"We went round in circles and then XXX won"
Six crits this year, six XXX wins. Kinda like Gary Lineker's description of soccer - "You play for 90 minutes and then the Germans win".
Driving to races on weekends entails endless knob-twiddling , of the radio variety - just as you find a decent station it fades out and the hunt begins again. The only constant is that an NPR station somewhere at all times will be playing A Prairie Home Companion - a show that I dislike because Garrison Keillor's voice and manner just rubs me all wrong, I learned to detest it when he insisted on singing on it as well. We'll catch Klik and Klak, maybe Wait, Wait Don't tell me!, then a program about Mormon adoptions until we're ambushed by that annoying growl and the realization that someone with no ability or musicality is insisting on singing on the radio - just because he can. Double-black flip, puch the button and the search for another NPR station resumes, safe for another hour until GK invades that station's airwaves to assault our eardrums again and the ritual repeats.
Driving to Kankakee, going through the "Whoa, Incoming!" motions of ducking and running from the Keillor assault, the thought struck me: Me doing Crits is like GK singing , yes, it's possible to do it, but does anyone involved enjoy it?
I'm lousy at crits, haven't got a fasttwitch muscle fiber in my body, corner poorly, each acceleration slaughters me with lactic, sketchy cat 4s scare me, guys I beat easily in cross, who train about 3 hours a week, whizz by me as I get dropped - you get the picture. To me, criteriums are an artificially-stupid form of bike racing enthusiastically adopted by crash-happy Yanks because it's close to impossible to get a permit for a road race in the US.
So why am I going to Kankakee to race 2 crits? Because any race the the South Chicago Wheelmen, one of the most grassroots-active clubs in Illinois, puts on is bound to be good and deserves support. I also need a tuneup to avoid shaming myself at Proctor the next week. Practicing what you're lousy at is usually a good way to improve skills, and heck! I just love to race my bike.
CAt 4, 39 starters, 25 finishers:
For the second time this year I arrive late because of some goofy directions from Google maps - it's mapquest for me from now on. I grab my bike and pull on my kit, but the race should already have started. Luckily, they were running a few minutes late; the lady at registration walked me over to the start, took my name off the DNS list, got me to sign the waiver and pinned me up. How cool is that?
Made it with a couple of minutes to spare. Exchanged some pleasantries with MJH2 and Psi from Bike Heaven and we're off! Wildcard set a blinding pace and by 3 laps in my coffee of a couple of hours previously was set to come up. had to drop off and soft pedal, dry retching for a couple of minutes. Sweat was streaming off me and I was seriously overheated. Rolled a couple of laps with another dropped rider and waited for the pack to come round again.
What a great course! Essentially flat, in great condition with 3 turns (2 fast, 1 slow) and a chicane to make things interesting. All left turns, which for some reason I ride much better than right turns. Safe as well, with a couple of long straights to allow passing without too much problem. A lively wind forced one to keep concentrating to find the best draft and easiest places to move up. Best of all were neighbors having parties on their lawns and really getting into things.
The pack comes round again, I jump onto the back and last a lap. Still too fast, and I'm simply not warmed up. Get together with a few other stragglers and I mostly pull them around for several laps. With about 15 mins to go we get lapped again, I jump on and have no problem staying on until the end of the race. They've slowed quite a bit and I'm now reasonably warmed-up. More than half of the 39 starters got shelled off the back in this race so I'm in good company. Roll around at the back and out of harm's way for the rest of the race and am happy that I didn't book a DNF., despite being sorely tempted to do so earlier on. The braking in this race was crazy, the last two corners and the chicanes were ridiculous accordeon fests, even though only one of the turns required and care and could easily be negotiated without braking.
btw, XXX won.
Master's 4/5: 40something starters, 34 finishers
With an hour to kill I just sat in the shade to cool down and drank multiple bottles of water. Recovered quickly and was ready to start the Master's race. Mission: don't get dropped!
I was much more aggressive about maintaining position in the first few laps and it worked. The race was much smoother, most had already ridden the cat 4 race and were familiar with the course, and there was much less braking. Still, turn 3 was taken way too sketchily. One XXX dude had the squealiest brakes ever on his Hed Stingers, he'd touch the brakes and it sounded like a pileup about to happen and every body else would brake in sympathy. After a while I drifted towards the back and practiced the technique of dropping slightly off the back and coasting through the turns to avoid the accordeon effect and saving energy. It's a lot safer as well. Mostly worked but I did have to put in some digs to catch back on when we hit the wind into the finishing straight.
About 30 mins in (15 to go) the pack started to slow quite a bit and I found myself coasting up to halfway without trying. I was starting to feel good, and getting kinda bored, so I decided to stretch the legs a bit to see what would happen. Kind of my way of shaking my tiny fist at the dominating XXX Cat 4 world. We hit the long start finish straight, I accelerated up the leeward side of the pack, trying to telegraph my attack, and punched it off the front for all I was worth. After half a lap I looked back, I had a huge gap of a few hundred yards but nobody tried to come with me. Managed to stay away for two laps (a teammate bridged up on lap two but I was already tapped out and couldn't do anything) and enjoyed the experience of taking the turns at my chosen speed without being forced to brake. Then I retired to my favourite position at the back to recover and to wait to see what would happen.
In true Cat 4 fashion everybody decided to wait for the sprint. The pace never perceptibly increased until we heard the bell. Steve from SCW gave it his all for a third of a lap in order to lead out his teammates. Nobody responded too urgently. I was expecting the race to string out, whereupon I would apply some power for two minutes and hopefully gobble up quite a few places, but it never happened. A few guys near the front took off but the rest just bunched up into turn 2, accordeoned through the chicane, and braked and bunched into the final turn. I had no real chance to get by and only managed to pass a couple of riders in the straight. Still and all, I was happy with not getting dropped and redeeming some pride.
Oh yeah, some dude from XXX won.
Big props to South Chicago Wheelmen for putting on such a superbly-organized, affordable race. Great, enjoyable venue and very safe. The locals were well into it and that made it doubly-enjoyable.
It was worth it for the older retired couple who sat near the finish for most of the day. The husband didn't say much, but his wife explained that he was French and missed bike racing a lot. Whenever they feel like it, they drive up from Springfield to a race and spend the day spectating. The husband makes notes on the racers, spots those who have good form and tries to predict who will win. I hope when I'm that age that I'll still be so passionate.
It was worth it for the smile on the faces of the little kids with the 25c Lemonade stand set up outside their house. I gave the little girl a dollar, she jumped for joy, filed it in her toy cash register and filled up my water bottle with some deliciously cool lemonade.
It was worth it for the little dog on the sidewalk with the dead Elvis face ... ok, i made that one up.
To be able to bring delight to myself and others by simply riding my bike around in circles - that gives me joy, that makes everything worthwhile. And Garrison Keillor be damned!
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