So I got out of bed on Sunday with a serious pain in my neck and left shoulder. Judging by the rocks I was picking out of my helmet as I packed up for the ride out, my head did do a fair bit of landing on Saturday. Good thing the course marshals didn’t see it.
After you drive out over Independence Pass and come out past Twin Lakes on the other side, there’s really no trees above 4 feet tall until you reach California. Seriously, folks, it’s barren out there. And hot and dry and sunny. As far as I can tell, you’re never hydrated out there. There’s only two states: dehydrated and near-death. On Saturday, I was near death. Even after drinking a gallon and a half of water last night, I’m still dehydrated. Racing in the desert is not fun.
I walk over to registration and grab my numbers. I take a gander at the results sheet from yesterday and – ouch – third page. I haven’t been that far down since US XC Ski Nationals in 2004. But then again, this is an ACA race (it’s like the USCF, but for some reason, people in CO want to be different…) so I take a closer look. For some reason, it’s indexed by bib number. I was really 26th, which put me just off the first page. Of 65 starters, only 36 finished in my field. Like I said, it was hot.
Seeing as they were an hour behind schedule yesterday, I stop in at the start line to ask the officials if everything is going as planned. Some fancy-sunglasses official sees my bandages and is like “whoa, I heard somebody crashed yesterday.” Yeah, uh, these are from Wednesday, though I did crash yesterday, thanks for noticing, are we running behind? “No, were on-time. It’s awesome that you’re sticking with it and racing today. Don’t worry, the course is long enough that we won’t have to pull lapped riders.”
Ok, jackass. I don’t generally toss bottles (it saves like 2 ounces and generally costs 6 dollars) but if I do today, one’s going right into this guy’s scrotum. The only time I ever got pulled from a crit was when I ripped the living daylights out of myself at Tufts, bruised a rib and went into shock at Jay’s Deli 20 minutes later. I am now fully motivated. Still, as I went back to my car and put on my jersey, there were doubts – I had just crashed in two consecutive races. Perhaps I am not as good a bike handler as I’d like to think? No, no, Tom Boonen crashed like 5 times in 3 days at this year’s Tour, and he wins group sprints and Paris-Roubaix all the time. I’ll be fine. As I come back through the start, a different official asked me if I really wanted to do this. I told him I’d crashed in my past two races and my luck was bound to change.
Warming up hurt. I was super stiff and sore, old and crusty and generally in a bad mood (just like Greg Lemond). It took about 10-15 minutes of really cranking it around the course to get everything loosened up. Then they called the Cat 4 men to the line. It was my second most perfect warm-up ever, after the TT at Boulder. Unfortunately, I got the line in the second row of riders, and forgot to downshift, and when they started, failed to clip in. It was my worst crit start ever, and I pulled a muscle in my armit yanking on the bars as I tried to get my bike going. After the first corner, I was like “whoa, there’s way more riders than I thought there were in this field,” and if you think that, you might as well not even bother peeking out behind out, because you are in dead last. Still, I got it spinning and wormed my way to the front after about a lap.
Course was a rough figure 8, with a downhill finish right before the center and a “backside” sprint line for some of the primes that was, I s&!+ you not, 20 meters past the third corner. All the turns were 90’s, but 2, 6 and 8 had lips, potholes or other obstructions right where you didn’t want them. The uphill from corners 4-7 was slight and even, but enough to keep you (well, me) puffing. Early on, I felt good, but I always feel good early, and after getting beat on yesterday, was in no rush to bury myself early. Plus, the first primes were pathetic: 10 dollars off a large pizza a Doughy’s? Pass. 10 LiveStrong bracelets? Come on, half the dudes in the race have them. They put out some cash primes on the backside line, but I’ve had enough road rash for one week, thanks.
Physically, I was fighting a losing battle, slipping deeper and deeper into the pain jar with each successive lap. I pedaled too-big gears early on, which took a whole lot of sting out of my legs, and I don’t generally drink in crits (I lack dexterity and am usually breathing too hard to drink) which is a M I S T A K E when racing in the desert, even for only 45 minutes. But my general lack of talent has made me, y’know, tough, so bring on the pain jar.
With about 10 laps to go (hard to tell, since they changed the lap counter from 25 to 4 at 4 laps to go) a 50 dollar cash prime went up, and some dude took a flyer. The field chased back to within in a few seconds, and then everyone sat up; it was a pattern repeated throughout the day – surge and stop, surge and stop. I don’t think I’ve even been in a race with so little teamwork in it. Despite the pain, I wanted it to be faster. The dude ended up taking the prime, and the field let him go out again, until they put the 4 laps to go sign up. I was upset about the 4 laps to go thing purely because I was way back.
I tried my darnedest to channel McEwen, but it was hard working worming up. Some crackhead on a Specialized kept clipping pedals and tossing elbows and generally making a spectacle of himself. He seemed to want to be right in front of me always. I noticed that most of the people had way pimper bikes than me, too, because I’d catch a wheel and see a fancy Look seatstay junction and think I’d seen it before, but no, it would be a 585 Special Edition instead of a 585. I love my 200 dollar Airborne frame and beat-to-hell Ultegra 9 and Ksyrium Elites, but dang, I’m starting to look destitute out there. Kids will start throwing me pennies after the race if I don’t upgrade soon.
Anyway, I got it back where it needed to be by the bell lap. I was 4th or 5th going around turn 8, but the kid was still up the road, so I should have been up higher, anticipating the last little bit of surge from the field. I got behind a bad wheel, but the sprint was one of those stupid sitting-down ones and I was pretty dead anyway. I caught a few guys, but was out in the wind for a long way to take 9th. Considering the beatdown I’d taken over the past few days, I’m fine with that.
I took me a full lap and a half of coasting and gasping after the finish to get to the point where I could breath comfortably again. The ripping side-stitch on my left may have been indicative of altitutde, but I think I might just be plain old out of shape. Time to get some real riding in. Oh, one more thing: while cooling down I got to chatting with a couple of the other guys in the race. They wanted to know about my bandages, so I told them about my Wed and Sat crashes. When I got done talking, they were looking at each other wierd, and then asked “You didn’t crash yesterday as so-and-so a spot, did you?” And I was like “yeah,” and they’re like “Dude, that was the fastest part of the course. We hit 52 mph going through there every time.” Yeah. That’s fast. I was on the brakes when I packed, so probably going way slower, but still. 52 is fast.