are sometimes smooth and silky, and other times tired and tight.

Monday, April 21, 2008

A sort of Homecoming (Chapter 1: Bush League)


And you may ask yourself

How do I work this?

Butterflies. Not your typical pre-race butterflies, because I wasn’t really that nervous. The previous days rain was gone, and it was a crisp and clear morning. Yet, something still felt odd.

Was it the lack of root beer scent, wafting off of embrocated legs, and permeating the air? Was it because I was wearing arm warmers instead of leg warmers, booties, jacket, and full finger gloves? Was it the introductory spiel delivered in a relaxed Southern drawl, instead of the guttural grind of Dutch? Was it was due to the fact that I was lined up with a new group of racers, and only had word of mouth knowledge of the course? Whatever, it didn’t matter. Here I was in Brookhaven, Mississippi, about to start my first race of the year, and my first race in the US since Bill Clinton’s first term in the oval office, and to make matters all the more interesting, it was my first “Masters” race.

With a rolling descent at the beginning, I expected a fast start, and was not disappointed. The roads were narrow, and the yellow line rules were apparently strictly enforced, so the obvious plan was to keep near the front. A no brainer, and exactly what I tried to do, albeit poorly over the initial 200 meters, as I struggled to clip in fast enough. I weaved my way through the field, with mixed results, finding myself committing various misdeeds, like braking a touch too hard, or riding over the yellow line, expecting to be yelled at each time I shifted a position.

Just as I found myself where I wanted to be, in our modest peloton of 66 old geezers, I heard that familiar and unpleasant cacophony of bikes and bodies hitting the deck. This was going downhill, and we were at the most 3 kilometers from the start. Other than that, there wasn’t much to note from initial hour of racing.

There were attacks, there were counters, there were dogs, there was yelling, there was bike racing. Sitting in the middle of the group, in the back of the group, at the front of the group, even once or twice off the front of the group, I rediscovered what it was like to be in a field of racers who all speak the same language as I do, albeit with a twang. I rediscovered that I’m still far too prone to shout at people, even if they do deserve it. I also discovered that each time I was out of the saddle, climbing up the rollers, that one of my wheels was rubbing. I wondered if it was my front wheel, which had hit a pothole so hard two days before that my bars rotated. I had checked it, and it seemed fine, but maybe it wasn’t? Whatever, it didn’t matter. Or so I hoped. I opened my brakes, and focused on the road ahead.

Sometime, after the hour mark, things started to settle, for a bit. jMac, the one who told me about the race, rode alongside. He asked me how I was feeling. I told him I was doing OK, other than my rubbing wheel, as he continued on his way to the front. Moments later, the road started to twist and turn, there was a big surge, and the racing started once again. As things started getting strung out, we hit the base of the start/finish climb, the field started to explode. As I crested the hill, I saw as we crested the hill. Up the road, I saw what looked like two, but turned out to be three riders blaze away. That was the winning break, and jMac was in it.

Apart from getting hit in the helmet by a rock the size of a small plumb, the remaining hour of racing was uneventful. The peloton had no interest in letting anyone else ride off, so it effectively became a recovery ride for those with ambitions for the Time Trial in the afternoon. Whatever, it didn’t matter. After all, I was there for the experience, right?

Maybe that’s when my flexy wheel started to really begin to bother me. Whenever I was out of the saddle, it would rub. On top of that, my shifts were sluggish. I started worrying, mostly about finding someone to help me get it fixed after the race. I should stoppd, and checked it out, but I didn’t even consider that option. The peloton may have eased off, but they were still riding at a fast clip. Every time we’d hot a hill, I’d sit and try to spin up it. A few times that wasn’t enough, so I’d try to ride it out, only to feel more and more rubbing. After a while it became more of an irritation, than a concern.

As the race was nearing it’s conclusion, I pretty much forgot about it. In fact, I became a little cocky, and thought that maybe I could do something in the finish, or at the very least help out one of the guys on the team I was staying with. I rode alongside one of jMacs teammates, and asked him if I was capable, when the time came, would he want a lead out. He thanked me for the offer, but wisely chose to decline.

The road snaked, and swerved. We spotted a group up the road, and there was a jump in the tempo. It turned out to be racers dropped from another category, but we maintained the pace, the end was coming. The road took several turns, right, right, left, right… to be honest I can’t even remember.

I tried to move towards the front, and someone shouted at me “don’t do anything stupid, you’ve been nervous the whole day”, or something like that. I thought about it, and retorted with a sarcastic “uh huh”. Not exactly my best comeback ever, but at that point my wheel started rubbing the brake on the flat. Maybe he had a point after all?

With these little nuggets bouncing around in my head, the field started to set up for the final, uphill sprint. My competitive juices started flowing, and I started thinking about going for it. We hit the base, and I shifted into what I thought was a good gear. I was reasonably well placed. I waited. Not perfect, not good enough to win the field sprint, but to do well. I waited. Someone opened up the sprint on the left, I started to wind up, at least that was the idea. Just as I was planning to gun it, I heard the rubbing again, but this time I felt it, I really felt it. Whatever, it didn’t matter, no wait actually, it did. Get out of the way, but try to stay with the group, cross the line, finish with the same time, and that’s what I barely managed to do.

I crossed the line, pulled off the course, and hopped off of my bike. What did I discover? This wily old “Master”, was indeed a Master Bush Leaguer, who had forgotten to properly tighten his rear quick release.


Anonymous said...

So what's the story behind the cracked Zipp?

Shaver said...

Apparently it was the wheel of one of the victims of the crash, just after the start of the race.