Sunday, April 09, 2006

A little perspective

Sunday, 9 April

Anything I achieved on the bike this weekend is sadly overshadowed by a tragic event at the Boat Street crit in Seattle on Sunday evening that took the life of an all-around great guy, Brad Lewis. He always had a smile on his face, and that's how I'll remember him. My thoughts and prayers are for his family and those who were with him at the race.

Brad loved this sport, and I hope I can pay tribute to his dedication by affirming why it was important to me this weekend. But I am reminded that it is "just bike racing," and so many things are so much more important. Treasure every single one of those things.

Up until the phone call on Sunday night, it was a good weekend--and this entry was going to be titled "I won a WHAT?!" I won the finishing sprint at the Kings Valley road race outside Corvallis on Saturday. I don't sprint, much less win them. It only proved my number one rule of bike racing: never assume anything. Those who know me are thinking that everyone else must have been DQed for crossing the center line or abucted by aliens. Nope.

By some stroke of good fortune, the rains stopped just as the first race rolled out of the parking lot. We had a couple of miles of light rain after the first lap, but other than that the race was dry. The combined women's field had 25 riders, and things were pretty sedate on the first lap. It's a 19.5-mile lap, with the finish line being about 16.5 miles into the third lap. The part of the course I remembered from years past was The Hill, which is the last kilometer up to the finish. I did not remember all the painful little rollers in the first five miles of the course. And oh yeah, there's that pesky headwind section out on the backside of the course, where the road is flat but the riding is tough.

[One hysterical note I almost forgot: the women staged behind the masters men, and while they were listening to the official's litany, I noticed that the guy in front of me had carbon wheels--and fenders!! Only in a masters race!]

After the first time up the hill, we were down to about 15 riders. The second lap was a little friskier and we lost another 5 or 6 women on that trip up the hill. This time, we got organized on the fast section after the hill and rotated our paceline around the first part of the course. Laurel attacked on one of the rollers and dangled 100m off the front for maybe 2 miles. Kori and I chased her down on the longest "roller," but the rest of the group caught us before we could get any farther away. So everyone settled in to wait for the last time up the hill. There were only two cat 4s left with us, and somehow they got stuck riding on the front for a couple of miles (more headwind) while we all rested up for the inevitable. Thank you!

We had been passed about a half a lap earlier by the cat 1-2 break, and then by a 2-man group trying to bridge. At the 1k sign, our follow official warned us that a 20-rider group was about to overtake us, but it was unclear whether we WERE neutralized, we would BE neutralized, or we should just go like hell to finish before them and get out of the way. Laurel opted for the latter interpretation, jumped immediately, and got a good gap. I think she didn't realize how much headwind there was. Kori and I were kind of stuck behind those cat 4s and others in the group and took a while to get out and launch after her. Kori got a head start, but I caught her within a hundred meters or so. I wasn't sure whether to sit on her wheel or pass her. I knew I should sit behind her if I wanted to "outsprint" her, but I also really wanted to catch Laurel, and Kori wasn't closing that gap. So I went around her, thinking that she would hop on my wheel. I also figured Andrea and the rest of the group were lined up behind me. I was surprised at how quickly I caught Laurel. I was worried, though, about whether we were supposed to be acting "neutral," so I kept to the right side of the road. We were not, in any case, allowed to take the whole road at 200m.

This all played out in very slow motion. It's not a steep climb, maybe 5%, but it slows us down (and wears us down) plenty, and the headwind was very much a factor too. It flattens out to a false flat at 200m, but your legs don't really notice. Two thoughts were going through my head: one I wasn't familiar with (there's no one between me and the finish line: go go go), and one I know all too well (there are 8 women sitting on my wheel, about to surge around me when they put some power into their sprint effort). But nothing happened at 200m, or 100m, and even at about 75m I still couldn't sense anyone moving up on either side. So I put my head down and just went for it. It turned out that only Andrea was on my wheel, and at the last second I knew she was moving to come around me. It was close, but the finish line came before she passed me. I was amazed at how much time there was to think in the sprint, and, in hindsight, I'm pretty surprised that I never once thought about turning around to look back. And those crowds at the finish line are great when they are yelling to actually motivate you, not just applauding your effort for finishing.

The promoter of the race has a special trick at the awards ceremony. Every envelope of prize money has a picture on it of a famous pro rider winning a famous race. If you can name the rider and the race pictured on your envelope, you get bonus bucks. Right up there with my inability to sprint is my failure to recognize ANY bigtime bike racer, so I was prepared to be embarrassed. But (don't assume anything, remember), the rider on my envelope was last year's winner at Kings Valley, Nicole Demars, with whom I have raced many times (ex-pro, now mommy, who lives in Eugene). And of course I recognized her. The winner of the cat 1-2 men's race gets a crown and has to pose with an "ermine" robe (this is KINGS Valley, remember), and I got an enormous bouquet in a vase/decanter that's etched with the name and date of the race. Nice touches! (Thanks for the photo, too, Scott Goldstein!)

Sunday was another race in Oregon, the 10-mile version of the Estacada time trial east of Portland. (It increases to 20 miles as the season goes on.) We got there in time to preride the course and to admire how spectacularly beautiful it is. It's on a two-lane highway that's closed farther on due to snow, and it runs down in the bottom of the Clackamas (?) River gorge. It winds and twists (and undulates) along the river, past lots of promontories and rock cliffs. Really, really scenic.

The race starts out uphill, then down a fast, quick descent where I was thankful for my 55x11. Then you twist and turn and dodge divets in the roadway from rocks falling off the cliffs. There's not too much shifting on this course, so you just go. After the turnaround, I was really surprised to get back into (and stay on top of) the 55x11 for long stretches. That little hill in the last 1k is pretty tough, and then it's false flat, and then finally it's downhill for about the last 200m so you're flying by the time you cross the finish line. Once more, I just managed to hold off Andrea and had the fastest women's time of the day.

It all seemed so sweet, and then so insignificant when I learned of Brad's death. It was a privilege to be part of a sport with you, Brad, and to know that we relished and cherished some of the same things.


tia said...

sweet weekend of racing for you! and you've got text wrapped around your photo!! :)

stokediam said...

Hey, and you know what? With this software, getting the text to wrap around the photo was actually EASIER than racing!