Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Jackson Park 2013, A race recap from the Beverly Bike / VeePak newest member.

Two and a half laps into the Jackson Park race, the season opener for the Chicago Cross Cup, Rob
Smallman was shouting time gaps at me from the side of the course. It was one of those things you
appreciate a little, but at the same time wish you could block out. How many times has a helpful person shouted time gaps to you, seemingly never realizing that the time gap just keeps growing and your mind and lungs and legs are fully aware of that fact?

And so I rode, taking note of the stubborn ten second gap between me and the lead group of four, then three riders but thinking little of it. On such a course – not technical, really, just tight – there seemed little room to bring back the gap. And I was okay with this reality, sitting in fourth then fifth and riding into a solid finish in my first race in Beverly Bike – VeePak colors. I finished seventh here last year in a smaller field, so top five was the extent of my ambition today.

Something finally snapped me out of the rhythm of riding near the limit of my abilities. Rob shouted seven seconds at me. Then five. The front group slowed or I got faster and the gap kept shrinking. With a little under two laps to go, I closed the last of the gap in the first section of 180 degree turns and eased up. I was in the front group. Now, this has happened once before, in last year's Category 2/3 race at New Year's Resolution Day 2. I won then, but this was a group of a different caliber. I knew David Lombardo, and Brian Conant was there (the significance of which I would not realize til later). A bit at a loss of what to do, I relaxed, took the next two thirds of a lap to recover in preparation for what I thought surely must be a hectic last lap.

I left my apprehension somewhere between the double barriers by the canal and the last set of sharp
turns. Bike racing is bike racing, and I realized I had just ridden at least two laps faster than this group. As we filed onto the finishing straight, I attacked HARD up the left side. I did not want to fight with three others in every corner. Maybe I would blow up, maybe they had more left in reserve than I did or I expected, but you never win by lack of trying. Going into the blind, sweeping left-right turn at the end of the finishing straight I barely feathered the brakes, rear wheel starting to slide as we rounded the trees and pointed towards the first set of 180s. Gaps were not there yet, or not anything big enough to notice as I snapped out of each turn as hard as possible. Efficient it was not, but I knew I had to keep the pressure on to pop anyone or force mistakes.

I began to think the effort was in vain as we skittered up and down the camber in the last time hrough the barriers by the canal. But through the twisty but flowing next section, the gaps finally appeared, perhaps consolidated. David slipped inside me in a tight turn when I bobbled, but I was right back on his wheel and Brian was the closest rider and sat 5-6 seconds behind us. We fought towards the final barrier and then afterwards, but I could only ever get to David's bottom bracket before a turn forced me back behind him. Should I try to pass in the last sections, pull an aggressive move in a corner? It seemed possible, but the odds of it working seemed slim, so I prepared for the sprint. I was on autopilot through the last turns, selecting the first gear to wind up out of the final corner and moving my hands to the drops for the first time in the whole race. So intent was I on not letting a gap open up that our tires almost rubbed through the last turn. Then, we began to sprint. Almost as soon as we got out of the saddle and began to traverse the bumpy approach to the finish my left foot came out of the pedal. My chance to challenge David was gone, and I sat back down and accepted my fate, watching him cross the line hands in the air. But as I rolled across for second I could not help but smile. My expectations were still some 15 seconds back on the course, if not more. To have actually raced
rather than riding as hard as possible for an hour was new, and exhilarating. And maybe, just maybe,
that second place was all the more sweet after hearing everyone express surprise and wonder aloud just who that new guy in a BBVP kit was. Here's hoping they have more reasons to learn my name.

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