"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


"And That's Racing Folks!"

I became a bike racer yesterday.

Not content to just hang on, sit in, and roll in. Well, I still rolled in at the end of the morning's race, but not without the most fun I've had enduring 3 laps of hell all season.

The rain slacked off and drizzled to an end just as my mom and I arrived at Sherman Park. Situated between The Back of the Yards and West Englewood, the park is one of the true jewels of the Chicago's Southside, at least from what I could see. It was originally built at the beginning of last century as a bike racing venue. The outer part is ringed by the road - a graceful oval with no sharp turns. Inside that is a kind of moat, or self-contained creek. And within that - trees, manicured grasses, shrubs and the like, and finally a field in the center. No such parks of this stature exist on the Northside, as far I can tell. Most are under such heavy use as to mandate only softball and soccer fields. It's a thing of beauty to see these parks anchoring such gritty neighborhoods. One would think that under-use by the surrounding residents would bode ill for the Park's upkeep, but it is only underused as seen through the eyes of this Northside Yuppie. Just because there are no softball teams playing doesn't make it neglected or unappreciated. By midmorning there were several neighborhood folks walking the paths, enjoying the races and the sunshine, or fishing of one of the three stone bridges spanning the "moat."

We watched the 5s race as I got dressed and stretched, a continuous stream of bikers going by as it split up into several groups right away. I love seeing the 5s race as much as the pros. Unlike the 4s, especially, the disparity of racing knowledge and fitness among the riders rips the field up quickly, but even the no-hopers work together off the back, doing what they can to ensure the best placing possible. Newt Cole and Peter Strittmatter, two xXx-ers completely sandbagging due to lack of racing time, worked the front hard and fast. Newt unfortunately flatted out with 2 to go, but Peter came away with the 1st place on the podium.

I passed my camera to my mom and waited at the line with a small field loaded with xXx-ers. It was just then that I saw my friend Sarah, waiting for the race to start. I think she was the first friend who came out to see me race this season. It was good to have someone to race for! Others showed for the afternoon race, but it was about the morning race I was a bit nervous. Anyways, we got our instructions and squeezed just a little tighter and closer, trying to get ever last advantage, no matter how small. We rolled off just a few minutes behind schedule.

Immediately it was a train of us at the front laying down a fast pace in what was supposed to a relatively uncompetitive race late in the season. Compared to Evanston it was slow, but the first 5 laps resembled a team ride headed west out of Highland Park, each of us taking strong, hard pulls at around 27 - 28 mph. The pace stayed fast the whole time, and aside from the potholes and puddles, it was a smooth race due to the lack of any sharp turns.

A couple primes were announced but both times I had just come off a pull and riders were accelerating past me on both sides when it came time to be in position. As we came around with 5 or 6 to go, however, the bell rang again. I remembered it only as we came around the back of the oval, and I was soft-pedaling around 80 per cent in the draft, about 3 wheels off the front. I waited for the pace to accelerate, as would have much sooner, earlier on in the race. But everyone one else was tired from having chased down teammate Brean on his earlier flier, and also smelling the finish line. I figured this was the time to go. Baby steps, so go grab that prime. "What the hell?" I thought, and hammering away I went.

Photo by Luke Seemann

At first I thought I may have gone too soon, but as I finally reached the rise at about 100 yard to the line, I looked behind expecting to see a train of wheel suckers waiting to embarrass me, but I was treated to a welcome sight of only pavement and a huge gap. I still sprinted to the line and rechecked. The gap was even larger. Teammates were blocking.

"Well, Brain (not a typo). It's just me and you." Let's go.

So I was on my own, and held it for just over 3 laps. Brian Stockmaster urged me on the pace car, but as I ticked off the laps, I felt myself getting more and more desperate. Considering my goal of a top-10 finish today it was a pretty stupid move. I blew up crossing the line with 2 to go, and the pack was closing. I figured I better count my chips now and find a wheel for the end game. So I sat up, but slowed too much and barely grabbed onto the end as riders swarmed me on all sides. I had been hearing my name called on each lap of my flier by teammate and emcee Brandon Antoniewicz calling the race at the announcers booth. But strangely, it was most enjoyable as I heard it the last time, crossing the line with one to go, barely hanging on to the end of the pack:

"...and that's racing folks!" I heard from the dark depths of oxygen depletion. "Brian Morrissey tried..." and then it faded with any chances I had on that last lap. I tried for one more flier up the left side to deperately try to make up ground. I passed maybe 3 or 4 riders but the rest of the pack was just accelerating with me, and my legs grew even more leaden. My breath was coming in hoarse rasps as I futilely tried to stay in the draft. The fight just left me. I wasn't going to place and I knew I was done. But I was happy.

I had finally raced. I've had good finishes this year: an 8th place in Wheaton and 14th at Spring Prairie. But the former was just dumb luck and the latter was riding to stay alive. Today I put into practice what I've been slowly learning all season and was catalyzed at Elk Grove. "If you're not moving forward, you're moving back." I had made a move. A move that stuck, for a while anyways. Next year, I'll come to the fight with a sharper spade, and in this situation, which I plan to be in, I'll be able to dig deeper for a much happier ending.

I raced again later that day in the 3/4s, and easily met my goal for that event. I only wanted to take my pulls at the front, help keep things fast, and prove to my teammates I belonged in the 4s. Twice I took long rides sucking wheels to the front, early on with a Get a Grip rider and later with teammate Brian Boyle. The former was on a prime lap, and as soon as I realized I was going to be second wheel too early on I should've pulled out and looked for a better position. But I guess I was wondering just how far this guy would get me along.

Not far enough. He bailed off leaving me in the wind much too early but since my only purpose was to hammer, again I figured, "what the hell," and attacked. I swear I heard from behind me someone yelling "Too soon, Brian!" but I had already committed. I stayed in the lead and at around 100 yards to go I checked under my arm, and sure enough, there was the train of wheel suckers. Just as I tried a futile attempt out of my saddle three of them blew past me.

A good lesson in balancing recovery with pace came next as I was swarmed and nearly dropped. I told myself to breathe and stay glued to a wheel, instant recovery isn't possible. Gradually I dropped back to manageable territory, and a few laps later was stringing things out with Brian Boyle.

The were a couple close calls crashwise. I got bumped in tight quarters mid-race but held myself upright by staying cool, in between a multi-rider crash earlier and a single Get a Grip rider going down on the last lap. I swerved to the left each time, as I strangely found myself riding inside almost the entire race. It was a bunch sprint behind the break-winner Matt Smith of Big Shark. As in Elk Grove it was clogged at the finish and I had to slow as I came up between the barriers and teammate Chris Lozniak just before the line.

I was very happy to finish with the pack in my first real 4s race, and definitely hanging in there and spending some time at the front with the 3s. It was as fast as I thought it would be, but it was nowhere near being out of my league.

The Brians pulling:

"Mmmmmm. Elbow."
Photo by Luke Seemann

My season is almost over, the team time trial on the 9th in Utica will be my last event before I take some time off for music and some rest and recovery. Speaking of which, please take a look at my next entry. I spent all day at Experimental Sound Studios with Shrieking Violet today. I've posted some rough mixes. They're not close to being done yet, but it will give you taste to whet your appetite for a live show, hopefully.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great report. I have been using your "if you aren't moving up, you are moving back" and it has helped. Also, breaks can give you a chance to win, but also can break other riders that might have had a chance. Your break ended up breaking me. Just before 2 to go between turns 3 and 4, our protected rider was on the front with an Albertos rider and XXX blocking. I decided it was time to catch the break. I attacked, but not super hard. Evidently, I got a gap, but by the time I caught you, the field was on my tail. I felt great, but that took away my chances for a good finish. Your break was great strategy.

If you know anyone still looking for a TTT team, let me know. One of our team members is in the hospital with kidney stones. Luke has my contact info.

Spin Doctor Cyclewerks