Saturday, March 25, 2006

Race Report: Clark State Forest

After last week's total disaster, I really wanted to prove to myself that I was healthy and fit again by riding well at Clark State Forest. It's a circuit race on a 2.3 mile loop through the woods outside of Henryville, Indiana.

The 3/4 race was billed as an hour long, which the race official worked out to be about ten laps. Because of the relatively flat terrain, those ten laps were sure to fly by pretty quickly.

The field for our race was pretty sizeable, with a number of Barbasol Cat 3s (warming up for the later Cat 1/2/3 race) lined up along with us. Our team was a little under-represented due to some notable absences. Instead of the usual 10-12 guys, we started with just seven, which is still significant in a field of 35.

At any rate, the field took off and immediately jacked the pace, which was good for me since I wanted to prove I could hang with the pack after a full week of insecurity over illness and a perceived lack of fitness. Hanging on proved to be no problem for me at all. In fact, I felt stronger than I have all year. I was floating pretty effortlessly with the front group the whole time, and the two little hills (more like gradual rises) were no problem at all. I managed to skip a pedal on the hard left just past the start line, but that was really the only trouble I had.

That is, until just five laps to go. We were flying around the course, five teammates including myself in the front group, and I was working my way to the front, having slid back a few spots during the early laps of the race. Out in front was a guy from Barbasol and another dude, working to stay away from the rest of us. As we topped the first hill, some guys bunched up a little bit, and with the road so ridiculously narrow, somebody went off the pavement. Instead of just cruising into the leaves like he should have, the guy in trouble tried to immediately jump back on the road, but with the pavement's edge being what it was, he went sideways and hit the pavement hard. Right in front of me.

There's a split second before a crash where your mind is desperately searching for a way to avoid it, but with the speed of the group and the way the guy's bike went down in front of me, there was absolutely nothing I could do. I hit the brakes and tried to jump it, by my front wheel hit his bike and over the handlebars I went. I could have won a gold medal with the way I flipped. Lucky for me, I landed on my back in a huge pile of leaves on the side of the road, off of the pavement and away from any obstacles (like other riders). I took a quick body check and realized that I had landed on my left shoulder, but not with enough force to break anything, so I hopped up and took a look at the other unlucky jerks. The crash took out five of us, with the original crashee the worst off. Road rash had done a number on his hip. Everyone else looked okay, but the race was over for them, and me. I checked my bike and realized that it too had survived the wreck with hardly a scratch, so I got back on and headed home.

I cruised in with a Team Louisville rider and a teammate who had been dropped earlier, licking my wounds and feeling pissed. I had been feeling so strong. There's nothing worse than bad luck, especially when your fitness is good and you're having a great race. The crash was just plain bad luck.

I got back to the start/finish and saw that another of my teammates was bloody from an earlier crash. He was fine overall except for the shin he dragged across the pavement. I talked to him for a minute and then rode over to my buddies who had shown up to take pictures and watch the race. As I sat with them my shoulder started to tighten up, and now it's bugging the crap out of me. Nothing's broken, but I'm definitely going to be sore for a couple of days.

Eisner from Barbasol ended up winning the race in impressive fashion, and my team finally cracked the top five by finishing third in the group sprint.

So in the past two weeks, I've been hit by a car, got sick and crashed in a race. Hopefully this unlucky streak will end soon so I can finally post a decent result. We'll see.

Photos of the race to come...