The orchestral score swelled. The crescendo was near. Months of training and sacrifice were about to peak. Our hero (good, noble, dedicated) was about to achieve victory. His comeback was nearly complete.We were on the cathartic threshold. Tears welled, but did not yet fall. Palms sweated and limbs trembled in anticipation. The apex of tension was upon us.
He powered toward the line. Tunnel-vision. Ears echoed the wind and the sounds of the crowd. Cowbells clanged as he sucked wind deep into his heaving chest. His legs pumped with adrenalized fury. They felt good, warm. No lactic acid burn (yet). No scream to stop. Acceleration.I was sitting upright watching dozens of riders hurtling toward and past me. The kaleidoscope of colors and the whirring buzz of the gears was...pretty.
Three across, they approached the line. Podium already in hand. Victory in reach. In his first race he would be first. He was about to win!
Right hand clutched left shoulder. "Where's my bike?", I mused.
"Ouch," I added.
One second I was surging for the line. The next second I was watching the race from a rather unique perspective.
How? What? Huh?
Morning dawned cold for the 17th Annual Carl Dolan Memorial/Howard County Library Spring Classic, hosted by DC Velo (there's a mouthful). Temperatures in the upper 30s greeted me when I racked my bike onto my car for the short journey to Columbia Gateway Center.
Like my first cyclocross race, my first road race (practically) would be in my backyard. Even though local, I was still up before dawn for a solid oatmeal and salmon breakfast (lots of honey and chilies, too!). If I was going to get into the 0800 race, I needed to fuel up early.
I was wait listed for the day's races. Circumstances not worth detailing prevented my registration. Though on standby, I was still having kittens Saturday night.
Amped and nervous, I approached registration as soon as they opened and declared myself ready, willing, and available for the first race. I was secretly pleased by the chill air, as I suspected it would keep some folks in bed. I also knew that a raft of riders had ridden the Baker's Dozen race the day previous. They were likely no-shows.
Carl Dolan is a 10-lap, clockwise circuit race around the Columbia Gateway office park oval. The road has two features of interest: a downhill, 90degree turn and a small hill leading to the finish. The turn is relatively easy. The concern is that every man needs to keep his line as the crowded peloton comes through it. The hill is a little over half a kilometer long. It is not steep, it's simply there. The finish line is at a false flat near the top of the hill.
I took a "warm-up" lap in the frigid air. I was ill-prepared. As I cut the wind, my fingers screamed in the cold. By the time I made the decisive downhill turn I could barely shift gears. My digits were useless. I was wearing a softshell gilet over my skinsuit (over a merino base layer), so my body was reasonably warm. It was my fingers that killed!
With 10 minutes to go they opened the race to the wait-listers. I paid my fees, got my bib number, and one of the hosts helped me to pin on my bib.
Minor problem. Once I took off my gilet, the wind viciously cut through my skinsuit. It was cold. So, when I went back to the car I quickly took off the gilet and wore it under the skinsuit. Fashionably obscene, but completely practical.
Did I mention I was freezing?
I got to the start and stood in the back row. We were seconds from the bell, so I didn't even have time to get nervous. And off we went!
And they're off!
I achieved my first goal—clipping in without landing on my arse. There were a lot of slow clippers and slow starters, so withing the first minute I was directly in the middle of the pack.
My plan was simple: sit in and survive. I had no idea what to expect from anything—the course, the riders, or myself. I was determined to observe and learn from the experience.
Nervously, the pack approached the downhill prior to the turn. In close quarters (and I do mean close) we accelerated, spreading out vertically, while the horizontal lines remained. Mercifully, everyone held their lines and we were through!
Furiously pumping out of their saddles, the pack surged downhill to the base of the "climb". Much ado about nothing. Everyone re-formed during the climb and we crossed the line to start lap number two in much the same condition as lap one.
Several more laps passed in this manner. I experimented with my pack position for the downhill turn, on one lap I even came through it first. I was poking and prodding, finding gaps and filling them, while watching the pack and teams interact.
I felt good. Really good. Surprisingly good. So much so that during laps six and seven I removed my knee warmers (one each lap). As we rode the long flat approaching the downhill I dropped to the back, unclipped a pedal, figure-foured my leg over the top bar, and took off the warmer, stuffing it into my jersey. Both times I was able to re-connect with the pack without stress. In fact, the quick sprint enlivened my legs and gave me confidence.
"Here we go" I decided, and I hammered it for the 300 yards to the line.
I easily crossed first (and to this day I have no idea if it truly was a bonus lap), sat up, and coasted. It seemed like a long time before the pack caught me. I let it pass and rejoined somewhere in the middle
"So," I thought, "I think I've got the hang of this."
I knew I could hang in, but could I compete? I committed myself to stay near the front. I'd see what would happen. I expected chaos, but I thought that if I was near the front, a top 10 finish would be cool.
I was, after all, just sitting in.
We finished lap 9 and got the bell for the final lap. Things got interesting. Two teams jockeyed for position near the front. Since I was alone, I was able to slide into the seams and hold a position. No elbows necessary. As we approached the turn I was electrically attuned to everything. I saw the two lines in front of me, felt my machine working smoothly beneath my beating engine, and sensed the approach of the pack behind me.
We came out of the turn and the teams hit the afterburners. I was in the slipstream and got pulled along at more than 38mph. I barely had to pedal as the huge draft sucked me forward. Riders took their pulls and dropped from the line, tossed out of the passing train like so much garbage.
I was watching a battle of attrition between the two teams, and I was right in the middle of it.
At about 500 yards it all dissolved into individual efforts. The trains were gone, and 5 of us remained. I was still riding someone's wheel when we came to 300 yards. Someone attacked. Two went with him.
It was the three of us for the line.
I had a lot left in the tank as I took up position between the two other sprinters. There was plenty of room as we approached the line, three across.
I powered toward the line. Tunnel-vision. Ears echoed the wind and the sounds of the crowd. Cowbells clanged as I sucked wind deep into my heaving chest. My legs pumped with adrenalized fury. They felt good, warm. No lactic acid burn (yet). No scream to stop. Acceleration.And what did I win?
Three across, we approached the line. Podium already in hand. Victory in reach. In my first race I would be first. I was about to win!
A broken collarbone.
On to Tales of Titanium Caterpillars→