Cast & Setting: My teammate Tom Riley and I raced the Urbana Grand Prix with the 4/5s and the 3/4s. It was a great 1.6 mile course with pretty smooth pavement, and easy corners giving it the potential for a very hot pace. The weather transitioned from a sunny 60 to nearly 70 and the trees were budded and green. There was a stiff north wind along the longest straight-away which dug at the breaks in the line out of the corner.
First Showing: In the 4/5s Tom and I worked with several strong unattached friendly riders from group rides in the Chicago area. Wildcard Cycling had an awesome turnout with something like 12 in our field of ~50. They worked together frustratingly well, with massive blocks and plenty of pace control. I strove to move from a poor initial placement but wasn't able to get free to jump on to the 5 man winning break early in the race. Wildcard had one in the breakaway, and promptly capped up and blocked the field from chase for far too long.
I eventually managed to get free and in frustration I pulled for more than a lap. This had the (unintended) consequence of stringing out the pack which prevented monopolization of the front by a group, and buried tactics in pain (at least for myself). We had a few spills in the heat of the race, including one by Tom in the last lap where he took a death defying dive off of his bike as he jumped the curb and ran into a telephone pole. I placed a reasonable 7th, after the 5 man break rolled through, but I feel strongly that I could have pushed harder. Each race I am gaining a little more courage to push harder and be less conservative.
Second Showing: The 3/4 race was an amazing experience. I got to race with the Cat 3s for the first time and see the effects of their added experience on the pack dynamics. It was a far hotter pace and I didn't even contemplate taking the front. I was racing against people who were/are significantly stronger than I am and I only had two good tactics to rely upon: pack-filler camouflage and smart racing. I kept near the wheels of some incredible athletes from Sammy's Ego and Scarlet Fire for the majority of the race. I kept a good top-15 position with my head above the physical demands for the entire race. I sat and watched the 3s Yo-Yo the pack with hard accelerations out of every turn, keep ready for breaks, and give great time on the front with the seeming confidence that even after pulling they would be able to jump at any moves.
I was sitting pretty at wheel 10 or so in the last straightaway before a tiny hill, corner and final sprint. Even sitting in, II worked for that position hard and as the race was in its final seconds my heart felt full and capable, my legs were excited for the final sprint. A space opened in front of me on the packs right side and I moved up to trap the racer who threw his bike to beat me in the 4/5 race. As the final sprint neared, riders moved up quickly on the left side. We went from three abreast to more than 4. At 30.3mph there was a crash to my left with sickening sounds of snapping carbon fiber and skin slapping asphalt. Spencer from Big Shark (my 4/5 friendly nemesis) crashed heavily into my left side. Time slowed and my mind reeled in horror as I realized I was about to be caught in my first crash. I held myself up for enough of a moment to allow a spark of hope before something caught my bike and flipped me into the ground. My helmet was broken between my head and the road and in a flume of gravel and bicycles I skidded and somehow flipped back up to my feet into a run. Sweetly incredulous of ending up on my feet I tore my broken helmet off and hopped up and down with a bitter-sweet howl of "OOOWWCH!!!" and then turning around I realized the scope of the crash.
Far behind me was the majority of the pack on the ground. Several of them were not getting up. I limped over to the first on the ground who was curled up in a ball and clearly very upset. He appeared to be overcome with pain, but aware of his surroundings and not obviously injured. I scanned for people downed and still, the nearest was Spencer from Big Shark with a flowing head wound and possible broken collarbone. There was a rider standing over him beginning to tend to the source of his bleeding and warning everyone not to move him, so I just spent some time talking and being friendly to calm the massive adrenaline response and any potential panic from the horrible feelings accompanying shock. Spencer was far more worried about the frame being damaged which was a beautiful carbon fiber loaner with his front Zipp 404 smashed inwards in two places.
The medic and half of the spectators started arriving, so I joined some of the last stragglers from the crash in getting to the finish line. I found my bike to be working well enough and threw my bike across the finish line with a smile to the awesome sound of enthusiastic cheers. Personally I think it was the best possible first crash I could have had. I came away with some bruises, a mild concussion and a little damage to my bike, and kit. My main regret is that I didn’t get to see how I would have finished with my great position and light legs for the final sprint in my first race with the 3/4s. I am looking to racing again so stay tuned for my next appearance...