"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


Superweek continues...

Superweek: Chapters 2 and 3. Assignment completed. C+, no extra credit.

First up, a return to Whitnall Park, the site of my xXx initiation and racing depantsing, back in late April of this year. Located in Hale's Corners, Wisconsin, the races there are held in the botanical gardens and the park grounds. A very green and peaceful place with rolling hills and lush trees and ponds, the roads are closed for traffic the entire day, and belie a pretty challenging race course. This time around the course was over a mile longer, and technically classified as a road race, even though it was really more of a circuit at only 2 miles long. Definitely not a criterium as there was only one really sharp turn, and about 3 hills. All big-ring rollers. The final stretch came after a 110 degree turn and was long climb to the start/finish line.

My main goal for Superweek is to finish at least once in the money. Although after finishing at Whitnall (17th out of 48) I knew I'd have to wait on that one, I had a more modest mark in mind as well: get off at least one flyer off the front. Attacking is one thing at the Matteson Training Races, doing it in a real race is another. Especially for me, when even staying at the front is a crap shoot. It took a few races to even get up there, and lately I've been so concerned with protecting my wheel, my instinct is to move back rather hang out and wait for whoever is crowding me to clip my front wheel.

I pre-rode the course with teammate Kevin Karkovsky we talked about where to expect attacks, or attack ourselves, and where were the good places for the winning jump. Flashforward to the second lap of the race, we came up the last hill towards the start/finish line and I decided right there I was going to have my bit of fun. I was sitting probably 10 wheels back, spinning in my saddle. I upshifted and let off, as Alberto has coined it, "The Girlfriend Flyer." Although I had no girlfriend present at the race, I knew I'd get a picture of it, thanks to Luke, and I'd also get to hear my name announced as I came past the line. But more importantly, I'd get to see what it felt like, see if anybody chased and when, and see how long I felt like keeping it up.

I separated from the pack pretty easily, and they waited until the first big downhill past the line to try catch me. Rather, as I flew down the hill, the pain in my legs from my uphill flyer told me that trying to maintain a solo breakaway for any amount of time on these rolling hills with 11 laps to go was pure stupidity. I looked under my arm at the pack behind me, already abandoning the effort, and I saw the bridge coming right at me: 2 riders, and they came by too quickly for me to change my mind and grab one of their wheels to continue on. It was a smart move, since they were caught after about 2 laps, and various other break attempts failed as well.

After my conversation with teammate Brian Boyle riding home from Saturday's race in Blue Island, I realized I need to do what comes naturally in the pack, all the while still realizing and reacting to the need to move up at the important time in the race. Another aspect of racing I've been making progress with is grabbing wheels and using them to move up. With two laps to go, I hopped on a Chromo wheel and I found myself at the front of the pack. I stayed on it for almost an entire lap, and it wasn't until just before the last turn I realized my mistake.

He was the one blocking for the winning leadout.

A more confident racer on the last lap would've made a move to leave the wheel, but I felt boxed in and helpless by the pavement to the left and the riders to my immediate right as the train moved on past just past them. As well, I knew the pack would bunch back up on the last turn and the base of the hill, and I would have a slim chance to make up the ground there. But as soon as I was out of the turn, the front was already accelerating and I'd lost my chance.

I still rode strong up the hill, but for some reason, even at the end of 13 laps, I was caught off guard at how quickly the line came up on me, thinking I had another 100 meters to go. I really never got out to sprint.

Final lesson of the day: we were pretty close at the end, those of us just off the lead pack sprint. A little better energy conservation and water consumption during the race, and little better "can do" attitude for a full sprint, no matter how "hopeless" it seems, could've made the difference in finishing in the money at Whitnall Park.

Today was another road race at the MGA Proving Grounds in Lyons, Wisconsin, just west of the family home of Kenosha. Not much to say about this race, except that it was fast and hard. My only goal was to finish with the pack, and stay on two wheels. It was hard to clear my mind of Beth Kobezska, especially on the many tight blind curves and blind hills on this narrow, open traffic road race.

It was still a fun race, however, on a very unique course. The Proving Grounds is a test track where the perform crash ratings, and test tires and the like. We started with a Neutral Rollout onto the test track and then the race went "live" as we turned right on to Warren Road. We did four laps up and down several big ring rollers and one small ring climb just after the start. On the last lap I made a pretty dumb rookie move of down shifting under full torque to try and increase my spin a bit and nearly crashed.

The race never really slowed down like a road contest normally does. I was trying to eat some clif Shot Blocks on the back stretch of the third lap as the tempo increased to catch a break away and I briefly wondered if I would have to pull to receive the Heimlich Maneuver from the guy riding shotgun in the sweeper car. The other xXx riders in this master's field were the picture of calm and economy, however. Kirby came past me several times to give me some encouragement and reminders to ease up and save energy. Once I asked him to "drop some Zen on me." The reply was basically, you are still here, not dropped and sitting in the Sprinter's Lounge. Relax man. You're in the field.

A train of us came together briefly on the last lap and though it didn't hold, it was a learning experience watching Kevin, Kirby, and Bob work their way up to where Chris and Mark had been sitting at the front for the entire race, chasing breakaways, and bridging up the pack. We came through the feed zone, and the pace revved back and forth, as though the cumulative effort of the pack was goosing the gas pedal, almost too excited for the sprint to begin, already thinking about the final decent back onto the proving grounds track.

And once we made those final turns, the pack strung out down along the connector road to the track, it came back together just when I thought I was dropped. And just as I caught back on again, they were off, up the final hill for the final decision. I passed several guys completely bailing out on the way up. Once again, a little more energy conversation, per Kirby and Kevin's advice, would've helped me out as I didn't have much left. I was a mess as I came up the hill, maintaining my speed but certainly not gaining any, and unable to stand up. I practically pushed against my handlebars for leverage against my pedals, and was again, like the day before, right on the wheel of former xXx-er Pat Kelly, but unable to catch him. I finished 26th, out of a field of 41 who finished, maybe 50 who started.

It was xXx's day, with 3 in the top ten: Mark Watkins got the win, Kevin Karkovsky came away with 5th, and Kirby 7th. However, this fantastic finish was marred, nay - ruined - by the careless actions of one careless rider who obviously spends much, much less thinking about other than he does himself. Note to any cyclists reading this blog: please keep going straight until you have slowed down from your sprint. Kevin Karkovsky had the extreme unluck to be right next to this thoughtless rider who decided, only seconds after his sprint, to cut right into the parking lot. On the way there he clipped Kevin's front wheel at about 30 miles an hour, sending Kevin immediately to pavement. It's one thing to break your collar bone on a hard fought sprint. It's quite another to have it happen needless like Kevin's season ended today.

Just because the race is over, doesn't mean you can immediately start making dick moves. At least you could've expressed one modicum of regret or remorse. Nothing from this rider past a casual apology, as Kevin sat bleeding on the pavement, cradling his shoulder and fighting off the shock. It was a goddamn shame.

Up next: the Inaugural Evanston Criterium on Sunday, and the Kenosha Folks and Spokes next Friday. I still have two chances to finish in the money, and in two weeks I will have gotten in more racing that I got in my first 3 months with the team. I am feeling stronger and smarter, and I only have one enemy.


No comments: