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

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A sort of Homecoming (Fall River)

I step out of the car, and stretch. My right hamstring tight from the 2 hour drive. I look around, searching for the registration. The blandness of the location leaves no obvious sign as to its whereabouts.

A racer slowly cycles past. I ask for directions. He points me towards a tent and a port-o-potty, just over the hill. I should have known. Some things never change.

I make my way through the parking lot. Walking past riders in various states of dress and undress. Their only means of privacy are the towels wrapped around their waists. No clubhouse, café, or local community center to change in here. No sir. This is an industrial park crit, which so happens to be set in the outskirts of a post-industrial city. Some things never change.

I’m early, so there’s no rush. I stand on the side of the course, next to family members sitting on lawn chairs, watching their loved ones fly past every other minute. There’s a small break ahead of the field. I doubt it will last, but don’t stick around to see. After a few laps, I grow bored, and head to the tent to collect my number.

When I’m there I ask if two friends, whom I’m expecting, have signed in yet. Nope. I must be early.

I head back to the car, and send an SMS to SoC, one of the friends I’m expecting, and secretly supporting today. He’s on his way. I send another SMS to SdC, the other friend that I’m expecting. No answer.

I pin on my number. I set up my bike. I drink a bottle of water, and casually chew on Fig Newtons. I pump up my tires. I change into my kit. Sans towel.

Eventually I see SoC drive past, but he doesn’t notice my car. As I watch him pull up the hill, I get an SMS from SdC. They’re parked up by the tent. I join them, and their wives. We make idle chi chat while SoC sets up his bike.

Once everyone is ready, we clip in, and ride towards the port-o-pottys. Some things never change. I ask SoC if there’s any specific plan for the day, and he quietly states that he’d like to win. Considering his past history on this course, a podium in a lower cat, and a top ten in the field sprint the year before, this seems like an obtainable goal.

When the three of us finally get around to warming up, I notice that SoC’s demeanor has changed. He’s gone quiet. We let him ride ahead, to channel his “Dark SoC,” and discuss the various scenarios that might play out, and what our respective roles will be. Mine is simple: mark the danger men, and try and keep things together for the sprint.

SdC briefs me about the riders I should keep an eye out for: one I already recognized earlier, thanks to his girth, who SdC and SoC have a history with; a rookie sprinter who’s been tearing it up this year; and a track racer with a strong team. As we’re talking, the rookie rides past with a teammate whose bibs are kept together with what looks to be 30-40 safety pins. When we go back to the cars to dump bottles, SdC motions something to my left, and I discover that I’m parked next to the Track racer.

When the course finally opens, we do a quick lap on the 1 mile circuit. One lap is more than enough to see that technique won’t play a big role today: four corners, a big ring hill, and a finishing straight with a head wind. Easy. The hill will hurt – in the beginning and in the end. The sprint into the headwind, will require a good leadout or, at the very least, patience.

We pull up to the field, waiting to start. To my surprise I can easily line up in the second row. SoC and SdC choose to stay further back. I leave them be. I look around. There’s a small guy in front of me, old and craggy, on a Cannondale with a rear disc wheel. I find myself momentarily perplexed by that, until I notice that the Track rider is standing next to me.

Something is said by the announcer, but I’m not listening. I think it’s about the neutral support. Finally we’re set free.

I clip in, and jump on the wheel ahead of me. We hit the first turn, leading downhill, and the speed picks up. Two hundred and fifty meters later, we hit the second turn leading to the bumpy pavement of the back straight. With the tailwind, and the shallow descent we quickly hit the third turn, to the hill. I take the inside corner, and find myself sitting near the front. My instincts are to push it, but I opt for caution, and spin, following the wheel ahead of me. As we crest the hill, we swing left, on to the long finishing straight.

I settle into somewhere around 10th place. Trying to avoid the front. Keeping an eye out for the danger men, and their teammates. As we power up the hill the second time around, I see the track racer move to the front. He jumps, and I latch on. It’s over as soon as he’s started. He was probing. I settle back in.

We hit the back straight again, and I see a few riders dangling off the front. I don’t think much of it. On the base of the hill I see that they’re opening up a gap. I sit somewhere between 5th and 10th, expecting the racers ahead to react. They don’t.

I don’t know why, but I find myself accelerating. I don’t think I’m pushing it. Really, I don’t.

But I’m closing the gap to the two riders. I look over my shoulder, and see that I have a gap. As I turn on the finish straight, it appears that the break is slowing, waiting for me. Or maybe it’s the headwind that’s slowing them down? I don’t know. I bridge to them, and sit back, leaving them to carry on with the work, while I recover for a few moments.

Over the next lap, I notice a few things about my breakaway partners. I realize that one of them was in the break that I saw in the previous race. He’s wearing a cycling cap under his helmet, and has real glasses on, a local Laurent Fignon. He seems to be riding strong and smooth. My other breakaway partner, on the other hand, apparently has no clue on how to cut a corner. A lap later he either sits up, or we drop him. I’m not sure which.

I dig in, and hope that we get some company. A lap passes and I notice Mrs. SoC and Mrs. SdC standing on the hill. I look back, hoping to see a counter, but the peloton is intact. Another lap passes, and I see that The Mrs.’s have moved to the back straight of the course. I sneak another peak on the hill, and see that we’re not gaining any ground. I take my pulls, but try to keep them short. No use in burning myself out when my real work lays ahead.

A few laps pass, and a prime in announced. We don’t have much more time. Fignon is doing most of the work now. I debate about pipping him for the prime, but he’s earned it, so I sit on his wheel as he crosses the line.

We stay away for another lap, or two. He asks me if I’m cooked. I shrug. He says that I should work, seeing as I won’t have anything left for the sprint. I smile.

Finally we’re caught. I drift back, maybe 20 deep. A lap later I move back up. Time to mark.

The rest of the race is a simple loop. Jumps from the left. Jumps from the right. They’re mostly probes. At least I assume as much.

For some reason, most of them are followed by someone shouting “rider right!” or “rider left!” to warn the peloton.

With each warning, I grow more and more irritated. I don’t know why, but I find it childish and cheap. I stifle the urge to use some… colorful language. When the umpteenth warning is shouted, I scream a plaintiff “Oh. Shut. Up!” It’s ignored.

I keep my eye out for the Rookie. I keep my eye out for the Track Rider. I keep my out for the Chubby Checker, the rider with the history. I also start to keep my eye out for the Oompa Loompa with the disc wheel and a guy wearing a generic black and white kit. The latter two more out of self-preservation, than any real concern about their strengths.

The lap chart whittles down, and apart from watching one of the Track Riders teammates ride off the road and into a barrier, for no reason whatsoever, there’s nothing of note.

With less than five laps to go it’s becoming clear that this will end in a sprint. I stay near the front. Just in case.

With four laps to go, I see Chubby move up to the front for the first time. People start surging before the third turn. I patiently work my way up the hill. Doing what I have to stay near the front, but nothing more.

With three laps to go there’s another surge on the back straight. The Oompa Loompa squeezes past, on my left. I drift to the middle of the pack.

We’re on the penultimate lap, and someone is shouting. “Rider left!” “Rider right!”

There’s someone up the road. We crest the hill, and hit the finish straight, and I notice that the pace has slowed.

I shift gears, and surge forward, shouting to the peloton “Rider left! Rider left! Look, look! I’m attacking!”

To be honest, it's not much of an attack. I dig, and dig deep. Dragging the peloton, hoping that SdC and SoC are where they need to be.

I hit the 1st corner for the last time. I pull off on the downhill, and watch as the field slows. I shout at the rider behind me to attack, or pull through. He does nothing.

We bounce through the 2nd turn for the final time, and I see the Rookie, with his Safety Pin teammate, come past me on my left. I try to grab his wheel, but have to settle for the Oompa Loompa’s. I look over and see the Track Rider on the other side of the road, moving up, sitting behind a few teammates.

As we approach the 3rd turn, to the hill, there’s one more surge. I think I have enough for one last effort on the hill, but the Oompa Loompa takes the corner wide. I try one last time to push it, but get cut off by the B&W squirrel. With that, the peloton blows past me. I watch SoC fly by, somewhere midpack.

I look back and see SdC. We soft pedal up the hill, to the finish.

I catch SoC on the cool down lap. Dark SoC is gone. Smiley guy SoC is back.

I ask him how he did, and he says “Second, or third. I’m not sure.”

He pulls up to the finish, and has his podium picture taken: next to a van, in an empty parking lot, in an industrial park, in a post industrial city, on Sunday afternoon, standing next to a port-o-potty.

Some things never change.


Unknown said...

Always a good review. Nice to put a face with the man.

Unknown said...

you coming south ? Philly?

Shaver said...

if central park counts as south, yes.

Unknown said...

Well if you get down this way... there are plenty of hills down here in killadelphia