Saturday, March 04, 2006

Race Report: L'Esprit RR

Let me start off by saying this: if the "yellow line rule" is not going to be enforced by race officials, it should not be in effect. It puts those willing to follow the rule (the smart ones) at a distinct competitive disadvantage to those who are willing to risk their lives in the wrong lane on open roads. Those of us willing to obey the rule get stuck inside while everyone else gets a free pass to attack---as long as they don't get hit by oncoming cars...

Anyway, about the race. The turnout was unbelievable, with every category starting with at least 40 riders each. Even the turnout for the women's race was nearly 20, and that's almost unheard of around here. We lined up with 12 guys on our team, but it didn't seem like we had anyone there, the size of the field was so large---probably because the weather was cold but sunny with minimal wind. All in all we had perfect early season race conditions.

The plan was for our team to attack in twos straight off the line, but with so many in the field and so many strong riders, all we did was drive up the pace. That was the theme for the entire race, actually. The strength of the field prevented any attack from developing into anything but a clinic on bridging gaps. Nobody got away for more than half of a 9-mile lap.

Case in point, during the third lap (of five), I attacked off the front on a long downhill stretch and actually caught a lone rider several dozen yards ahead of the pack. I topped out at around 36 miles an hour, but couldn't shake the group. I did manage to stretch everyone out, though, but it didn't matter because as we neared the last corner into the start/finish zone, we were waved down by a guy blocking the road. Around the corner we could see an ambulance, which is never a good thing in a bike race. As we slowly passed, we saw most of the women's field standing or sitting in the road, with one girl on a stretcher and wrapped in blankets. Apparently a crash had taken down most of them, seriously injuring two. Luckily all three of the gals on our team had made it relatively unscathed, but the race was pretty much over for all of them.

We passed the crash site and slowly rolled into the start/finish as a group, reforming and slowing down as we began our fourth lap of five. The pace stayed relatively steady for the rest of that lap, with only a couple of weak attacks to keep things interesting. About this time a lot of guys started getting anxious for action, and the blatant yellow line infractions started up. By the final lap, guys were just riding in the left lane of the road full time with no regard for anything resembling common sense or sportsmanship. It more or less became a free-for-all.

Unwilling to risk my hide for a Cat 3/4 amateur bike race in rural Kentucky, I sat in on the right side, fairly far back from the front of the pack. With the left side of the road clogged with brave/stupid riders, I had no clear path up.

This situation continued until the final stretch of road just before the last turn and the finish line. On the same downhill section that I had launched my first attack two laps earlier, the group started to really speed up, and with so many guys braving it on the left side of the road, the inside route on the right opened up completely. I found myself with a clear path to the front just in time for the final turn!

As I started to move, an oncoming car became visible, forcing all the guys on the left side of the road to the right real fast. At 34 miles an hour, disaster was unavoidable. Sure enough, a guy to my left touched somebody's wheel and went down with that sickening metal and flesh sound that still makes my stomach hurt thinking about it. I'm not sure how many guys were involved, but I know at least two or three guys went down just to my left, forcing me far right, off the road and into the grass. I managed to stay upright, but unfortunately, the little off-road excursion slowed me down considerably, and those lucky enough to be ahead of the crash got away. I cruised in at the back of the front pack, probably 25th or so. It sucks, but it's better than crossing the line in an ambulance. How I managed to stay rolling through that grass is beyond me, but I'm thankful I pulled it off.

To my knowledge the best the team pulled out was seventh, again. Disappointing, but decent.

As for my own performance, I'm pretty happy with my fitness at this point in the season. I'm not having any trouble at all hanging with the 3/4s at this point, which is impressive considering how short a time I've been training and racing. And the best part is, I can only get better.

PS - I want to thank my dad, my stepbrother, my girl and my two best friends for coming out to the race today. I couldn't have asked for a better birthday. "Let it rain!"

EDIT: Some additional information has come to my attention: 1) Apparently it was nine riders that went down in the 3/4 race, including Joe Sohm of Cycler's Cafe, who rode an extremely strong race. I haven't heard any more details, but no one was seriously injured in that mess. 2) The best our team was able to pull out of the race was ninth. Oh well.

FURTHER EDIT: According to the official results, I finished 35th. I really wish I hadn't been so far back when those guys crashed---I would have done much better. Such is life.