you know it's a bad sign when the race goes through a wind farm...


Yesterday (Sunday 7/10/05) Nate and I were in Clear Lake, Iowa, blowing off the Hopkins Raspberry Festival crit in favor of a road race through flat, windy cornfields. This is a new race, in its first year, so not very many people were aware of it, and the fields were tiny. The biggest was the 4/5s with 19. The 1/2/3s apparently only had eight, and the women's open only had 6. I knew it would be good when the USCF official at the start line said "Okay, ladies, there are six of you, racing for six prizes. All you have to worry about is the size of your check."

Looking around the parking lot before that, I thought there would be more. I saw a number of girls with road bikes who were wearing running shorts and t-shirts, but I figured the bike meant they were racing. I even saw one of them in the registration line. This seemed reasonable to me, since all the flyers emphasized "Everyone welcome! If you don't have a racing license, that's okay!" But it turned out the woman in the registration line was somebody's mom, and all the other girls were supportive girlfriends, and when we lined up at the start the field looked to be much less in my favor. There was one girl who had never raced before (but she looked pretty fit), and one girl who was a little bigger than the rest of us, with a bit of a gut, but with quads like tree trunks. I figured either she'd get killed carrying the extra around or she'd turn out to be an unstoppable diesel. Had to wait and see, though. The other three definitely looked fit, and they all had very nice bikes, so I figured I would mostly see their derrieres disappearing into the distance. Oh well.

We had a neutral start that was about four miles long. Each group had a motorcycle pacing them out, and of course the women got the pink motorcycle. The driver was SMOKING though! Could somebody please get the word out that a constant stream of cigarette smoke is not something most bike racers appreciate?

Once the neutral start was finished, the course turned south into a headwind, so we kept it pretty friendly and all worked together to get through that stretch of road. Everyone was giving pointers to the girl who hadn't raced before - don't take such long pulls, drink some water as soon as you pull off each time, that sort of thing. I was right behind her and I saw that she was in her little ring, which was going to be a definite liability if someone attacked. You don't want to be stuck in your little ring when everyone else is sprinting. My thoughts about this were: 1. I'm right behind her. I wish I wasn't right behind her. If she gets stuck during an attack, I'm going to have to get around her. 2. I could tell her that she shouldn't be in that ring. I probably SHOULD tell her she shouldn't be in that ring, but those two seconds she spends shifting may be the only thing keeping me out of last place, so I'm not telling her. So sue me, this is a bike race, not Big Brothers/Big Sisters.

So I didn't tell her. And sure enough, the minute we turned east out of that headwind the big girl attacked, and next thing I knew I was charging up the road at almost 30mph trying to catch her and the girl that was on HER wheel, with no idea who was behind me but hoping I could be the only one to catch them, which would put me in a lead group of three. That turned out to be a pipe dream, though, as when I finally caught them I looked over my shoulder and it turned out I had just spent all that energy towing two others up with me. The girl with the little chainring, though, was gone.

Then we settled into a beautiful echelon, which it was nice to see I still remember how to do despite not having done one in over a year. I wasn't getting to recover, though, even with the shelter, since we were still barreling along at 26mph. I was still suffering a mile later when the road tilted up and the big diesel girl attacked again. I had nothing left to answer with, so I fell off fast with half the race still ahead of me. A minute later what was left of the pack apparently blew apart -- the next time I came to the top of a rise I saw them all strung out along the road ahead of me. The next girl up was only 100 yards or less ahead of me. I thought it would be pretty cool if I caught her, but I guess she thought it would be pretty cool if I didn't. I never did catch her. For the rest of the race the distance between us stayed about the same, and the roads were so straight and long that I could see her the whole time. I found out later she had the same distance to the girl ahead of her, and that girl could also see the girl ahead of her. And the girl with the little chainring could see me. Talk about mental torture.

The course did go through a wind farm, by the way. It's a little disconcerting to be surrounded by giant windmills that are turning full blast while you're down on the ground struggling through the wind alone. If only Graham Watson had been there.

The race was supposed to be 42 miles, according to the information we had before the race, but I wasn't sure if that included the 4-mile neutral start or not. I was hoping it did, since the heat (it was about 90) and wind had left me with almost no water - about half an inch in the bottom of each of my two bottles. My computer said I'd gone 39 miles when I passed a course marshal who yelled "Only nine more miles! You can do it!" Nine miles made the total 48, which is two more than I expected even if the neutral start DIDN'T count. And at least seven of those nine were going to be completely dry. My two ounces of water weren't going to be around much longer.

A minute later I saw a tiny sign stuck in the dirt at the side of the road. It said 1K on it. One kilometer to go? That's less than nine miles. As I passed it I saw that the other side said HOUSE FOR SALE. I decided to take it with a grain of salt. Maybe a 5K organizer was selling his house.

Then I saw a van, and a guy with a clipboard, and some orange cones, and about 20 people standing around. I thought: "That looks like a finish line. But the nine-mile lady was less than a mile ago. This can't be the finish. Maybe it's a feed zone. Would they have a feed zone this close to the finish? That makes no sense. I sure hope somebody hands me some water. What will I do if I get a new bottle? Will I get in trouble if I throw one of my GP bottles on the ground? Damn, then they'll know what team it came from. I should have brought plain bottles. Maybe I can come back and get it after the race. Wait, there's Nate. Why doesn't he have any water for me? I need water!"

And as I was thinking all this, I rode over a white line in the road and people started clapping. I thought: "Was that the finish? Am I DONE?" And then I saw the other four women standing by a water cooler. That WAS the finish! So I stopped. I said, like an idiot, "Was that the finish?"

The diesel girl had won. She probably had a killer sprint, too, but nobody got to find out because she just powered away from the girl that got second and crossed the line alone. The girl with the little chainring came in about two minutes behind me and started loudly ranting about how she KNEW there was going to be an attack and she SAW that everybody else was in their big ring and WHY DIDN'T SHE SHIFT IN TIME!

Whew, that was close!

So I got fifth place, otherwise known as next-to-last. Not my best result ever, but hey, there was a prize coming! The women's field had been the last to depart, but the 1/2/3 race was 70something miles and those guys were still out, so we had a while to wait before the awards presentation. I dumped a bottle of water on my head and then had a hasty sponge-bath in a gas station restroom so that I wouldn't have to stand around in sweaty spandex, and then plopped myself under a tree to wait. When the awards presentation finally started, an hour later than scheduled, I got a check for $25. Now that I've been paid to ride my bike, I'm a professional cyclist, right? Time to quit the day job, folks. That's right, you heard it here first.

Of course, that creak in my bike had me fearing for my life a few times, so before we even went back to the house we stopped at Freewheel to see what they had to say. It's not official yet, but they pretty much confirmed my worst fear. The prognosis is not good. More on that when I get it back tomorrow....


Anonymous Nate said...

Ooo. They've posted the results on the festival page.

7/17/2005 7:02 PM  

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