What a long day. Up at 5, load up the bikes and my gear (we packed the van yesterday with all sorts of goodies like leaf blowers, tents, a generator, etc., but my bikes - no way - they're too "precious" to sit in the van overnight), drive in a daze to Dunkin Donuts, and off to the race.
The first hint of things not going totally rosy - I didn't touch my coffee until hours after we got to the course. No appetite. Add that to burning something like 4000 or 5000 calories running around in the cold for 7 or 8 hours and racing for an hour plus and you have a negative equation. Not good.
The black ice on the roads before the course were not a good sign either - that meant high 20's for the current temperature. But at least it didn't rain or snow overnight.
With plenty of help from CT Coast Cycle (newly expanded for 2007), some miscellaneous regulars, and a friendly Bethel policeman, the race went smoothly bar one crash in the 4's.
When I got to the course, I felt that heat/chill feeling that was so familiar because I'd been feeling it all week. And my back was bad again. During the week it was terrible but I thought it was done on Saturday. I had actually looked up the symptoms since someone asked if I was susceptible to the flu. So I typed in "fever, chills, exhaustion" into Google.
Apparently I might have typhus or the bubonic plague. I tried to think of the song about the bubonic plague. You know the one. I'm sure you do. It's "Ring around the rosie". "Ring around the rosie" - red splotches on the skin. Negatory. "Pocket full of posies" - carry flowers to cover the stench. Nope. Plus I shower regularly. "Ashes ashes We all fall down" - I wasn't sneezing all that much and I wasn't keeling over. So no bubonic plague, thankfully. Just the freakin' flu.
Back on track.
I wore tights. I felt that cold. I almost never wear tights in a race. And I have really nice fleece knickers. So if I was wearing tights, you know either it was in the 20's (not, but only mid 30's) or something was wrong (ding ding ding).
I sort of warmed up. This involved soft-pedaling down a short hill while putting on the brakes, turning around, and climbing same hill in a 39x21 at 40 rpm. Repeat 6 times or so. Done.
After my extensive warm-up I did a lap after the race before mine finished. Then I collected my helmet-cam setup. Turned it on. And three minutes later was racing.
The first confirmation I wasn't good was I didn't get to the front in the first 500 meters. My typical race pattern is get near the front (usually 2nd-5th) on the first lap, trade position for rests as the pace picks up, make effort #2 to move back up to the front at some point, trade position for rests again, and then make a final move towards the front to finish off the race.
I struggled mightily on the hill and wasn't smooth elsewhere. I did move up (this is my effort #2), coincidentally the lap before a prime. So I was in good position to watch the racers fight over the prime and then for a few to disappear down the road. They immediately picked up about 10 seconds. The field seemed unconcerned and I thought everyone came back. But then I got concerned when a multi place prime was offered and "all the places were up the road".
I couldn't get a straight answer from the sidelines when I asked how many up the road. I got a lot of time splits but very few numbers. Finally my friend and co-promoter Gene (racing in the same race) simply pulled over, climbed off the bike, and gave me some clear and concise info. Basically he relayed to me that I was hosed. There were three up the road and they were gone. Adios. Bye-bye. Apparently a solo rider, away for forever, drew out two teammates who stomped up the road and marked "Paid" to the race.
So I was left fighting for the field sprint. At least there were 3 points positions left.
Now normally when I feel terrible in a race, at 5 to go things magically transform. You know, like the fairy godmother waves her wand, there's that magic dust tinkling noise, and suddenly things brighten up, I float up the hill, I feel like I'm soft-pedaling, and I have this insane need to smash the field in a sprint. It's like suddenly things are good again.
No fairy godmother today. Things were cloudy, cold, and windy and not getting any better. My legs were terrible, tossing my untouched waterbottle bought me a gear (why didn't I toss it 50 minutes ago?), and I felt like my brakes were dragging.
Okay, I could do something about that last bit. I opened up my brakes.
When you see a guy opening up his brakes (and he didn't just get up after a crash) you know he is just dying.
Unfortunately nothing happened after I opened up my brakes. The bike still felt like it was oiled with molasses and greased with super-glue.
And it felt mushy, probably because someone innocently told me this morning that he's getting rid of his Giant TCR (which is what I ride) "because it's too mushy". I hate that whole psychological thing and how it affects what you perceive.
To be honest I did do one thing which helped me. I couldn't hear very well for most of the race because I had two head covers and both covered my ears. I found I really wanted, no, I really needed to uncover my ears in the closing laps. So I did. And suddenly I felt a lot more comfortable in the field. It was like I had re-enabled all my "area-sensors" on my bike.
I guess like blind people whose skin tingles when they're close to a wall (which disappears when their ears are covered up), my "close quarters peloton" riding instincts rely on sound cues as well as visual ones.
Nothing crazy happened in the sprint. Good crazy or bad crazy. I was too far back because I had no "go-juice", jumped when I saw my chance at about 150 meters, and looked up and saw the first eight or ten riders cutting from the right of the road to the left.
Now in the past this was my cue to shift up, hit the afterburners, and go rocketing (well if I had afterburners, it would be "jetting") through the closing gap in the nick of time, just like the heroes do in the movies. Maybe a judiciously timed "LEFT!" to scare the guys about to close the door on me.
But that whole fairy godmother thing hadn't happened. So no afterburner, no jetting, just a painfully slow slog up the hill. The line of sprinting racers beat me to the curb, I snaked through said line, and just could not believe how slow I was going. I kept looking back, incredulous that no one was passing me. I managed a paltry 6th in the field, 9th in the race.
And yeah, I got it on tape. I'll put it up at some point.
A hard earned 9th is great. But this was an abysmal ride and not at all satisfying. No points, no prize money. It's like a I never even got on the bike.
But like a true racer, there's one thing you say after a day like this.
"There's always next week."
And so there is.