On Sunday morning, we all woke up at 8AM, had breakfast together (I had oatmeal, of course), cleaned-up after the previous night's excitement, and got out onto the road to South Beloit. Kevin discovered that Taco Bell for a late breakfast is not nearly as pleasant as Taco Bell for lunch – the food is marginally edible already – adding eggs to a beef taco in the guise of a 'breakfast' taco is just asking for gastronomical hellfire. We made it to Blackhawk in short time, registered and scoped out the course. A long straightaway, swung right, chicaned, and then went east, where it swung back upon itself, made a bend to the right, to the left and then straightened out for a 1/4 mile, where it turned right again for a long straight before the home stretch. 1.7 miles, lots of wind, and flat as a board. It was going to be a fast, hard race from the getgo. Since my race wasn't until 2:55, and we'd arrived at 10:30, I had plenty of time to hang out, spectate, and just take things easy in the sun.
At 1PM, the 4/5 race went off, albeit with a bad start, as Adrian managed to snag his jacket in the front wheel of his bike and endoed right in front of everyone. He and his bike were fine, albeit not for long. A couple of laps left into the race, he slid out and banged himself up pretty badly. His thigh, elbow, and brand-new Sidis taking the brunt of his fall. Oh, and his new Half Acre kit is trashed, too. While Adrian was the only Half Acre to take a spill, there were several other crashes in the 4/5 field, one of which caused by a rider who dropped his chain, and tried to put it back on while in the middle of the pack. I counted 6-8 riders who went down and went in to the officials' area to protest and/or get their free lap.
Kevin, Tim, and Dave Bowers had better races, especially Kevin, who finished with the main group. He didn't contend for the finish, which was understandable considering the sketchiness of the pack. And those guys wonder why I punish myself with the 3/4 race. Speaking of that, after warming up, I rode the course and settled next to Ed White, who was racing the 3/4 race with me. He wasn't feeling the competitive spirit, nor was I. I've made no secret of the fact that I don't like crits – I'm not aggressive enough, nor do I trust my fellow racers enough for them to hold their lines through sharp corners. I prefer hilly courses where my strength and climbing ability comes more into play than luck and peloton/breakway tactics.
This race was less a crit and more a circuit road race, albeit at a crit length. Strange, I know. As I said before, I predicted that this race would be fast and so it was. As we set off from the starting line, I was in my 53x13 by the first corner and it stayed in that gear for most of the first couple laps. At lap three, a break of guys went off down the front stretch and one took a spill for some reason (Ben said it looked like he just fell off his bike), as I was near the back of the pack, I fell off and struggled like hell to catch back on. It then became more apparent with every single second that I'd been dropped. I'll spare you (and myself) from all the cliched euphemisms for being dropped, but whatever it's called, it still sucks and is incredibly demoralizing.
However, since I'd paid my $20, came out all the way to this corner of Illinois, and had friends watching, I made a determined effort to keep from being lapped. I went into time-trial mode, practicing the artful skill of riding at the cusp of LT or whatever they call it (I need a powermeter badly), and fended off the pack for six laps or so. With two laps left, the breakaway and main field finally reached me, and I came back into the infield where I changed, loaded-up my stuff, and rode back into Chicago, just in time for the Half Acre meeting at Black Rock.
So, while I have yet again DNFed in a race, I feel that things are going to start swinging my way soon. I wasn't plagued with the jitters and utter sense of dread that I experience before the start of Hillsboro Roubaix, which is a major plus, as one reason why I didn't race much through 2007, besides 'cross, was that I was utterly scared of racing. I know I'm strong enough for 3/4 races; now I just need the guts to go along.
- Zach Thomas