"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


Sweet Pain and Dairy Queen

There's just two constants in the life of the amateur bike racer: suffering and ice cream. Both make the other just as sweet.

The Fox River Grove Cycling Challenge is Illinois' answer to Iowa's Snake Alley. Lap after lap of abject suffering, detonating entire fields into shards of sweaty, grunting, broken, lapped, and pulled riders.

After my pathetic performance in Iowa, I had no illusions about doing much beyond trying not to get lapped. Yet, I had a lead in the Master's 30+ 4/5 Illinois Cup standings, and feeling in a masochistic mood, I preregistered for both that race and the Elite 4 races, to give myself hard training ride and make the hour drive out worth my while.

The climb certainly lives up to its reputation. Its begins just after the start line with a 14% pitch, then two switchbacks, followed by two more stairsteps, before topping out underneath the towering ski jump ramp. Then there are four left turns on a fast descent on which to recover, and do it all over again. For 20 minutes in the first race, 30 in the 4s race, broken up by a 15 minute break for the big wheel races.

At the line, USCF's Dave Fowkes announced a short leash on uncompetitive riders to keep the descent fast and safe, then blew the whistle and we were off.

Up until three laps to go the lead group stayed together with about 15 of us running up a gauntlet of screaming teammates and locals, urging us to "GOGOGOGOGO!" Some would run Alp d'Huez style along side, exhorting us to please turn our pedals faster and to go get that $%&#$*%#$er's wheel.

After seeing three to go and coming around the 2nd switchback, Luke hoarsely yelled, "Attack at the top! Attack at the top!" I'll meander midpack all day long when left to my own devices, but when you give me an order, I hop to it. Two shifts and out of my saddle, I passed out of mere tunnel vision and into Dr. Dave Bowman hallucination-worm hole territory.

And a gap.

I tried my best to recover and keep my speed up, but alone in the wind was no place to be with 15 other guys behind me. I was absorbed right at the bottom after seeing two to go, and right there was the decisive move. I hit the top in a group of 5, and looking at a gap between us and the group ahead. One to go they dropped me, and I rolled in for 11th with Lucas right behind me.

I grabbed a cookie and half a banana, reloaded the water while the big wheel race erupted into chaos, kids crashing into the grass left and right, and then made my way back to the line, this time in the rear of a field of 66.

The race was over before it began. I lacked any pop to make up much ground, and spent the next 30 minutes in 20th-ish limbo. The only excitement was overcooking the last turn on the first lap and taking a detour into a lawn. There was a gap behind me, so it didn't make much of a difference, and I was back soon with the group I was with for some hard hill repeat training.

I didn't get pulled, or lapped at least, and ended the day cramping in the back seat of Emanuele's Dodge and enjoying a large dipped cone from the Dairy Queen down the road.

In the dark depths of the pain cave with seemingly no way out, you might question why the hell you would ever do something like this. Your non-cycling friends watching you certainly do. Yet the sense of accomplishment after is just as sweet as the post-race ice cream dripping down your hand.

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