"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


Sherman Park Weekend

Up before dawn for the second time this week, I sat out in front of my front door, looking at my spread of equipment, pondering the day ahead as I wanted for Bob and Gigi to arrive.

It was going to be a long one, for sure, with work to be done from dawn to dusk with barely a break in between; if you could call actually racing a break. The truck was just beginning to be unloaded as we arrived at Sherman Park, and most of the early crew was already hard at work. There was much to be done.

The start finish area needed barriers, the stage, sound system, and canopies, just for starters. We set up 12 marshalling stations around the course, and marked the (much fewer than last year) potholes with spraypaint, while still others swept the remaining debris from the course the city’s streetsweepers had missed. It was my first race setup, and I truly realized it’s the individual work ethic that means the most to the group.

Photo by Luke Seemann

Soon the registration area was packed and Newt had the tunes issuing forth from the PA. I was then strictly Marshal Sergeant. It was going to be full-time job. We had great coverage committed to the early races – but people had other obligations later in the day, and the later, higher category races were a huge concern.

Many people didn’t understand why we needed so many volunteers to marshal for this race. Southside Sherman Park is a unique venue for a bike race, to say the least. By late morning, the park was in full use by the area’s bemused residents who were not quite sure what to make of all these strangers telling them where they could and could not go in their neighborhood’s own park.

But I had my list of volunteers, even though half of them were names I didn’t recognize, and a few were names who weren’t yet at the race. So, anyone who approached with outstretched arms received a bright green vest, a whistle, and instructions.

My sincere and heartfelt thanks go out for all those who gave up their free time for marshaling. The race simply could not have gone on without your diligence and commitment.

The Cat 5s were then underway and I made a pass around the park to make sure my posts were covered. XXX thoroughly dominated the race – as they should have, with over 50% of the field in black – and put four into the top 5.

Photo by Luke Seemann

The team got more rewards from team work and smart, hard racing in the women’s Master’s race with a win by Tamara Frasier.

Next up was my first race of the day, the Men’s Master 4/5, 30+/40+.

No warm up. In fact, the race was going to be my warm up, so I decided to just have my fun with it. The race stayed together, sloppily, by lots of attacking, chasing, and counters.

Obviously, not much to tell here, from my vantage point, other than a few inconsequential flyers, until the end of the race. About 200 meters from Turn 2, there was a incursion of mulch onto the course, laid down by the city to soak up the mud and rain water from the week’s earlier storms. It was always a little dicey there as people moved avoid it, and with the speed ramping up on the last lap, I suddenly found my handlebars locked with another rider.

He started to panic a bit, and I just kept it steady and increased my speed and we came apart without incident. But the box-in kept me behind the initial move, and once I was free I had to swing all the way to the right approaching Turn 4 to try to catch up. While I was effectively protected, and I did make up several places in the last hundred yards or so in the headwind, it was way too late and the best I could manage 12th overall, 7th in the 30+, just out of the points and the money. XXX did get the win, however, with Newton getting the benefit of a monster leadout by 5's winner Kyle Wyberg.

At this point I just abandoned my list of volunteers altogether, and relied on a system of badgering as many people as possible to marshal, as well as standing on the start/finish line and yelling while I waved the green vests over my head. I would periodically cruise the course to make sure all 12 posts were covered, and finally 20 minutes before my second race - the straight 4’s - I got on the trainer for a brief warm up.

I was late getting my lap to the line, and should’ve just gone straight there, because as I rolled back up, Alderman Joan Thompson was already blowing the whistle and away we went. Aaack!!!

Or I should say, away they went; for as I was at the back, not even clipped in, Peter and several others were already breaking away. It didn’t concern me, but it should have. Several strong riders, Calvin, Sean, plus Henry and Chris of Pegasus, stayed back with me while two more XXXers – Newt and Chris – bridged up early. We just thought at first it wasn’t going to stay off, but we realized too late that suddenly there 12 riders in that break, including a pro-triathlete, the winner of the Master's 4/5s, and a sandbagger who’d just submitted his upgrade that very morning. Now it wasn’t so much of a break as it was a field split, and all of us wanted to be up…there

Desperation dictated dynamics in the back from then on out. Yet, with surrealism I calmly noted the several open marshal posts along the course. I was going to have to really stay on that after the race.

Twice I tried to bridge up with larger groups, both on the back of Pegasus' Chris Padfield's monster efforts. And later, as I was outsprinted for a prime and still going while the winner sat up, Jon flew past me with, “let’s go! We got a gap!” Sure enough we had 50 meters and growing, and away we went for two laps on our own. The best we could manage was 25mph - smiling through the pain at Debi and Katy cheering as we passed them - while the lead group was surely doing much faster that with far more opportunities for recovery. We were back in soon enough and nothing more got off.

Photo by some friend of Chris Reikert that he didn't give credit to

They were announcing primes for our group however, and with two to go I heard a suicide call and bell. “Screw this” I thought. I’m going home with something other than a 13th place finish, at best. And between Turns 3 and 4, I jumped hard, and crossed the line well ahead of our pack. Having won my prize, I sat up as the final lap move passed after Turn 1 and I cruised in well behind the sprint.

Imagine my dismay upon being told my number was not on any prime list, although others said there was definitely bell with 2 to go.

Who knows where my head was in that race…on more important things, to be sure. Keeping these little ankle-biters off the course.

Photo by Chris Reikert.

Helping the race director make sure everyone had a safe race.

And we did.

Competent, effective marshalling was at no time more needed than in the Women’s and Men’s Pro/1/2/3 races at the end of the day. Soccer games, pool parties, and a wedding were in full swing, and everywhere, neighborhood residents needed to cross the course. At one point, Bob Willems let a woman with a grocery cart attempt to cross, only to have her immediately turn against the flow as the Men’s Pros came screaming toward him. No fault of his own, as he thought she’d go straight across, but it goes to show how difficult it was to control the safety of the race. It was like a leaky dyke with 100 holes and only 12 fingers.

In my case, I was situated south of turn 4, by a car access point, and with 5 laps to go, a white Dodge Charger starts driving around the barrier. I run up, waving my hands, and they tell me that they need to pick up the DJ from the wedding and to move. I tell them that if they drive on that course, they’re going to have a lot more trouble than from just me, and I pointed to the three police officers standing with their bikes just the last turn.

With some convincing they abided, and even waited for the pros to complete their warmdown before, cautiously even, proceeding on to the course. Ed had nearly pulled it off. Jumping from just past turn 3, and holding a big, yet closing gap as he passed me. The winner eventually grabbed hold of his wheel maybe 300 meters out and came around for a nailbiter finish.

The breakdown was relaxed and happy. Nobody could stop talking about the events of the day. We were amazingly packed within an hour, and I was home in Logan Square enjoying the sunset, along with a plate of ribs and a beer, with Katy at Dunlay’s. Sleep came hard and fast.

And believe it or not, I was up by 5 the next morning, out the door at 6, trying to find my way down Ogden to Palos Hills to meet Ed and Heidi. I caught up with them at LaGrange, and we rode south together, as the sunlight of the once beautiful morning gave way to the black, rumbling, end-of-world that was roiling in from the west.

Just as we reached the 7-Eleven at Willow Springs and Archer, the sky opened up and we took shelter within. And who did we meet inside but none other than Dave Foulkes, of USCF. The Chicago Time Trial Series was having an event right there on Willow Springs, and they were waiting out the rain. It came down in buckets outside, and we waited, drinking coffee and bullshitting.

Eventually we relocated to the Dunkin Donuts up the road, and waited until 9:30 to finally decide to just call it a day. I needed to pick up the keg for the party at my place that afternoon. We rolled through Oak Park and it was a near disaster area of downed trees and power outages, the sounds of chainsaws drowning out the morning birds.

I finally had a chance to wind down at my place with beer and friends, and reflect on an weekend the likes of which I’ve never experienced. It was hard to get to sleep that night, knowing everything would get back to normal. Until I began to think about all the great racing, the hot summer days and nights, all the potential and fun that lie ahead.

I finally drifted off to the soft breathing next me, and in my dreams, it sounded like the pleasant whisper of pavement rolling by.

1 comment:

Tamara Fraser said...

Hey, thanks for all your work to make this a fun and safe event! I'm sorry I missed marshalling -- I ended up in registration the entire time between the W cat 4 race and the W-open.