"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


Shaving with a Dull Blade

This run-up to this weekend's races trembled on the tip of needle...the dial could've gone either way.

Rain threatened in the parking lot of Prairie Crossing in Grayslake on Saturday, but other than the slight chill in the air, and the unique course, nothing about the race was really any different than any other event this year.

Shaped like a big C, there were only 2 ninety degree turns, with 3 wide, sweeping pedal-thoughs. A recipe for a fast race - tempered by a fast head wind on the back and the home stretches.

It was mostly a sit-in, either at the back or fighting for 3rd wheel. I'd planned on jumping on a hard attack just after a prime-lap, which was announced with 5 to go, but I'd moved so far to the back while conserving it took me another half lap to work my way back to the front - but it was perfect because my I got my need positioning when we were back in the headwind. A rider was off, and I left to try and join him.

Just like at Olympia Fields, the group strung out a bit, I could see riders trying to join me as I passed the rider who was coming back from his flyer before. I kept hammering to increase the gap and help any riders joining me keep their's. But when I looked back, the group was together again and I had a sizable gap.

For whatever reason - maybe the vomit rising in my throat - I thought I had one lap less to go than we did. When I came past the line it read "3" to my dismay. The wind was hard and my will was not. I sat up briefly, but when I looked back, the gap had grown and obviously my two teammates were blocking, and maybe more.

I do briefly remember hearing something about a prime lap but was so focused on just trying to stay off it didn't really register. I looked again after the line with 2 to go and the gap was still there, but I was really dying in the wind now. When I looked again, there they were, coming up on about 1.5 to go. I sat in and tried to recover, planning to try to work my way up after turn one - the bottom sweeping turn of the "C".

But by then everyone else had the same plan, and the front was driving the pace and it was going to have to be done in the wind. But I had no real strength left to get it done there, and no real desire to mix it up on the narrow turns. The jump came and I was maybe 15 or 20 back and that was the race. Not that it took anything away from yet another podium for Newt.

The only consolation came with my $25 gift certificate to Wild Fire. Probably good for a nice martini and some calmari. Jeff Holland won one too. I think we'll have a double date.

Today I felt I would fare much better. Everyone had been raving about the course. The nervousness of the nights-before was gone and I enjoyed a quiet evening alone with Katy. I was up early and out with my pre-packed bag to meet Newt in NorthCenter and we rode up to Glencoe along the usual team route. A truly beautiful morning with a stiff headwind keeping our speed low and conversation high. We ran into Brian, Jeff, and William each coming back from morning training rides.

But it was not to be. The beautiful setting and several teammates in the field did nothing for my psyche. I hammered to get to the front and took the first lap around. There were five of up there for the first three laps, when Newt just rode off the front to find himself with a slight gap. One, then another rider came around Chris and I, and I didn't chase until the surge came on the home stretch. This was about 3 laps into the race, and from then on out it was downhill.

I just fell further and further back, thinking only of making it through turn 2 without crashing. It had a stellar dip and a manhole cover in it, and when it was 2 or more wide, I just lost my nerve. I wasn't gassed at all, I did feel strong. However, I having no fun whatsoever at this point, and about 5 or 6 laps into the race, I just raised my hand, faded to the right, and got the hell out of there.

I can't call myself a burnout. I've only been racing for 2 years, and I can't even be competitive in the 4s. Do I even have an edge yet to lose?

I guess so. What else would you call it? Not three months ago it seemed I was finally coming into some real form and it was only a matter of time. A 5th place in the Tour of West Lafayette, and a Top 10 in Snake Alley had me feeling strong and confident. Spring Prairie cracked me pretty hard, but that was just a realization of my capabilities and preparation.

I guess it started with Proctor. It was so demoralizing to race that well only to be taken out by a last lap, last turn crash. Olympia Fields, and the Bensonville race, up to that final lap, however seemed to be pointing my way to the light. I'd been watching teammates and friends blossom to a level they'd worked for, leaving the usual pack fodder behind to wallow and rationalize. Was it finally happening for me?

I sat, scraped and bleeding on the grass in Bensonville, and then watched my Superweek and my season drift down to a skittish level where I really can't justify going into any corner to battle for my position. I love to ride bikes fast and I did love to race, but now I'd rather come out of my weekend road-rash free, and certainly not with any broken bones...or worse a broken bike. At least insurance pays for the bones.

I walked away from today's race with no qualms, yet of course with a sense of loss and pangs of jealousy tempering my happiness and conviction as teammates podiumed on both days. But at this point I just can't see myself there and therefore had no right to be. And if that's the case, I of course belong nowhere near the 3s, and I am caught in terribly demotivating loop.

So if I was unable to get the blade sharpened in these low-key preludes to Downer's Grove, how can I expect to be competitive there? And worse, who will want to race next to me?

I need better bike handling skills. Period. Or maybe another sport. Bike racing might not be my thing...right now, not crashing is the only thing on my mind in a criterium. I'd love to take another stab at the track, and to gear my next season around it to at least upgrade to Thursday night racing, but I don't have the kind of time or patience to be racing and training two nights a week and racing on the weekends. I want to spend that kind of time with my lady and writing. And cyclocross is the same story. Sort of. This sport is fucking expensive and cross also means twice as many trips to the goddamned shop.

So I obviously have some commitment issues, as well, it seems. And as such, I think next weekend we just need to get out of town, at least for a day, and have some fun. The season, criteriums, anyways, is probably over. The road race state championship could have redeeming facets, and the 4 man Team Time trial is far more about fitness, which is one thing I still seem to have left.


darkhorse said...

Don't let it all get ya down, buddy. Everyone's bike handling needs improving. Everyone has post crash jitters. Everyone is kinda sick of crit racing by mid-August.

And few people fly through the category ranks without some sort of hard spot. It took me almost 3 years to upgrade to cat 3.

You'll cross this plateau soon enough.

The Car Whisperer said...

Thanks man...your words make me feel better already...that and an awesome after-work path ride with Mr. Watkins just like we used to do last fall when I was laid off.

Oh, and a cold Old Style in my hand.

I know that I'm putting way too much pressure on myself to upgrade, and that these dudes upgrading this year so quickly are the exception, not the rule...