3.6 Miles X Too Many

One of the regular venues for the Arctic Bike Club is the Kincaid circuit race loop. I live less than a two mile bike ride away from it, but I usually can find ample excuses (valid or not) to avoid going over that way. It's just not among my favorites.

I could say it's the pavement, which has deteriorated over the years. Potholes and cracks are strategically located at the worst points in the course. This summer they're going to re-pave it and add a roundabout, which will go a long way to correcting this issue. Hopefully they'll widen it a tad while they're at it, because it can get somewhat sporty when lycra-clad warriors are jockeying for lane space with a F450 dually.

I could say it's the first and last turns, which I've seen more than one rider lose some skin on when it's wet and oily, the street sweeping is less than comprehensive, or an unfortunate line into broken pavement leads to bad things. The roadwork should open up one of the turns, which will be nice.

I could say it's the traffic. Side-dumpers roll out of the construction site in front of packs, making sure to deposit large gravel and mud/dirt in the process. The rolling terrain means cars and trucks don't see riders until they're right on top of them. While a large majority of them are completely courteous, there are those that need to be somewhere and a hurry and roll smoke as they pass. The broken pavement and lack of a shoulder for the majority of the loop don't leave you with a lot of bail-out options.

All of those might seem like valid reasons, but they aren't the reason. The real reason I'm not fond of Kincaid is Chinaman Hill, an unfortunately-named geographical feature with an even more unfortunate tendency to hurt fat guys like me. I've never seen that particular name on any map and am unsure of the origin, but that's what it's always been called and that's what us racially insensitive bastards keep calling it. It's not overly long or steep, but both characteristics seem to expand the more times you go up it. That's where breaks and splits happen, or at the very least that's the root cause of them. The strong break the weak on the hill, then ride away.

I don't have the best history with the race. I've had a couple 3rds there, which were pack finishes and mainly attributable to fortunate positioning. I've been dropped many times there, finishing well off the pace after one too many laps past redline. I've dropped out once or twice, when the risk of (further) injury outweighed the glory a 9th place finish would provide. I can read the race as well as the next guy, because it's not a big mystery. I know where I need to be and when I need to be there. Having the strength to put myself into position is another thing, and I rarely have it. I'm happy if I can finish with the pack. It's not a venue that I generally anticipate much from. In a stage race, I try to limit my losses. As a single-day race, I use it for intensity and try not to dwell on the results.

It's with this extremely positive mindset that I set out Saturday Morning. I pulled the bike off the hook in the garage, noting it was still covered in orange dust from the Dome. I pumped up the tires, threw it on the car, and drove the two miles to the start. I am that lazy, and I had my milk crate of random race stuff in the back of the car. The crate contains everything you'd possibly need for a race, except for perhaps the things you might actually need for a race.

After signing in I discovered I didn't have any arm warmers with me. As it was a bit on the chilly side at 42F, with cloudy skies and a nice wind kicking up. I got in the car and drove home to get a pair, because I had plenty of time before the start. A quick turnaround and I was back, kitted up, and on the bike for a abbreviated warmup  I joked to one of the guys in my class that I was trying to think of a good mechanical I could have before the first time up the hill.

As I turned around, another racer shouted out that my rear tire looked low. A quick look back confirmed it was definitely on the half-empty side of inflation. Since I had pumped it up no more than an hour before, this was perplexing. These were tubular tires, I didn't bring a spare wheelset, and they had just called for a racer's meeting. Then I remembered this was the same tire that had a slow leak at the Kulis Crit-trial last Fall. It had held air at the Dome every Sunday all winter long, but I guess it had finally given up the ghost. With not a lot of options, I pumped it up to 140 psi and hoped whatever sealant was left in there would seal the leak long enough for me to finish the race.

The first few laps went without much drama, as the pack settled into a solid pace. Riders would go off the front, get a little gap, and then eventually be absorbed back into the pack. I was climbing well enough (for me). My breathing was deep and regular, my legs didn't hurt excessively, and I could respond to close gaps or move up in the pack. I didn't spend and excessive amount of time near the red line, and was actually feeling pretty decent. I still managed to hit every bomb crater in the road as I moved around the pack and watched unfamiliar riders react to how the race developed.

On the back side of the fourth lap, I felt my tire squish in a turn. Glancing down, I knew I was done. On the fifth lap, I drifted back at the top of the climb so I wouldn't block anyone when I sat up. Right about that time the front decided to up the pace, and a small gap grew in front of me. Because I'm stupid, I got out of the saddle and stomped on the pedals. The gap narrowed, but eventually I noticed the rear tire mushing from side to side and sat down. The gap opened a little more. I jumped up. I sat down. I sat up. They rode away.

I finished the lap, informed the race director I was done, loaded up the bike, and went home.
I showered, stripped off the leaking tubular, and started prepping the pile of carbon wheels in the garage for new tires (as I should have done a month ago). I had to run to the store for supplies, so I swung by the race and arrived just after the Masters had finished. A last-lap solo breakaway took the win, with the pack more or less together at the finish. Another rider flatted on the 8th lap and dropped out. One or two were dropped. Pretty typical stuff.

I got to watch new Speedway teammate David Arteaga school the Open field and take the win with a finish line smile. To me, that said a lot, because my finish line expression usually resembles something out of an Edvard Munch painting. Class. You can bet the other Open guys will be ganging up on him from now on. I'd tell him to not attract so much attention and hide off the back like I do. Nobody sees you coming if you're that far behind them. He'd be wise to ignore my advice. I was able to provide him with a new pair of Speedway knee warmers, which in retrospect were the difference between success and failure on the chilly day. Glad I was able to play an integral role in the victory.

In the end, I got less of a workout than I expected. I got what I paid for. It's still early, and I have a lot of failure ahead of me. The Spring Stage Race and the Tour of Fairbanks loom in the not-too-distant future. The Kulis Crit Series kicks off on Thursday. The race schedule is packed with numerous opportunities for me to screw up.

I'll find a bright spot somewhere in there.


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