Saturday, September 10, 2011

US Pro Crit

The next post will be a self-deprecating tale of my visit to my home country--err, state.  But first, I'll catch you up on the last race that I did: U.S. Professional Criterium Championships.

The race was in Grand Rapids, MI and was limited to professionals of American nationality, so the field wasn't huge by any standards.  With 58 racers toeing the line, 13 of them wearing the green and gold of Kelly Benefit Strategies, we were ready to go.  Aggressiveness was our tactic of the day; we had the numbers and we intended to use them.  The 80-kilometer race was fast the whole time, but the course was too easy to break the field up and too fast for anything to get away.

As the lap counter dropped below 30-to-go, the storm we'd been seeing on the horizon blew in with some serious rain.  This course had 16 manhole covers, 6 of them in the middle of turns--3 of them in a single turn.  The whole start-finish stretch (including the turns at both ends) was brick.  No, this wasn't a good course for rain.  Everyone had dry-weather tire pressure, so as soon as the ground got wet the crashes started.  I managed to keep my rear wheel beneath me through the turns but the guys ahead of me hit the deck.  I immediately locked up the rear wheel in an attempt to stop short. But me and my stinking balance kept it up as I began to rotate in the skid.  I'd managed to skid my way through 180-degrees of rotation, but still had can see my problem.  So my efforts to avoid crashing failed, and I simply went into the pile backwards.  Instinctively, I put my arm out.  Sprained wrist, sweet.

While I waited in the pits to get put back in on the next lap, I took the opportunity to let air out of the tires.  It helped...for a little while.  In the meantime, 15 laps had disappeared from the lap counter in an effort to finish before the worst of the storm.  Just a couple laps later, I took a bad line through the last corner (trying to avoid a manhole cover), got on the power a little too early and the back wheel was no longer beneath me.

On rain-slick bricks, you pretty much just slide forever.  That is, until something stops you. All, I could think at the time was curb, CURB, CUUUURRRR--and then I hit it.

I did my best to roll over it, but it still wasn't a pleasant experience.

2 crashes in a race...peace out, I'm done.  Free laps had ended and the storm was just getting worse.  Then a surprise for everyone--they stopped the race with 4 laps to go.  60mph wind gusts were blowing riders and course barriers over, so they sent us back to our cars for 30 minutes while they decided what to do.

In the end, they decided to put 30 laps back on the ticker (so the race would be long enough to actually race) and just restart the race completely.  I was suffering a serious case of nerves.  My wrist was swelling up a little and was only comfortable on the hoods.  So after the restart, it didn't take long to find myself tailgunning the race.  I was opening gaps through every corner, then sprinting all the way to the next corner as the field accordioned, single file the whole way.

I slowly regained confidence in my even lower tire pressures, and with 10 laps to go began to work my way to the front.  With about 7 to go, we finally got the green leadout train formed.  Then on the very next corner, a crash split us up and sent the field into a frenzy.  We never regained control after that, and Cando managed to freelance his sprint and finish 5th.  In the end, some people were more willing to risk collarbones and it paid off.  I finished without any more crashes.

After a delayed flight back to Colorado, I finally crawled into bed a 2am that night.  I needed to get up at 6 to re-assemble my bike to do the road race that starts--literally--in front of my house at 8am.  When the alarm went off, I found that I couldn't get out of bed.  I had bruises and scrapes on both sides of my body and was exhausted.  I went back to sleep.