"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


Boo! Go faster!

Every time I thought about The Climb this week my heart rate would kick up about 20 beats per minute. At my desk, riding home from work, doing the laundry.

I've seen pictures of riders cresting that first hill at the Circuit of Sauk in Baraboo, Wisconsin - a narrow depth of field from a powerful zoom lens blurring out the road that drops seemingly miles down to a steep canyon below. Even though I climb relatively well in training, it's easy to pat yourself on the the back after a grueling two hour mountain. There you can only hope to do your best, because no one's wearing a number and the payout is the same: dinner and a massage. Antipating a hilly race gives visions of any chance at a top ten glide by as I curse and grunt up to the top in my smallest gear. Cracking on a climb is very damaging to your psyche.

As Luke, Seth, and I approached the race in the white Toyota on Saturday morning, he pointed left and said, simply, "that's it." Yeah, it wasn't as big as it grew to in my imagination, but it still reminded me of some past road races where I'd lost all my chips on an all or nothing climb. It stretched up like a black ribbon, splitting the green pastures and trees, and disappearing at the top to who-knew-what waited. Like a towering escalator leading to street level from a subway station in a completely new city.

A small flashback: at camp this year, before entering Peachy Canyon, I asked Luke what his secret was. "Let everything go loose," he said. "Sit up straight over your butt, and let the legs use all your energy."

Or something like that. Just as we entered the first really painful stretch, he started chanting some incantation and making some quasi-religious hand gestures and then I didn't see him again until 5:30 or so back the hotel. I think you get it from your mother's side?

I hadn't planned on doubling up for this race, something I'd been targeting since planning for Asheville. That's something you do with crits, cheeseburgers, and espresso. Not in a race known the Midwest over for it's leg-breaking climb. But when Luke said he'd play two, and had done it in the past with success, I thought I might as well make the most out of the long drive and overnight stay in Madison. It was back to back, as well, but then again, I'd just gotten back from Asheville, and 60 miles in south central Wisco had nothing on the Smokeys.

So planning for optimum success, I would do my best to shelter Luke in the run up to the climb, and try to stay with the group on the way up in order to see him off before sitting to muck up any chase and save myself for the Masters 4/5.

It went exactly according to plan, until I found myself halfway up the hill, seeing nobody passing me yet, and still climbing strong, right on Luke's wheel. When I finally started really feeling the effort about three quarters of the way up, he turned around, looked at the gap we'd caused and gasped, "easy!"

I wasn't thinking about cracking, or not cracking - only the zen spinning and emptying my mind of thoughts of the top, just keep going, going, going.

Just before the crest I reeled myself back from the edge, to save myself and let Luke off with the gap while I floated back to the pack and task at hand. For the next two or three miles consistently riding 3rd wheel, letting two guys (I really to work better on marking who I am riding with) trade pulls until they began to scheme about getting away themselves. Which was fine with me. Luke was now just visible up the road with one other rider, and I thought, "four gives him a better shot to stay off."

Only one complaint surfaced, shortly after the two rode away from us: "you on the left! We can't get by! You're hosing us up!" I just half-cocked my head back and replied, "yeah, I am."

They got around me but I stayed in the middle of it all and when we came through for lap number two I heard Seth yell that Luke was a minute up the road. Success, hopefully. Now I just hoped that the first time up the hill wasn't a fluke.

It wasn't.

I hit the top of the climb ahead of the pack again. Three riders came around and we were racing for 5th place. We'd been in the false flat in the heavy wind since cresting the hill when it flattened out a bit, and we shifted up to the big rings. They shifted, actually. My chain just whirred flaccidly against my derailleur and stayed stubbornly down there. I tried again. Nothing. When I started swearing the rider behind me came around and grabbed what had been my wheel and my chances of a top five drifted away with my cursing into the wind.

I frantically twisted my barrel adjuster for to no avail, and then just tried spinning it, and then went back to trying to fix it. I watched them get further and further up the road, twisting and shifting and swearing, when the chain finally went up. For a mile of so I though I could catch them, but I got a face full of the 30 mile and hour wind as then down the other side of a roller and I realized I was on my own for the rest of the day.

I could've just relaxed until I got a draft again in the second group, now visible when I turned my head back for a look. But now I was angry that the mechanical had taken my placing away from me, and now my task was not to get caught.

Photo by Seth Meyer

I time trialed it in to the finish, holding them off, and never losing sight of the three in front either. I saw their cat and mouse game being played out on the final false flat to the line with envy, but alternately elated to see a huge gap behind me to the next group. 8th place. Not bad for a non-climber in a hilly race, blocking for his winning teammate, and having a mechanical.

Mechanicals. Since the second half of the first lap my saddle had also come loose, and during my effort to stay away to the finish, I had basically been riding on the hard plastic end of my Specialized Toupe.

Photo by Seth Meyer

After an excruciating trip to the mens room and getting my bike adjusted during the 20 minute break, I was back on the course with Bob and Dave Thomas for the Masters 4/5. The pack was much bigger and by time I was able to get up to the front half on the climb, four riders were riding off the front. The scene ahead was total chaos, riders everywhere. Two bridge attempts later I was in the chase group and we started working together.

Another look at the saddle as we frantically try to the get the bike ridable for my next race in about 10 minutes. Photo by Seth Meyer.

We tried to get a pace line going in the wind, but it was frustrating. After so much work at camp with Randy and my teammates, I take it for granted that everyone will keep pulling though. But it sputtered and stalled, and we didn't really gain any momentum. I took a hard, spiteful pull after one such hitch and got scolded for not being smooth enough. That figured. The rest of the pack was far behind us however, and maybe we didn't much motivation.

Soon however, I felt a cramp coming in my right leg and clung to the back, the rubber band stretching. We hit a roller and it snapped. The cramps just kept coming, and finally on the other big hill before the descent to the start line, I had to unclip and stop to massage my leg.

Riders behind began to file past me and I fell further and further back the whole way to the start of lap two, where I drifted left and rolled past the official with the words, "I'm out," and found a seat on the grass and I laid low in the sunshine, finally out of the wind.

Vernon Hills

After a stop in Madison to treat Rick Dearworth - an ex-pat teammate who'd put the three of us up for the night - for dinner, we arrived home about 10pm very tired. I was in bed shortly after and seemingly within minutes my alarm was going off - screeching at me to be ready for Jeff, who'd arrive at 7:30 to leave for my next races, the Vernon Hills Grand Prix.

Not much to report here, at least up until the finish. It was just lap after lap of staying out of the wind, trying to stay up front. With a lap and a half to go, there were two dangling off the front on the back stretch, while I soft pedaled in the wind waiting for another jump. Get a Grip came screaming up and I grabbed his wheel, passing the other two quickly. Then GG sat up, and the pack was there.

One to go: "Hmmmmm, what's this? Four black jerseys all in a line."

I think I need to get on the end of this. The lead out train was on, and on the back stretch the pack was about two lines wide. Approaching turn three, Seegs was screaming at Stocky to get there first, and now I was was looking at turn four from fourth wheel. Things got pretty fuzzy at the point except it was clear I didn't have enough to stay on the Stocky, Seguin, and Wiberg Express. Pinched to the left and out in the wind again, I gapped and fell off - not really in pain but my legs just wouldn't go, and came in 14th as I was passed on both sides. However, the train worked in spite of my weakness - Stocky and Wiberg put Seguin onto the podium.

Even without the team success, it was not a horrible ending, as I was there, but your legs aren't always going to do the same. Baraboo had been my target all along, I wanted to put my time, money, and energy spent in Asheville to good use. And a top ten finish blocking for my winning teammate is what I would call a return on investment. The whole weekend, and Vernon Hills specifically, just showed me I am coming along further with my mental awareness during races - my most severe weakness.

Today will be an easy recovery day, with a ride to the team meeting at Goose Island Brewery, before a hard week of training in advance of the month's remaining races: the 2 Man Team Time Trial on the 9th, Monsters of the Midway on the Southside the week after, and then it's hard to believe that the Iowa Crits of Memorial Day, including the infamous Snake Alley, are now upon us.

1 comment:

Jeff said...

Good job B.

I'll be doing my best to throw empty Icehouse cans at you with the devil of snake alley.

...work on your wheelies.