So around a week ago Dean sends out an email taunting the group to jump into the Chicago Criterium and ‘race a crit’. Hmmm, I thought, what’s a crit? I vaguely remembered it being an angry swarm of biking bees buzzing through turns, bumping and banging and boldly sprinting to Cat 5 glory. Sounds like fun! So I politely enquire: Will there will be sponsors? Check! A team tent? Check! With umbrellas and quaint little fold-away armchairs for aching legs? Check! Screaming from the sidelines for someone they hardly know? Check! Free Spidermonkey Cycling T-shirts? Check! Pom-poms? Check! Wow, what more can a guy ask for? So I thought, hell-yeah, sign me up. This will be fun.
I checked out the website and it looked like a really nice course with wide corners and flat straight-aways; perfect for hill-challenged mid-west riders. I was guessing that with corners this wide it would be a lot less dangerous than some of the other crit corners I had seen. BK Stacker in Evanston comes to mind. A friend just cracked three ribs, folded a Zip 404 and cracked a carbon frame there the weekend before. I also remember seeing a terrible pile up on You-Tube at one of the local crits so Chicago seemed a safer candidate to do my first race. Now all I had to do was to figure out what the hell I was in for and how to prepare.
My research into crits dug up gems like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jfs55TB9srg and quotes like: “Cat 5 is psycho; filled with guys who can go around corners and those that cannot”, “It started so much faster than I thought”, “You’re bound to get dropped”, “People will bump you and take you out”, “Cat 5 averages about 26 mph”… Not one actually told me how to prepare for a crit when you have one week to do it in! Fortunately mother nature worked this little conundrum out on my behalf: When I awoke on Monday I found myself the recipient of a perfectly engineered, yet searing sore throat which pirouetted itself around my tonsils and finally settled into a slow waltzing cold. I was not happy. The first time I got on the bike was Thursday and it was not a pretty sight. Saturday’s HP ride was nice and gentle and the legs were feeling much better. By now you are thinking, c’mon, get the excuses out of the way. And you’re right, I could have called it off but Dean and our 312 sponsors performed such heroics to get us all into an already over-subscribed field that I just felt like I couldn’t let him down. So, always being the one to learn a lesson by bumping one’s head on life, I jumped into the deep end.
It wasn’t as bad as I thought….for the first 5 laps! Fortunately I didn’t have any nerves to deal with at the start. I’d been in races before; although I usually had a full steel exterior, roll cage, safety harnesses, fire extinguisher and 300 hp of Porsche’s finest under my foot and brakes like the hands of god where I could dive three wide into a corner at 140 mph and feel relatively safe. Here I was sitting on a piece of Canadian carbon fiber with about ¼ of a hp under both feet (note to self: need to upgrade the motor), 100 calories of gel tucked into my shorts and absolutely nothing to protect my knees, shins and collar bone from meeting the pavement. I was concerned…especially about the corners and people dive bombing into them. Fortunately Bryan and Andy were kind enough to give me a bunch of tips about following the wheel in front of you, calling out to let people know that you are there (yes, this works) and some other secret sauce which, sadly I must report, I couldn’t figure out but they certainly have.
The start was really pretty ordinary – about 25-26mph. I had expected a sprint to over 30. I followed Bryan’s wheel (get behind the tallest guy I thought) and was in about 5th place for the first couple of laps settling in and thinking this was ok. The turns were very safe and no one did anything dumb. I was comforted by an easy back-and-forth “caw-caw-ing” of Spidermonkeys all around me and even ventured a thought of the calm of the jungle and perhaps a hammock swaying in the breeze. And even though my Spidermonkey kit had not come in I still felt part of the team. These guys are truly great to ride with. Andy even came alongside during the race and mentioned that he was there which was great. Now I had remembered some sage wisdom saying that you should stick to the front 3rd of the group if you can and I was pulling it off pretty well when all of a sudden I fell out of the hammock and got a little piña colada dribble down my chin. You see, coming out of the chicane I smartly took an inside line and hit a raised piece of asphalt which got the bike sideways a bit and surprised the 312 out of me. Slowing down to recover I let a bunch of people by and consequently selected the wrong gear for the little ramp. The bees swarmed. Suddenly I was in the rear of the pack and the accordion effect (constant slowing and accelerating out of corners) had its way with my quads. I retaliated by unleashing my ¼ hp relentlessly, corner after corner, but alas, I spent the rest of the race trying to hang on to the back. And with 3 to go I’m sad to say…I got dropped. Every cyclist hates, despises and fears this little word. But every time I’ve been dropped I’ve come back harder and stronger. So I will be back for more (in two weeks at Glencoe). The Spidermonkey team had convinced me that this is a whole lot of fun and the team camaraderie impossible to beat! It also doesn’t hurt to have an incredible sponsor in 312!
Special thanks to Dean and Vanessa for their tireless leadership and smiles and to Bryan and Andy and John for their guidance, counsel and moral support. You guys are the best!
PS. 1/4 hp is about 186 watts or about 6,695,999,999,900 erg/hour … and one erg is about the amount of energy a fly uses during one push up.