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No Recce and then a Pip

Crash. The sound of carbon and rider hitting the deck and sliding. Just ahead. 
One has overcooked a turn, collected another and two more pile right in. I'm just behind. Brake. Swerve with surprising coolness over to the inside. Dodge the loose bike that slides across the road . . .

The Ole Crash and Chase

Intelligentsia Cup - Elmhurst Cycling Classic 2016

The cliche about crashes (and I have experienced it) is everything goes into slow motion, you see the danger, attempt to avoid it, desperate seconds taking minutes as the realization that your fight against the inevitable of physics is futile arrives. Then impact like a NHTSA crash test. Frame by frame.

This is not one of those occasions. Everything is so quick. I’m cornering mid-pack, middle of 3 wide, turn 1. Suddenly 2 bikes and riders are right where I’m going, absurdly sideways and on the ground, they seem so low below me, and blocked on both sides so utterly unavoidable. It’s a single snapshot, then wham, boom, crunch, sky, the pretty gardens of elmhurst, road, sky, road again. and finally I’m still on the deck.  I don’t recall flying too far, but I’m away from the bike. Riders are streaming by yelling. I pull my legs in and huddle. Nobody else collects us.

I can stand, and it’s like a crash on the tour, 3 of us standing up gingerly, bent over and taking a bewildered assessment. What’s hurting?, well everything, but nothing especially. Where’s the bike. In a heap with the others. Pull it upright. What’s broken?, seems like nothing but slightly deranged bars and shifter.

The USAC moto judges are on hand, ‘if you carry on you have to chase’ one offers as he sees me checking over the bike. This happened just after 3 to go, just after free laps go west.
I’m not sure what to do. The race is gone, but the race was gone anyway, a long chase against a breakaway of 3 with a pack that mostly wouldn't work together on a 95degree day of baking sun. I see if my wheels will turn, and with some tweaks to the brakes they will. The other two are in no shape to continue, so I remount and carry on alone, taking it around the course at increasing speed, too much adrenaline still in my system to feel the hurt yet. I have a bloodied elbow, knee and a scuffed up but remarkably untorn shoulder on my jersey.

I finish this race. Not even lapped, but DFL.

The ambulance guys patch me up and I pack up the remarkably unscathed Ridley to go. Not before picking up the $40 prime I won. A silver lining to go with some golden luck that I’m riding home in my car not superior ambulance elmhurst (a race sponsor) to the local hospital.

~Bevan Brookfield

The Miracle at Monsters: How To Crash on Grass in a Criterium

The Miracle at Monsters: How To Crash on Grass in a Criterium

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

An Urbana Grand Prix Double Feature

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...

Jacob Ortony