The week before Monsters, a little voice inside my head said, “Katie Casey, you should race those fancy new carbon wheels you just got. You haven’t raced since Super Crit, your training has been less than awesome, do yourself a favor, help yourself out and race those race wheels.”

And then another not so little voice said, “Katie Casey, it’s a crit and you race a steel bike for a reason. Race your Velocity A23s and just get it done. Get tough, get fast, and get it done on good old fashioned metal.” That not so little voice prevailed and I’m glad it did.

The cat 3/4 field was large at 43 women, but there were only a handful of 3s and this race looked manageable to me. I rode down to the Midway Plaisance on the HAC train with Tommy Riley’s super steady and well paced wheel pulling us along and found myself wishing Tommy Riley would race the Women’s cat 3/4s and lead me out.

My goal was to stay in the top ten throughout the race, to move up from there in the last few laps, and then to execute a super awesome slingshot pass to gain as many places as I could at the finish. The race started fast. We were cruising at 29.6 mph in the first lap. With speeds of 23- 28 mph along the straightaways and 18-20mph through the corners, this race was significantly faster than Super Crit and managed to shed a third of the field in the first lap alone. I saw my teammates hammering away at the front and knew at these speeds I didn’t have the power to join them.

I was hiding out in the front pack, trying to conserve energy and reminding myself to stay on the inside.    But 14 minutes into the race and coming out of the southwest corner, I found myself on the outside and saw two women right in front of me collide into each other, bobble, and then veer. My only option was the outside line, but one of the women kept veering and the next thing I knew I was lying on the grass underneath that veering crashing woman (how I got over that curb, I’ll never know).    My Garmin says I crashed at 20 mph. Maybe that’s enough to jump a curb.

She was crushing me, the veering crashing woman racer, and so I politely asked her to get off of me. She apologized, got up and asked me if I was okay. My first instinct was to get back on the horse. I looked for the pack. It was already halfway down the straightaway. Then remembering Kelly Clarke’s race report from LaCrosse, I told myself “the race ain’t over ‘til it’s over. There may be a lot of racers ahead of you, but there are plenty still behind you.” And with that I grabbed my bike, threw my leg over it, and paused only to stare dumbly at my bent and twisted hoods. The veering crashing woman rushed to my aid, straightened out my hoods, and said, “you know you can get back in with a free lap, right?” And I said, “What? A free lap? For real?” I thought I had to chase for the rest of the race!

According to my Garmin, I was back on my bike 1 minute and 15 seconds after the crash. I called out to my teammates to see if they wanted to get back in too, rode up to the start/finish andsomehow had the sense to jump back off my bike to realign and test my brakes before the pack came around. I jumped back into the race exactly 3 minutes and 10 seconds after the crash.

I was in the front pack again, but this time barely. I felt the bruises on my knee, I saw the dirt on my sunglasses, and I felt something trickling down my calf and wondered if it was blood. I was struggling and I was getting gapped and I was falling further and further back in the pack. When all of a sudden Jen Groen appeared, gave me her wheel, and hauled me through the gap with strong legs and encouraging words. I was beyond words at that point. I think all I could muster for a thank you as I got back into place was, “I hurt.”

For the very first time in my racing career, I noticed the lap counter and started counting down. I rallied myself. The pack surged and then slowed, surged and then slowed, and then finally surged for real out of the last corner. I surged too, but not fast enough to hold a wheel and execute a slingshot. In absolute desperation, I sprinted alone and somehow managed to crank out the slowest, longest, and most painful 28.4 mph finish I have ever experienced. That finish felt like an eternity. At Super Crit I had gained seven places in the final sprint, but I had the advantage of two separate slingshot opportunities. At Monsters I lost two places in the final sprint and finished 18/43.

Afterwards I noticed the lump on my head and found three cracks in my helmet. Sara Szefi talked to me until I convinced her I wasn’t concussed or that, if I was, at least I was wearing it well. Amy Dykema gave me advice on recovering from a crash. And Mike Palmer fixed my bars so I could ride my bike home very very slowly and in the escort of John Casey. And while my bike is in the shop for repairs, my body is barely bruised thanks to that grass, that lovely, fresh, springy, green grass of the Midway Plaisance.

Katie Casey