Turn Left: Milwaukee Mile 2014
Bike races on motor racing tracks. Its sounds simple, nice wide track, very smooth, no potholes or nasty kerbs, no dogs or street furniture. Easy right, How could it possibly get screwed up.
And yet somehow, we racers are not happy unless the risk level is amped right back up by a disorderly swirling mob using up that width and the five wide cornering that results. Midway through the race there is a sickening crash from behind on the widest straightest part of the whole circuit. The experienced cynical racer in me says, don’t look back; attack. As we pass the spot next time around 2 riders are still down, the next lap round an ambulance is tending to one still on the deck. Its still there at the end of the race. I hate to see it, but as soon as we pass wide by the ambulance I’m thinking ‘I can drop down the banking and work up the field’. Cold.
Anyway we are not just rotating left around the mile bowl like some sort of slow motion NASCAR race with less gasoline and shorter vowels, there’s a tricky infield section as well including an interesting tightening apex 180 turn. My awesome tactic is to shelter safe in the first third of the field, mark any breakaways and save energy for the end or a late attack. Guess what everyone elses strategy is…
Apart from one breakaway that I bridge across to, just in time for it to fall apart I remain disciplined and stay out of the wind in the pack, whatever argy bargy this may mean.
By the last lap things are happening fast and I’m a little too far back but I’ve marked an inside line for the tight 180 before a ⅓ mile blast down the infield and a wide turn out onto the finishing straight of the bowl. This will be safest in case of a cornering pileup as the extra speed of the last lap catches people out. Leading up to the corner my inside line is pinched by a corner bomber. This is ridiculous, no room to move over and accommodate him, its already 4 wide. Not slowing. His plaintive ‘inside’ is met by my shoulder as he tries to tighten up and hes off on the grass but he gets away with it deservedly losing a few places.
Into the hairpin tight at an epic level of lean, thank god for those clever frenchies at michelin, grip grip grip and go, and finally for once its all working perfectly, there’s gas in the tank and I follow an attacking rider and make up 15 odd places and still have some left. Out onto the finish straight and I’m hopping from wheel to wheel taking a few more places, only one ahead, closing... closing... line.
I’m second in the field sprint, but 2 got away down that back straight (I never even saw that) so 4th/63.
Rapid: Grand Rapids Brickyard Criterium 2014
This race came together at the last minute, on a wednesday night after a couple of high lifes. I hadn’t raced for ages, sickness, work and crap locations on the racing calendar conspiring against it. This race in Grand Rapids was mentioned, I was in and persuaded Dan (possibly our newest member) to join in, and went home and registered that night. Done.
If I’d done my homework I’d have found this was a pretty big deal, the purse being epic, sponsors galore including Herman Miller, furnishers of my post future lottery win home. Choosing the Cat 1-4 masters was maybe a mistake also. Oh and Dan had to have an operation and couldn’t come…
So I arrive to the sight of ambulances carrying cat3-4 riders away from their race. 3 crashes during that race, one stopping the race and taking 15 minutes to clear. WTF have I got myself into.
The course is around the downtown area of restaurants, bars and a big indoor stadium. Some is brick pavers, mostly its city streets with barriers. One section is causing most grief, a 90deg left followed immediately by a 120 right, requiring a quick transition and tricky if 2 or 3 riders dive in side by side.
The blood sweat and hopes of the 3s/4s are swept up neatly and our race is ready to start. Despite all being old bastards this has the lean well equiped look of an elite field alright.WTF have I got myself into.
We are off and its a furious speed start, juddering over the rough bricks. Its quite clear these are supremely fit people, and the pace is exhausting. The cornering is exemplary though, normally theres some pretty shady manoeuvres in early laps and if you are near the back of a race the organ grinder concertina effect is well known. Here its not really happening, riders even dive into even the left right complex smoothly with well held lines and well held speed. Normally I’m cursing other riders and slamming the brakes. Here no braking needed, and I’m being cursed for the slightest raggedness coming out of the transition onto the finish straight. WTF have I etc.
The furious pace holds for 15 minutes, I’m very concerned I’ll not last to the end, and seeking shelter everywhere I can find it. Fortunately it slows after an attack is brought back, an attack by -oh did I mention this - the state champion. WTF am I doing here etc.
I treat the rest of the race as a masterclass in how it should be done, taking note of the speeds, lines and racing etiquette being deployed by the Cat1 and 2 masters. It is useful if sobering to encounter this higher level of ability and experience. And it works, no crashes at all in our race even with the speeds involved. By the end, despite cramping hands taking a beating from the bricks I can say I’m cornering to their standard. At one point I work up to 5th wheel and hold that for a lap. Sounds small but its a rush with this bigtime field. Eventually I roll in with the pack, in 28/43, that five seconds thats eternity behind the winner.
However I’m third in Cat3, I can console myself with that, and that I mixed it with some of the best of the midwest, who were probably wondering WTF has he got himself into.