I'm a newly minted Category 5 road racer. I duly registered with USA Cycling about 10 days ago and then registered for my first race the next day. The day, Wednesday, July 14th. The place: an empty parking lot between Soldier Field and McCormick place.
To be fair, in the other direction, it looks more like a place you'd have a bike race:
I didn't tell anyone I was doing it except for, on the morning of, I was emailing with my friend Zac in Syria and I told him about it. Beyond that, I just did a normal work day, did a furtive clothes change in the bathroom around 5:30 and rode on downtown. Dunno why I was being so secretive. I guess I just didn't want to discuss it too much so as not to hype it up too much. I hadn't even really been riding that much lately. Lots of working and going out of town. Was probably doing maybe 60 miles a week for the month before, but I had told myself I wanted to do a bike race before the end of year 40, so I only had about 2 weeks left.
I had checked this race out briefly last year. Got a good laugh out of my previous post on the Soldier Field Cycling Series. Here's a funny paragraph:
Basically, there was a maybe 1/2 mile course made from traffic cones and some temporary fencing and people seem to ride around it for about an hour. Apparently that's a criterium. The women's combined field (women always get the shaft I guess) was only about 9 riders, but it looked pretty fun anyway. I was sorry to be out of town a couple of weeks back during the Chicago Criterium. I guess that's an entirely different affair. Anyway, checking it out made me think I might just go down there and give it a shot. It can't be much different than hauling ass up to the Botanical Gardens which I have managed at a almost 20 mph pace including city traffic before.
Ha! The humor will soon become apparent (for those who have ever done a criterium race, it should be already).
Anyway, here's how the day went down. As I was riding down the lakefront path, I came upon a woman on a Storck Absolutist and asked her if she was going to the race. Yes, she said and we chatted a bit on the ride over. She rode for Chicago Cuttin Crew and told me she was riding in the same race as me. I was unaware that women could ride in the mens heats, but apparently they can, which is cool! I prefer co-ed sports, seems like the boys just behave in a little more civilized fashion. Anyway, I watched the womens race and rode some laps on the big area for warming up. During the first mens race, I went over to each corner and tried to get a sense for what was going on. Also got to ride a few laps before the first mens race. Seemed pretty mellow as far as the course was concerned.
I also met a really nice chap, Laurent, who was sporting a Tour de France shirt and a funny accent. Turned out he was the Bastille Day "feature" and got up in the booth and did a spiel in French before each race. Pretty nice! Le Grand Campion du Chicago and such. He along with Megan, a nice gal who rides for XXX that I met whilst buying some parts the week before, told me they would cheer for me since I didn't have any supporters. Let me tell you. It's NICE to have some people cheering for you.
Here's how the race went down:
I lined up with what I thought was about maybe 30 people(?). After Laurent gave his pep talk, we got the rules: Ride for 30 minutes, timer counts down to 10 minutes, after that it goes to laps. If you get lapped stay to the outside and don't contest sprints, you can be pulled for falling too far back, but he probably won't. And we were off! The speed immediately went up to around 26MPH (that's about 42KPH for you modern rest-of-the-world types) and it pretty much just stayed there. It was about 2 laps before I fell off the back. At first I thought "dear God, I'm just screwed." Then I'd think I would catch up, then I realized I was about to be lapped. I'm still going fast, mind you, like definitely keeping it up around 23, but a few miles per hour is enough to get lapped twice as it turns out in 30 minutes! I think I was first in the people-who-got-dropped part of the race. Also probably came in first in the 40+ year old, first race category too, but who's counting?! What would that be? The grey, stained jersey perhaps. So yeah, some cheering was nice. I didn't ever let up from what I felt like I could do and it seemed like a decent first outing. It's pretty exhilarating to just turn yourself inside out (as Phil and Paul like to say) for a while. There were some crushing riders there and it makes me laugh to think that the guys that were killing me wouldn't even be able to hang on the to back of most stages of a Grand Tour or something. Gives you a whole new respect for the lowliest TDF domestique! During the MS150 back in the spring, my friend Jason (no relation) was telling me he thought I'd be able to hang on to the back of a Cat 5 race, and I'm here to say... I can't. But I'm working on it! One day I'll be bonafide Cat 4 pack fill.
Distance traveled in 30 minutes: 12 miles exactly
Average speed: 22.75 MPH
Top speed: 30.25 MPH (!!)
One very impressive thing is that Jeanette (I think it was) from CCC, who I met on the way over, was part of the 2nd of 2 "main groups" (such as they were) who lapped me twice. Truly a badass. Way to go Jeanette. Here's something weird though... I felt like there was about 30 people in my field and I felt like I came in maybe 23rd or something, but when results finally got posted, it tells a whole other story, which I think may be a wrong story, but who knows. I'm not really buying it, but it looks a lot better for me here. They have the field at 17 and me at 10. That does not seem right at all, but the race before has all 42 people accounted for, so it's confusing. Anyway, next time maybe I'll stay around for the provisional results. This time I just split pretty quick as it was already kind of late. I thought the ride home would kill me (I had already ridden about 20 miles before I got there that day) but going anything less than circa 23MPH felt pretty leisurely and I went on home at a pretty good clip even with a fairly full backpack.
Overall, what a fun time! Nice folks were met and I'm going to go back I think.
TDF: Was going to try and write some fun stuff about it, but I've just been super, super, duper busy and blogging ain't payin' the bills (in case you hadn't figured that out on your own!). Anyway, a few brief thoughtlets:
- Bummer for Andy Shleck throwing his chain and losing yellow. Nice try today on the Tourmalet as well. You'll be in yellow in Paris soon enough I reckon.
- Armstrong. Should have maybe stayed retired, then would not have to be living and working amongst several hundred news reporters asking nosy questions about doping, selling bikes to fund doping and seemingly lying about his ownership in Tailwind Sports.
- Zabriskie and Hincapie. Are they feeling the crushing weight of the Landis allegations? They have both been such non-factors in the entire tour. No presence in breaks. Coming in with the gruppetto many days, not even a good prologue. Too bad. I hope they come clean with anything they have to come clean about.
- Footon Servetto. For sure the ugliest kits I've seen in my active days of watching racing. Many greats from the past can be found for sure, but they are really keeping in funky in those tan leotards.
- Ryder Hesjedal... Nice tour buddy. Methinks that perhaps Garmin should put some serious resources into you as a GC contender. Oh Canada!
- Contador. Boring. Like the Chicago Bulls in the 90s. I deeply crave the underdog win (speaking of which, bummer about Cadel. He was really hanging in there for a while.). I did like seeing he and Shleck get all buddy buddy after today's Tourmalet stage. I enjoy displays of friendliness between rivals. It was all World Cup style!
-Phil and Paul. Those guys jump the shark so, so much it's kind of wearing thin. I know that when you have to blab all the time, your gonna hit some lean material, but man, PAY attention! When you are calling Andy Shleck "Frank" after his brother broke his collarbone 2 days before, you really are just phoning it in. I like Matt what's his name, the warm up guy better.
Off to Omaha for the weekend tomorrow to run sound for Superchunk at the MAHA festival. Going to bring my newly built 1988 Specialized Allez! Did a stealth build of this a couple of weeks ago. It rips! If I was good enough to not need my Ti crutch, I'd do a crit on it just to be keepin it real!
I'll have to make another post about my 68 mile ride in northwest Dane County, WI soon. That was the inaugural serious ride for this bike and was a warm up for the Dairyland Dare in about 3 weeks.