There are races I will do even as I start transitioning out of bike racing. The Keweenaw Chain Drive is one. It was the first race I ever did and is still my home race. The other is Baycross. Part of it is because I Like Ashland, Wisconsin. Part of it is because the most success I’ve ever had racing has been at Baycross. I was third in 2009 and took 3rd and 1st in the two races in 2010. Since I had every intention of racing with the “A” Men this year, I wasn’t expecting anywhere near that level of success. The question would become: do I still like Ashland?
Getting there should have been even less stressful, since I would be starting even later. But life had other plans in the form of a hockey practice our son needed to be at. We worked something out with my parents but we managed to not leave Houghton until nearly 11 AM. Travel time would make that really close, so I was pushing the speed limit rather a lot. Turns out that I didn’t need to, since our race started 15-20 minutes late. I still only did one lap as a pre-ride, chatting with some rider who seemed to know me, though I didn’t really recognize him. The course was almost identical to last year’s, with some very small changes. The “Pit of Despair” was really bad this year. Frankly, I thought it to be dangerous and not just difficult. Instead of the old run-up, we jumped over a little stream that proceeds from the artesian springs in Prentice Park and then wiggled along some muddy singletrack to a similar run-up. That singletrack was also in really bad shape. Practically everything else was the same.
I was hanging with the big group for part of the first lap and thanks to the inside information of a friend who rode in the “B” race, I picked up a little gap through the Pit. After that lap, the front three rode away and three of us settled into a rotation of holding onto the next 3 slots. I would get a gap through the technical sections, but as we headed onto a couple of gravel trails, they would pass me back and I would struggle to keep the other two in sight. At about the 30 minute mark, I decided I really needed to drop them and bombed through the Pit at a speed that would usually be described as “reckless”. Coming out, there is a little zig-zag onto a gravel path that had been a little sketchy due to loose gravel pretty much everywhere. I thought I had a decent, controllable speed going into the turn this time, but the bike slid out, I hit the deck hard and slid on my left elbow and hip. I had enough of a gap that I was already up and trying to get back on the bike before my chasers caught me.
I’ve tried to figure out what went wrong. I didn’t think I went in too hot, but must have done so. I can only imagine that my perceptions were off out of fatigue. Frankly, I also blame the tires. I was running them at about 28 PSI, but the darn Grifos have no cornering knobs to speak of. I cannot wait to get rid of them, but they have proven to be durable, if not grippy.
There are times when you get on a bike and power just flows from your legs. Turning over the pedals seems effortless. This was not one of those times. As soon as I clipped in I could tell I wasn’t going to be chasing those guys anymore. And frankly, I didn’t know if I could finish. I kept riding, just to see if my legs would keep turning over. I tried chasing as the impact wore off, but they just kept riding away from me.
I gave one more push to try to catch them the next time through the Pit but apparently hadn’t shaken the cobwebs from my head and got out of the right line. I hit some ruts the wrong way and crashed again. Fortunately, this time it was on myright side. I nailed my shoulder and hit my helmet on the dirt. Again I jumped on, but was really starting to doubt my ability to finish. As I came through the Start/Finish area, the official told us there was some insane amount of laps left. My fuzzy, mid-race math told me this race was going to go way over an hour.
Two more people caught me and started to pass me. My competitive spirit came back and I found something left in my legs. I was racing again. The same basic story was happening with this group too. I rode the technical stuff better, they rode the flat straights faster. As the laps counted down, I thought I had a chance of passing them and just had to find the right spot.
First one, then the other fell behind me. I sprinted like crazy through the last 200 meters and held them off to claim 6th place. One hour and sixteen minutes after the word “go”, we were getting off our bikes. I was incredibly grateful to be done and was never so proud of a mid-pack finish.
After practically dropping my bike, I started a systems diagnostic. The Twin Six METAL skinsuit I had worn exactly once before had a seriously torn sleeve:
My left arm had some serious road rash from my elbow pretty much all the way to my wrist. I had torn my left glove and put some pretty considerable scrapes into my pinky finger. I had some milder road rash on my left hip and a bruise on my right shoulder. My right thumb was so sore I could hardly push the buttons on the key fob to unlock the car. My only consolation was that I had nearly chosen to skip the skinsuit, since it was feeling a little warm. I can’t imagine was the cheese grater gravel would have done to my arm without heavy thermal fabric in the way.
We skipped awards and just drove back to the hotel (SplAshland, naturally) with a stop at Wal-Mart for some first aid supplies. I took an immensely painful shower and then sat in a deck chair while the kids hit the water park. Dinner hurt (but was good — the Deep Water Grille is yummy), the second trip to the water park hurt, watching movies in the hotel room hurt. Sleeping hurt. I didn’t get much rest that night. I was wondering whether I was going to be able to ride the next day, since grabbing the brake hood was proving to be pretty painful.
I have never crashed that hard before and really hope to never do it again.
Day 2: Bayview
When I woke up on Sunday morning, I was pretty excited about heading to Salem Baptist Church again before the race. We had such a positive experience there last year that it is an integral part of our trips to Ashland. Breakfast first, which proved to be a bit of a problem for someone trying to be gluten-free. Biscuits and gravy, waffles and gluteny cereals made up most of the spread. I found some fruit, yogurt and a hard-boiled egg before trying some instant oatmeal. (Yes, I know that oatmeal is not necessarily gluten-free, but I only have a light sensitivity, if anything.) Instant oatmeal can’t hold a candle to quick oats, which are themselves far inferior to steel cut oats. Church was nice and we headed back to the hotel. The 11 o’clock hour at SplAshland is really nice and quiet, because most people have checked out. The kids played a bit more and then we headed over to Bayview Park.
I decided to try a lap in my street clothes to see how my hand and arm would handle the ride. Turns out ibuprofen treats me well. I kitted up and planned to race.
They had changed somewhat less of this course. The main difference was that we headed out on a pier and then whipped a u-turn back to the shore before hitting the beach. The run-up was then a little shorter. Some of the guys on mountain bikes were able to ride the whole thing. The weather was awesome, and I was riding in short-sleeves.
I hung with the big group for almost two laps this time. A few guys went out a little too hard during the first couple of laps and I picked them off. By the middle of the race (which only lasted an hour this time), I was riding in my final position of 6/10. The first 6 riders were basically the same as we were on Saturday; there were just a couple fewer riders.
The best part about this race was getting a chance to work on some technique. I was hauling through a few of the corners, working on quicker turns out on the pier and riding through some chicanes keeping my itchy fingers off the brake levers.
I did spend a lot of time watching 5th place, pulling him back a few seconds at a time, but could easily see I wouldn’t have enough laps to take back all of those seconds. At one point, I did also drop my chain in the same kind of way I did at the first day of the Keweenaw Cup. Apparently, I need to adjust my chain catcher.
One of the guys asked if I had ridden the “B” race too, probably because I was pre-riding during that race and since I had raced nothing but “B” before. At the time, I was a little put-off by the question, as it seemed like he was questioning if I belonged in the “A” race. I think getting lapped by the leader 300 meters from the finish and lapping the last-place rider myself means I belong in that class. In retrospect, I think the guy was just confused.
So here it is, a week later. I still have a bandage on my arm healing up the road rash. I didn’t do any meaningful training this week. Instead of racing the last regular UPCROSS race, I did a couple of fun mountain bike rides. It was much needed off-time to prep for the U.P. State Championships and a couple more late-season ‘cross races Downstate around Thanksgiving.
Oh, by the way. If you ever wondered how much that little piece of plastic on the top of your shifters costs, it’s $14. I got to replace one on my front shifter. Yay.