Sunday, February 17, 2008

Not Daytona

A race review, by popular demand.

My younger daughter Claire has a way of putting things into perspective when it comes to my racing nowadays.
"You didn't crash and get hurt again, Daddy," the 4-year-old said as I complained about my performance in Saturday's Frosty Toes Classic, the season opener for road racing in Ohio.
Claire tends to associate Dad's racing with wrecks. She watched me stagger around after two spills last year, and the bloody bandages and moan-filled rehab exercises made enough of an impression that she mentions wrecking whenever she sees me swing a leg over the bike. Apparently for her, it's a victory if I just keep the rubber on the road.
So I won on Saturday.
By the other objective measure, I flat-out lost. That is, I came in dead last after getting a flat tire two miles out from the finish line.
Too bad, too: I felt surprisingly good about the way the race was setting up. I spent the entire second lap out of the wind and felt far stronger than I expected to as we headed toward the penultimate turn. So my race ended with me nowhere near contention.
In a way, then, it ended according to plan. I showed up with no intent to contend at all.
I met my teammates at the race's staging area -- an unpaved parking lot covered with ice and snow at an elementary school in an identity-challenged Licking County hamlet that's alternately described as Hartford or Croton -- with only half an hour to warm up.
We had gone over our plan thoroughly beforehand, though: I'd volunteered to sacrifice myself and work for a couple teammates in the combined Cat 4-5 race -- bury myself to lead them out for a sprint finish, or shut down any pursuit if they got a breakaway. When you do that, you usually finish well down in the bunch.
But at registration, Chris and Pete decided to ride with Dave, one of our Cat 3s, in the 3-4 field -- a separate race that started several minutes before the Cat 4-5 race I found myself riding in alone. My training has been too spotty for me to ride with that stronger field. And I didn't think I'd be strong enough this early in the year to contend in mine.
So I found myself wondering why I even bothered to drive 2-1/2 hours and pay $50 in gas and entry fees for a training ride without any point.
Yet it had turned into a beautiful day for a race after so many days, or weeks, of cold, dreary, windy and snowy weather.
The school's parking lot was a mess, but the roads were mostly dry, and the wind was more moderate than forecast. The sun was shining, and 33 degrees felt like 53.
So I lined up in a field of 15, plus a Cat 3 / masters rider who went off with us because he'd missed the earlier starts. We rode very briskly for the first four miles; he hoped to get a crowd to work hard enough to pull him up to either the masters or Cat 3/4 field, and I hoped to get in the vigorous warmup I didn't get pre-race, and maybe break up the field a little.
His plan was doomed: We were four minutes behind at the start. But mine was working out fine: I was getting warm and feeling surprisingly strong, and we were stringing things out pretty good.
But then came two turns filled with gravel. The peloton slowed down to towpath pace and came back together.
Then a young rider attacked and got a small gap. At first, no one responded. Then some folks decided to chase him down, and I let them tow me up. He gave in when we caught him and everyone came back together. Then he jumped again and dangled there, 50 yards off the front, with his lead growing very slowly but steadily, as we passed the halfway point of the first lap. So three of us took off after him again. Next we knew, we had a little bit of a gap, even though we hadn't organized anything just yet, because we were coming to the 2nd-to-last turn on the 1st lap.
Or were we?
The marshal didn't marshal -- just stood alongside his car -- so the guys up front thought he was just blocking an intersection instead of a turn. Nope. It was a turn. And our entire breakaway blew it.
We chased back on. But from there on, things settled in to a steady sub-LT pace for the rest of the race until I flatted.
I fixed my flat and took the lanterne rouge.
I was Claire's hero.


Postscript: Turned out Snake Bite did have another guy in the 4/5 field -- a new fella named Steve whom I'd met once but failed to recognize. (Neither of us were "in uniform.") He bagged fourth place, he said. Congrats, Steve!


MattO said...

Did one of your two crashes last year involve your's truly at RATL?

JimmyNick said...

Yes, Matt. Did you just now realize that was me???

- JN