From the get-go we were strung out like...we were in a row....we were lined up...[searching for the words...searching]
Damn you Joe Jefferson and your creative catchphrases. Fine. Saturday morning at 8:33, the 35+ master's field at the Air Force Classic was strung out like Amy Winehouse. That's the only way to describe it.
People were falling backwards like it was a Benny Hinn convention.
I knew it was going to be bad when I looked up from my first pedal stroke and saw Pete Cannell and Ramon Benitez hitting the first turn, 200 yards away. By minute 1, we were in single file. By minute 5, a 100 yard gap suddenly appeared in front of me as the snake that had been the peloton shattered and died.
I saw a lone rider in the middle, trying to bridge to the thirty odd riders ahead, and jumped after him. I bridged to him, but it was pretty hard. Everyone behind me was pulled within a few minutes. I was the last survivor.
I worked together with the other rider--whose team I can't remember, but who was strong as hell--for five minutes and got within about twenty yards, but I was toast, and couldn't help. If I'd been his equal, I think we could have caught back on. Anyhow, we picked up a few stragglers and lasted for about 30 minutes.
When it was over I joined my fellow wusses and our loved ones and ordered coffee and huevos rancheros and watched Cannell build a 35 second lead on the field.
I watched the 1/2/3 race and had more coffee, watched Chris Schmidt get top ten in both races. Saw Tony A. hang tough and finish.
I was upset that I hadn't had a chance to really try to hang in the Masters pack. But I wasn't too upset. The eggs were good, I was there with good people, my brother included, who'd had even worse luck than me--the screw on his cleat had loosened and prevented him from clipping in. He'd lasted about 5 minutes, soloing off the back and dodging the dropped.
All day, we sat on the corner before the finishing stretch, the slight uphill after the tight corner, where most people get out of the saddle to catch on. I watched the countless faces grimacing and the repetition of it all. I saw a Danish pro who looked like Bjarn Riis, suffering coolly and without teammates, who'd been quickly shelled. I saw the Harley boys hanging tough. I saw a Velo Vie rider solo, off the front, for what seemed like 50 laps.
Later, in Georgetown (a place I usually avoid), I was eating pizza and having a Duck-Rabbit porter, and contemplating the cupcake shop across the street when Freddie Rodriguez zipped by on his De Rosa in full Rock kit. It could have been any ol' DC cyclist. To the people in the cars that sped by, he was no different than you or me, give or take a few pounds.
And on this day, I felt a special affinity for him: Freddie, three-time American champion, had been dropped.