Saturday, April 21, 2012

Category 4, 100K

Located in Leland, a bustling village of 1000 youthful residents and farmers, this kermesse is well known by Chicagoan’s as a hellish road race. Some even ask if it’s a road race or a cyclocross race because 1/3 of the 15 mile loop consists of loose gravel roads. I had read Adam Zucco’s 2011 race report, and instead of gravel it was mud. Oh, and rain, and sleet. I’m sure there was plenty of wind as well, but that’s pretty much a given around here. I tried to be tough this winter, and even though the winter was ‘mild’ it was a challenging transition coming from San Diego. I waited until a couple days before race day to see that the weather should be about 40 degrees sunny before preregistering. Molly chose to register day of race after I had drug her out to Beloit for the promised 60 degrees which never went above 39.

The race was put on by Flatlandia, a very appropriate name for a cycling club in this area. I represented the Activator Cycling Club in Lake Bluff, along with Molly Cook (Women’s Cat 4), Bob Ruggles (40+ 1-4), and Chris Harold (Cat 5). I could have raced with Ruggles, but opted for the shorter race with a larger field. After learning that the Cat 1-3 went off with the Masters, I was convinced I had made the right decision. Maybe, maybe not. Bike racing is a strange beast, one I have yet to conquer and I was faced plenty of struggles in the Cat 4 race that I hadn’t anticipated.

The first mile was a neutral rollout, and we had 12 Cat 1-3 women ahead of us. The next thing I knew the 12 women were scattered and drifting back through our pack, scattering the Cat 4s and then the first sharp right came. It must have only been two miles in, and I was gapped with about 60 people ahead of me. I didn’t dare look back, but met up quickly with #115 from xXx Racing. We tried to catch the peloton, and at five miles in I was becoming fried, and started seeing the pack drift away. Uggggh! No whiners in cycling! There are plenty of those elsewhere.

I saw the peloton hit the first gravel road, and all of a sudden they weren’t so tight. The field was beginning to stretch out and a dust cloud was being blown directly behind them by the 15 MPH headwind. I hit the gravel with #115 and we started gaining on people that were falling off. It took a couple miles to catch the first one, but as we were solo riders, they weren’t going fast enough to want to rest behind them. The gravel was very loose, and felt a bit sketchy, but I quickly learned that other riders couldn’t keep up with #115 and me.

We were finishing the first loop of four and I saw a couple riders ahead in the feed zone looking back at us, waiting for us to come so they could jump on our wheel. They jumped on, and did a little work at first but they were slow. We picked up another xXx Racing guy that put in a good effort, but there were three of us working, and two coasting. I called them out because I was getting pissed that the rotation always stopped with me, so I signaled to #115 and we bolted as we headed into the gravel. The first chance I had to glance back and I couldn’t even see the other three. We quickly came up on another group of five and sat in for a minute. I’ll admit, #115 pushed hard and got up there while I struggled to slowly gain and earn my rest. The benefit for going in the red (in this case) was more rest. Fortunately my HR dropped quick enough, but we were only 25 miles in and I thought “Okay, I got a good hour long tempo workout in. I’m done. At least I’ll cruise with this group for 35 miles and finish.” People that know me know that cruising wasn’t going to happen. We hit another gravel section and one of the group attacked, but I was right on his wheel (where I was intending on sitting) and #115 was on mine, but when I settled in he kept going. I figured he was going to pull a bit, but no, he was just going.

“Anytime you go to the front you are attacking” –Ruggles, c. 2012

My delay caused me some pain, because when he was about two bike lengths ahead I said “screw it” and went after him. Again I looked back and the other five were well behind. I chased, but couldn’t actually get into his draft. We ended that loop and hit the feed zone again. #115 was well ahead, and again I figured it was over. He looked back, and I could tell he was going to wait for me, so I pushed it before he changed his mind. We had been hammering together for 90 minutes, but his first words to me were “sorry to drop you”. “No problem” I replied. After all, it is bike racing. I was hurting, but I figured we were all hurting, so screw it. Since he waited for me I chose to put in a solid effort right away and we had an awesome two man paceline, bringing the speed up to 23+ MPH with a strong crosswind. We met up with two other guys about five miles later where we caught our breath, then we hit the gravel again and left them. I hated the gravel until I figured out I could drop people so easily (except #115 who was just as strong if not more beastly in the loose stuff).

With about 17 miles to go, we were caught be three guys just as were rolling into a gravel section. This last gravel section was with the wind, and a little bit smoother, and the three riders were able to stay with us. As we began our final lap I was trying to get a good paceline going because we could go 23 MPH and were picking people off. Each one we passed was another place. Two guys wouldn’t pull through though, and I don’t think it was because they couldn’t. I yelled at one of them to ‘pull through’, and he said ‘I’m staying right here’. Screw it. I can play that game too, so I rolled back and sat on his wheel, and we went 18 MPH. It was stupid, but at that point there was only one person I wanted to beat, and it was the guy (Bikes Not Bombs) that was looking to beat me with a sprint when there were a lot of places ahead of us to make up. I cruised for a while, and my HR went down to 118, the first time it had been below 150. I actually started to feel good. With ten miles to go I decided I was at least going to push the pace enough so that that Bikes Not Bombs guy would have to work a little. They all held on, and #115 was the only one to help me (of course). We rolled into that final stretch of gravel and they were holding on there too! One thing that I learned in this race though was that even though I took all the turns into and out of the gravel rather slow and cautious, I still managed to create a gap on those turns. This time I went for it a bit more aggressively out of the last gravel section. #115 rolled around me, so I jumped on his wheel. I looked back and the gap was huge. My legs were on fire just trying to stay on #115’s wheel, but I decided that at the 200 meter sign I was going to go for it. I tried to ramp up my best sprint and went across the road to avoid him slingshotting past me, but I couldn’t even get ahead of his front wheel before my legs retired. It was #115 finishing 22nd, and me 23rd.

Yeah, no whining in bike racing, but damn it could have been a much different race if we hadn’t been dropped minutes in.

Activator Cycle Club had 4/4 finish, no awards this time. Our own celebration at Bull Moose Bar and Grill in Sandwich, Illinois (yup, Sandwich) was enough for us this time.

Cheers, and thanks for reading! Strava