Ok, so despite the fact that I’m healing extremely well (basically by throwing calories at my wounds), I bet you’re all probably still wondering how I got so beat up this weekend. Well, the story begins in a tent in my teammate Stephanie’s backyard around 8 in the morning, when people were like “Hey, are you two still here? The Women’s 4 start is in just over an hour!”
So it was another rushed scramble through Southern Maine, where confused CVS employees told us that 95 and 295 were “essentially the same thing”, despite the fact that we were trying to get to Auburn. No worries, though – another full-bladdered scramble, forged signature and truncated warm-up later, Sally was on the line (with her numbers pinned on, this time) and off, on her way to a 6th place finish (upgrade points!) after conquering the Boston Scientific sandwich with a dominating sprint.
I had a much calmer time of it, and this time even a teammate (Greg), who I’d ridden with before. The form’s just coming around for him, so we talked a little tactics after signing in. The course was (IMHO) fantastic, because, like the previous day, it lent itself to a variety of tactical scenarios. 90 degree corner, short wall, flat, 90, downhill, 90, downhill, 90, short, barely uphill finish straight. Plus, I found it darn fun to ride. Sure, a few pavement spots were a little bumpy, but I live for that Roubaix-style stuff. And with an overcast sky and a night of rain, I was more concerned about the corners than a few choppy patches.
The weather was cool, I’d say high 50’s, and I really wanted to wear just my skinsuit because it reminds me of the old one-piece I used to XC ski race in. I warmed up, but it was just too chilly, so I tossed on Sally’s arm warmers (which probably don’t fit her anymore) and fortunately, the fashion police were not in attendance to arrest me for mixing vibrant Dartmouth green with IBC maroon. I warmed up inadequately, and rolled to the line.
Alan Atwood was running the show and gave us all a lap, which started easy and then cranked up as we raced for position on the line. I was planning to start in 53/23, but with the first corner rocketing up into a decently steep climb, I caved to peer pressure and dropped into the small ring. Good call for sure, as we roared up that first hill from the whistle. No limpwristed “I don’t wanna” at the front today, as Greg rolled right out and put down tempo for the first two laps.
I sat in around 4th wheel, checking out various lines around the corners. Occasionally, I tested a shot that proved to be sub-optimal, and this led a heavily-accented (Maine?) guy to yell out to his teammate that I kept “dropping the wheel” and that he should “go past me”. I was kinda hurt by this, but I got the first, second and fourth corners so dialed that by lap five, I was grabbing spaces at will. So yeah, point is, no shame in dropping back a few riders (especially when your teammate is making pace) to able to shoot by them later
I think around six laps in they put out a 20 dollar prime. I was sitting in the field, and though tempted, decided I wanted to stay back for the whole enchilada. I thought about trying to get Greg up there, but I couldn’t find him anywhere, and so continued to sit as two guys (ECV man who really rides for Velo-Europa) and I think a NorEast guy rolled clear. No idea who got the prime, but they kept out there for a bit afterwards.
My memory isn’t at its normal level of clarity from this race (explanation forthcoming), so I’m not sure if someone went after them, but a lap or so later, I got sick of waiting, and on a bit of advice from Greg, shot down the inside of the descent, and through my cheeky tight line on the last corner. Instant gap and some Alan Atwood love. I was closing down on the break, but with well over 10 laps to go, my concern wasn’t as much joining them as motivating the field to pull them back. A quick shoulder peek revealed the pack was coming at me faster than I was coming at the break, so I sat up and reintegrated.
By this point I was feeling good. And while it wasn’t Bjarne-Riis-on-Hautacam good, where you can just ladle out abuse on the field until they let you go or die trying to stop you, it was good enough that I planned to chase every move for the rest of the event (I don’t wait for sprints when I don’t have to). So in the interests of being fresh for that, I rolled back to about 6th or 7th wheel, and awaited the capture of the now-lone escapee (ECV man, I think).
If you want to know how the rest of the race went, check out this report, because my narrative is about to diverge. I’ve described the crash so many times to so many people that I’ve really begun to forget how it actually went. So here’s what I remember – no reconstruction.
- NEBC rider sprawls to his right on to the ground, immediately in front of me.
- I hop on the brakes and look for clear pavement. For a split second, I match his deceleration.
- A hard jerk, and a blurred still-frame of the world rushing by.
- Falling at a normal pace, almost peacefully.
- An impact so violent it defies description.
- rag-dolling and wondering why I haven’t stopped yet.
- looking down the course, seeing my bike bouncing down the road in front of me.
- Staring straight up at the sky with my arms up at my face like a boxer, realizing that:
- I’ve stopped moving; and
- I have no interest in getting up.
- People coming over and asking me if I’m ok, and me saying “I can wiggle my toes, I’m fine”.
- People lifting me to a sitting position, and me seeing the linear cut/bruises (stem bolts) on right knee starting to rise and turn purple.
- People lifting me to my feet, guiding me to the side of the road where I clung to a lamppost for a bit.
- Finally being able to stand on my own again.
There’s a more thorough description/reconstruction here, but basically, I’ve been in a few crashes (though this is my first in a race since September of 2005), at some good speeds (chain came off in a downhill sprint, pace line didn’t point out a baby head rock on a fast training ride) but this was a horse of a different color. You know when a cartoon character gets a safe/piano dropped on them, and then afterwards they stick their head out of the safe/piano and say “ouch” in a really pained voice? That’s how I felt. There was a lot of just general agony, but also a strange satisfaction of somehow managing to still be alive.
Soon enough, though, the endorphins and/or shock began to kick in, and I was feeling high as a friggin’ kite. The Cosmo Fan Club (Sally, Darcy and Greg, who had flatted out earlier) came by, and Greg/EMTs began cleaning out of my wounds. I seriously couldn’t feel anything, so I told them all “hell, scrub harder than that” – gotta make hay while the sun shines, right?
I like to keep the mood light after a crash, since everyone’s in pain, bummed out, or both. One of the things I like least about bike racing are those guys who come up from a crash cussing a blue streak and threatening to sue/kill the “guilty” party. As I see it, crashes are part of bike racing and you’ve only got yourself to blame if you hit the deck. If you can’t square with the fact that you might be leaving the race on a backboard (through no fault of your own) you shouldn’t be rolling up to the line.
A few Auburnites gawked from their porch as people finished the clean up, and Sally drove me (gently, this time) to the hospital. Final verdict from the medical community (photos here) was nothing too serious – two stitches from a chainring in my right shin, good sized road rash on both knees, two shots of it on each elbow, and a streak from my left shoulder to the top of my left femur.
Some sweet Fight Club bruises on the left side of my head/face (no concussion), a still-numb area on my left outer asscheek/love handle, a brutally sore neck, and a rib that may or may not be cracked (no pain breathing in triage, so no x-ray). But checking my computer post-race, the top speed (I crashed on the fastest part of the course) was 39.11mph – so I could have come out of this tumble needing a lot more than Tegaderm and Vitamin I.
Bike-wise, I got off easy, too. Destroyed helmet (obvs), broken water bottle lid, minuscule top tube dent, misaligned and scuffed shifters, out of true wheel, bent chainring, maybe a bent hanger (still need to check that), too. Oh, and the impact was enough to jar the clutch on my cheap AmClassic-style freewheel into not functioning, so the cassette was spinning freely in both directions – a mechanical that would have ended my race if the crash hadn’t.
On the plus side, I’m healing well, and it was gonna be an easy week anyway, so no real shot to the Master Plan. I’ve already been back in the saddle, and the legs are still acceptably sharp. The real damage will be to my waistline, since I’ve decided healing will happen faster if I drop my 1700 calorie get-skinny meal plan and eat like I was born too. But with a few weekends in the Upper Valley and Northeast Kingdom coming up, I’ll have plenty of time/motivation to shed my sickbed paunch and gear up to take a few scalps at Fitchburg. Consider yourself warned.