The April wind was whippin across the plains and farm fields this morning as we rolled in into Leland, IL under a cloudless blue sky. Temps in the 40s with a windchill and all that business. Thanks to Flatlandia for putting this together for a second year in a row, and to the town of Leland for opening up their home to packs of bike racers and bike-racer-fans!
Our race went off right on time as a I settled in at second wheel next to a teammate. We were two by two six or so deep until the eschelons began. If you didn’t know how these worked before, I’m sure you do now. I wasn’t too worried about being too close to the front, because at any moment, I expected attacks to begin in order to get into the gravel “sectors” first. (Yes, I am going to call them sectors.) As soon as we turned left, a rider hit the gas, we fell into one long ribbon of color and carbon. I was fourth or fifth wheel, and we were racing. Here we go.
Shortly before the first sector, a teammate attacked with the wind pushing us from our left sides. Great idea, but the race was early, we were approaching a gravel road, and it simply wasn’t quite time yet for this type of thing -for me at least. I will say, however, that my teammate raced really well, and took third place about three hours later. Great job!
The gravel was thick like a bowel of cold oatmeal. There were no lines AT ALL as I began making some precarious moves on loose rock. My front wheel was all over the place, and I crashed directly. I lasted 1 minute on this stuff, and we had 4 laps with miles of rock to go. The guy behind me went down as well. The whole thing had a type of cross feel to it, so we got back up, dodged a line of dusty racers and hit it again. I now had horrible position. Horrible. I settled and waited for a good time to jump over to the other side of the road. The thought of crossing all that soft rock made my move hesitant to say the least, but I flicked the bars and made the hop. Then I drilled it until I got within top 15, and until the whole right side came over and joined me. Fine. New race.
I guess I was pretty nervous now, and to make matters worse, my left brake hood was almost sideways to the outside. The brake still worked though; sure looked goofey. Didn’t feel too good either. Oh well. Back on the pavement now, as I tried to gobble up a few more positions. In moments, I would make one of my worst racing moves to date. I tried to squeeze through on the right side, on the right side of a Tati racer. (I know who you are, and I am so sorry, dude. So glad you did not crash with me!) My outward hood move inside his bars, I panicked and instead of holding straight and slowing, and crashed onto the shoulder, and finally into the fresh spring ditch.
I popped up, and right in front of me, there it was, looming, the Broom Wagon. I could jump right in and call it day. Get some coffee. The driver even tapped the breaks, slowed, as if to say, come on man, your day is done. I looked down at the chain; it was off. Riders went by me screaming. I looked around. Back at the chain, wheels, and bars. Hey, my hood was straight again! I had to use my hand to get the chain on, and when I had it set, I got back on my machine and began pedalling, the front left break pad rubbing the rim. Oh boy.
Body seemed okay. Max’s bike proved to be tough and hard as nails. (I would find later this evening only a broken water cage and bent derailleur hanger.) Knee was banged up again. (Don’t how much more it can take of that. Watch for me to wear something on it from here on out.) But all-in-all, all systems were green again. I began methodically pedalling tempo. I now was able to see what was happening throughout the whole field. I couldn’t have been very far from the last few riders of the whole cat 4 race. Everything became mellow, as I wrapped my mind around what had just happened to my chances of doing well, and I thought about how I would feel after the race -after making such a dumb-ass move.
I exchanged a few words with fellow racers, and turned right onto more gravel, with a nice tailwind. My tempo increased and I found I was almost able to time trial this road. Here goes nothin. I chose the side with fewest riders and hammered. Made up some ground, hit the pavement, settled into the drops, and tapped out a hot, solo rhythm.
From the back, you could tell which riders were shelled. Broken legs swerved all over the road. I passed a group of ghost riders and eyed up the next group just up the road. Head down, pedal pedal. We turned into the head wind. If I did not catch them soon (like now), I would pop. With three bike lengths to go, me rocking the Lelli back and forth on the rocks, wind killin my face, dirt in my teeth, I closed the gap. I was done. I rode the back and didn’t take a single pull for quite a while. Somewhere around here, I had met up with the Iron Cycles guy who went down with me the first time. (Dude, sorry about that.) As I recovered, I began to feel good. I had a teammate in this group and didn’t know about our guy in the lead group, but we were so far back, so I thought, I didn’t care if we worked together and moved up. No way we would see top three anyway. With both Iron Cycles and me ready to catch the next group, we packed up and pulled out. This dude has a huge motor and did some awesome work. We still had two and a half laps to go.
We picked up riders here and there, worked with them for a while, and would eventually drop them. The two of us continued to work during lap three. Once, I could see a lead group around a corner. I counted the little groups going backwards until I got to us. We were in the fourth group. Eventually, on this third lap, we would catch them all, go by them without chase, until we found ourselves in the group behind the three leaders. Wow. I could race for 4th or 5th place.
Throughout the fourth lap, we kept it steady, and minded our own Ps and Qs. My fat, HED wheels were staight and steady over the gravel. Everyone ate, drank, stretched backs, shook legs, rubbed calves, blew out chunks of snot and dirt (snirt) and we just sort of collected ourselves. We only wanted to make it through the rocks safe and sound, and perhaps beat the hell out of each other in the last two miles. We made the turn onto the tailwind gravel, and a huge single attack went off down the rode. No one covered. No one wanted to risk traversing the heaps of soft dirt and rock in the center of the road. I maintained excellent position. Second wheel for both stretches of dare I say, “good gravel?”. Guys weren’t afraid to pull and make huge efforts, and I sucked those wheels in wait. Within 500 meters, Tati was drillin in. I kept a close eye over my shoulder, and eventually, here they came. But only two could throw down. I jumped their wheels and prepared to sprint, got out of the saddle, hit it, and.......... that was it. Couldn’t go around. Finished with a big bike throw, a primal yell, and 8th place. Success. Up next.... rest.