Whole Wheel Velo must have consulted with an attorney before they mapped out that course. It was a smooth, wide road with three turns that were more like sweepers than real corners; you could take them all at speed. It was the safest course I've ever raced. And yet, what I saw out there was sketch, sketch, sketch, and just when you thought the sketch well had run dry... more sketch.
I did the 5 race, and then the 35+ 4/5. I went down in both.
Cat 5 race. Right from the start, the peleton was nervous. Like thoroughbreds in the gates, only slower, fatter, and less equine.
I could tell some of the guys just weren't accustomed to pack riding, because they were swerving for no apparent reason on the straights and taking aberrant lines though the turns.
Oh well, it's a huge course, right? We could ride 10 abreast! There's room for some newbies to swerve, as long as people don't overlap wheels. I'm thinking: good on the WWVC guys for taking this into account when setting things up.
At first, the pace was almost comically slow. My teammate Richard and I both found ourselves at the front softpedaling, because at that speed, why not? It's the same effort. Then, maybe three laps in, things started getting intense. We weren't racing all that fast, but braking hard before the turns and pushing hard out of them.
On the back straight, two guys in front of me swerved into each other. I heard crunching and started looking for slots to get around them, but somehow they didn't go down. They bounced off, slammed into other people, but everyone kept their rubber sides planted. Scary riding, but impressive recoveries.
"Ok, race gods. You satisfied now?"
(race gods laughing their asses off)
A few laps later, I was sitting midpack, fully warmed up now and happy. My plan was simple: sit in, do no work whatsoever, and get into position on the back stretch of the last lap. See what I had left. I knew there wouldn't be any successful breaks.
My teammate Jeff, in only his second crit, was on his limit, and, feeling he might get sketchy himself with his legs and lungs giving out, he let himself fall off the back. Good call. Not only did Jeff spare the tricolore paint job on his sweet C-50, he stayed within his limits and didn't put anyone else at risk.
Then it happened. On the back straightaway, again, two riders directly in front of me locked bikes and went down. I didn't see anything leading up to it. Just seemed like a weird, random, freak event. Their bikes went sidewise, wheels and cranks up in the air, bodies hitting the asphalt below.
It happened so fast and so close to me that I didn't even try to ride over them or bunny hop. It was almost instantaneous. I was focused on my landing. I unclipped somehow, went over the handlebars and did the tuck and roll. Came up with some hip bruising and minor road rash along the left side of my body. Pretty smooth, actually, for a heels-over-head crash at full speed in the middle of a pack.
Not everyone was so lucky. Behind me, an elderly guy was moaning like he'd lost his leg in an artillery explosion. I mean, every exhale wound down like a siren of pain. I tried stabilizing him and asked him where it hurt most. It was his hand, which didn't look that bad. He had a cut above his eye, though, and, from the way he was wailing, must have had the wind knocked out of him. Eeeesh.
My teammate Richard was behind me. He almost got around the wreckage, but alas, didn't quite manage it. Afterwards, he stood cooly by, as he always does, and I assumed he was ok. I asked if he was going to try to get back in and he said something about getting his wrist checked.
Turns out, Richard's wrist was not only broken, but completely shattered. He needs reconstructive surgery: plates, screws, etc. He's out for a couple of months at least, and probably more. He'll set off metal detectors for the rest of his life.
Richard was looking and feeling really strong in the race. He would have contended. Now his season is over.
I got back in. Threw the brake levers open, tried to right the handlebars (unsuccessfully), and rejoined. But my race was essentially over. Rear deraileur was bent and gears were skipping all over the place. Handlebars were pointed thirty degrees leftward. And I was scared. There was still plenty of sketch to be found in the pack, and I just decided: screw it, I'll ride by myself on the side. Which is what I did, braving the wind on my own for much of the way around, for a few laps, chain noisily bouncing between cogs, until deciding to drop out.
Disappointed? Hugely. But there was still the 35+ 4/5. Someone from The Bike Lane twisted my derailleur back into place and repositioned the bars. (Thank you!)
Besides, surely the race gods must have had their fill of biker blood, right? Wrong.
What a great category. No Chuck Hutch here. No Ramon Benitez. No Pete Cannell. No Dave Fuentes. These are the guys who actually ride like they're over 35.
Everything was better here. The pace was easy. I had lots of teammates and we were organized, controlling the race. Most of all, riders were smooth.
Then it happened. Again on the back straight, and again for no apparent reason. I was near the right side of the road, shielded from the wind, when I heard the crash in front of me and to my left, in fact, all the way over on the left side of the peleton. The thought flashed through my mind: at least it's way over there; you're ok. But I wasn't. It was the strangest thing, this cascade of contact from left to right across the group, like a spark running along a fuse.
This time, again, two guys went down directly in front of me, only this time I had a second to think. I tried hard to stay on the bike, to stay upright. And that cost me dearly. Instead of the drop, tuck, and roll routine of the earlier race, I performed an awkard pile driver, a high, slow motion forward flip that only got half way. I landed on the back of my head, neck, and upper back. Nice upper spinal, lower cranial impact before sliding along the asphalt. Ouch.
Ouch, ouch, ouch.
I couldn't move for awhile. Lots of injuries. I think I'll be back on the bike soon enough, but need to see how the neck heals. Right now, I can't really look to the side without turning my whole body. Sleeping is not going to be easy without drugs. And I really hate drugs.
If anyone from WWVC is reading this... you guys put on a great race and, like me, just got unlucky today. Also, thanks to the medic for professional treatment, patching me up.
I limped back to the start line just in time to see my brother pumping his fist. (Casual one-fisted sidearm victory salute. Understated cool.) He'd won in a sprint finish, throwing his bike. YES! And he'd go on to take 3rd later in the 4 race as well. His best day of bike racing ever. My worst. Our days balanced out. I bet he'll have a very different writeup.
One final note: I watched the women today. I know theirs is a small field, but I am always impressed with how smoothly and smartly the women race. No overlapping wheels. No sketchiness in the corners. Just nice clean lines. Women are competitive, but they're not going to risk other people's safety to win.
Why can't guys be like that?