Cold Snap

I was excited about last Tuesday's crit. After being prevented from racing there all summer because of paving projects and eagle nests, we could finally ride around in circles on my favorite crit course. It has just enough hill to make it selective and enough technical turns to make it interesting- without making it a crash-fest. In fact, to my knowledge we've only had one wreck there, and that was a touch of wheels in a straight section. For a crit course, that's a pretty impressive record.
After a few days of rain, it finally looked like we would dodge a bullet. The roads were drying out, and blue skies were peaking through the clouds. A couple short showers fell, but everything was lining up.
The night's plan was to run two races. The first was for the lower male categories and Christina Grande, who's another one of the people who make cycling so awesome. Christina works for Dark Lord of the Sith Bill Fleming at the Trek Store. Bill just returned from Europe, where he rode all of the famous Tour de France stages in the Alps, and was riding the first race so he could attend to visiting family. A few of us Masters lined up at the back to warm up and/or just have fun. Due to the time-compressed schedule, that was about all best warm up we can get in before our race.
Bill took off from the gun, and within the first couple laps the race was splintered. I hung with the front pack and drifted back to try to help the dropped riders who were flailing in the wind. Either they were completely gassed, didn't understand my intentions, or preferred chasing alone. Maybe all three. Most of the Masters drifted and spun around the course, staying out of the way as much as possible. Ed Sniffen and Bill were up front, driving the pace for the pure joy of racing. Eventually a few of us pulled off to the side and watched the fun as the young guys beat each other up.
Right as the first race was wrapping up, the first drops started to fall. I was wearing kit that emphasized cooling, dictated by the warm, sunny weather we were having when I made the decision. The drop in temperature and cold rain made me re-thing that decision, so I was making a move for the stash of warm kit in my car when the race directors lined up the second race and 123GO we were off. Within 100 yards I was drenched, but I hoped trying to keep up with the Open field that hammered from the gun would keep me warm.
After a dozen or so laps, the Open field began to pull away from the Masters and a sole Open rider who didn't make the split. My legs and lungs were hanging in there, and I was able to respond to surges and bridge gaps when necessary. Since no Masters were up the road, most of us were content to ride our own race. Not our lone Open straggler. After a couple attempts, he opened a gap and started chasing. Jens Beck jumped on his wheel, and they began to slowly diesel away. We probably had the firepower in the remaining group to pull them back, but for whatever reason we couldn't get organized. Instead, we attacked each other and ensured their escape was successful.
Around this time I started noticing a tension in my back, especially when accelerating out of corners. The cold rain had done its work, and it was only a matter of time before my race would be over. A few laps later, two spasms rippled across my lower back and I sat up. I was done at the halfway point. There was no sense in risking further injury. Andy Duenow has been yo-yoing off the back of the pack all race, and decided that my race strategy was probably the right one for him to follow as well.
I was covered from head to toe in a fine film of gritty mud, which immediately transferred itself to the interior of my rain jacket when I put it on. My teeth had a crunchy feel to them. The white stripes on my kit were a subtle shade of speckled gray. My shoes shot streams of water out of the holes with every step.
I stood around in the rain watching the remaining racers ride around in circles. There was little chance of me getting wetter, and my back had settled into a tolerable dull throb. Riders were dropped, lapped, latched back on, dropped again... Jens and his Open buddy were lapped, but managed to hold onto the Open pack, lapping the forlorn Masters racers that wouldn't give in. The finish was a combination of aggression, resignation, and confusion. Richard Tilton powered away from the Open pack for the win, who mostly seemed anxious to get it over with. Jens rode in easy, his Masters victory already secured. Markus Doerry had no problems sprinting for a distant second, as my teammate, Craig Walker, didn't realize that it was the final lap.
Am I sorry I dropped out? Nope. I got what I wanted, which was a little intensity. What I didn't want was weeks of back pain, so it was the right choice. I love this course, but I don't think I've ever had a decent result on it. It's fun to mix it up, so the results don't really matter to me. Sooner or later I'll probably stumble my way into a victory when pack configuration allows it or my investments in carbon start paying off. Until then, it's a great place for the big kids to go and play bikes.
As long as it doesn't rain.


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