding a teammate way too closely. He was an experienced xXxer though and casually mentioned that "whoa, dude...you are WAY too close" as we bumped handlebars. I should've announced my presence before my presence announced me. The field was just too crowded for my lack of experience, but ironically I will need to work in this crowd in order to get my upgrade and find the room I crave in tighter fields up the ladder.

While I was more aggressive than in my first race, and my placing was much better percentage-wise, I was somewhat upset at a finish of 46th. I had a bit left in the tank, and I certainly made up many places on my last spint, but I was held up by my trepidation on the chaotic turns, and not being able to yet intuitively pick out the stonger riders onto which to hang on. There were also many opportunities for me to hammer up farther to the front, yet I hesitated, unsure of how far to push myself, and how far left it really began to count.

Yet in the end, I will rank today's ride a success, as I definitely improved on the last race, which is really all I could ask for. I thoughly enjoyed the day: the ride down with Leonard from Albany Park along the path, the massage and all the little nuggets of incredibly useful information I picked up from bantering and hanging with new teammates. Having a team like us to ride with certainly helps me deal with the anxiety of competing in such a new sport. Not to mention the inspiration of Newt getting a top 20 finish in his first ever race, Matt Moran - who crashed right in front of me at the very beginning finishing 4th, or a high schooler, 20 years my junior, schooling everyone with a ballsy move and outsprinting 4 other riders for the win.

The ride home was the best part of the weekend, heading up north on MLK and on to Logan Square, into the sunset, chatting with Newt, Andrew, Al, Ben, and my mechanic Doug from Boulevard Bikes who'd come down to watch the races, as well as two other racers from other teams. There was light traffic, and as we flowed along with it's rhythm, I noted, with a smile on my face, the contrast between the current utilitarian use of the machine I was riding and the casual, friendly chatter I was surrounded by to the all out effort and hyper competitive smack I was immersed in just hours before.

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