So Sunday was the last of the Bethel Spring Series for 2008. It's always a good day for a bunch of reasons.
First off, and this is especially true this year, the weekends come back to me. Although it's always been a two day thing, Saturdays for me were much busier than in previous years, mainly because I don't live in the area anymore.
Second, I get to give away a lot of stuff. I don't get very involved with a lot of the organizational stuff anymore, but somehow I'm still the guy actually presenting things to people. I feel like a politician, smiling, shaking hands, but it's a good thing. I said this a few times yesterday but I love giving stuff away, I love giving prizes and such to people. You can't help but feel good doing it.
Third, I get my yearly monkey off my back. Bethel has always been a huge focus for me racing-wise. For many, many years, given the choice of literally peaking for Bethel or trying to peak for some other event, I've always chosen Bethel. Obviously the finish there works for me.
But it's more than that.
The way my vacation days used to work, I had to use whatever I was going to use by the end of March. So I'd find myself with my annual allotment of days pretty much unused in January and February (since I can't take days while Bethel is going on). This is perfect for peaking in March and April, and therefore I'd spend 3 or 4 weeks in the first two months of the year doing massive training camps, riding myself into whatever fitness I could find out on the roads of Florida and California.
And, of course, I had long ago promised my mom that I'd win a Series for her. I did, in 2005, but I've always wanted to back up that overall with another one. I haven't been able to do it.
The day was a lot busier than normal. The last Bethel always has more chatting with the racers, more friends, and oftentimes my family visiting. Plus, with awards presentations done after each race, I had to track down guys before they left.
Because of this, even though I wanted to warm up for a decent amount of time (in my head I realized my promoting responsibilities would preclude me from starting the P123 race), I got my standard fare. Change, get on bike, ride maybe a lap or two.
For once I was nervous. I spoke with a long time racer and I told him I was nervous. He smiled.
"Good to feel nervous after all these years, right?"
He should know. When I met him in the late 80s he was already a well established and powerful racer. I'm sure it's hard for him to get nervous for a race, just like me, but when you feel good and you really want something, you get nervous.
The race started off pretty easy since I was near the front, but after 10 or so laps, the pace started hotting up a bit, the wind picked up, and suddenly we started getting hit by a chilling rain. I'd pumped up my tires a lot and they were slipping significantly on the hill when I stood. I started imagining sprinting up the hill then suddenly taking myself out with a lurid power slide.
My Atomic Balm'ed legs turned bright red, my core dumping heat energy into them to keep them warm. My muscles were starting to twinge a bit and my mind started playing tricks on me. Then, as I started thinking this was a "situation" (like problems are called "issues"), the rain stopped, the sun came out, and everything worked again.
Of course this meant the same for everyone else and so guys were launching attack after attack. I moved up to try and see what was going on, a bunch of guys launched, and my teammate Mike, who had just done a huge turn, went off after them. I couldn't go any faster and slid backwards in the field.
Eventually one of these efforts took Mike off the front, tagging along in a group containing a GC threat, and it seemed that they'd stay away to the finish. What I didn't realize is that they were fifteen seconds ahead, not fifty, and all sorts of guys were trying to bridge up to them. I just thought the front of the field was splintering, not that we were about to catch the break.
One of the guys was the Leader, and my goal today was to win and beat him. With a break (I thought) fifty seconds up the road, and at least 8-10 guys splintering off the front of the field led by the hard working Leader, I was getting nothing.
Nonetheless I followed the front end of what I thought was the remainder of the field, waited for a lane to open up (right side), and launched my sprint. Dry roads, no tire slip, and I went scurrying up the hill. I managed to jump past a little group of racers veering left to the left-side apex as I went a bit more right. Then, to follow the curving road, I went along my traditional yellow line sprint lane. I started coming around two guys side by side on the left curb when one of them suddenly turned into me, hitting my back wheel. I felt that zzzzzzzp! as his front tire hit my rear tire, then silence as the bike fell away, and then the sickening crunch of bike and pavement.
I soft pedaled the rest of the way to the line (about 20 feet), took some unimportant pack fodder spot, stopped on the curb, and after catching my breath, turned around to see if the guy was okay. He was except for the fact that he was sitting on the ground.
So my race was down the tubes, no placing, and gobs and gobs of guys finishing in front of me, maybe 20 guys.
Then a glimmer of hope.
The guy tied with me in points said I finished in front of him. The Leader, it seemed, didn't score points. So if they didn't score, who did?
Well, ends up the long time racer, the one who thought it was good to be nervous after all these years, made the break, hung around a bit, then took off and won on his own.
The front of the group, splintering off the front? That was the break almost getting reeled in by the field. In fact there are shots of me in the same bit of real estate as the break guys at the finish.
I got 7th. That meant one point.
Then it was all dashed. The day's winner had already scored a couple points earlier in the Series and he knocked me off the podium.
Ah well. To win the 3-4s at Bethel I've always thought you can only miss a high score on one week. I didn't score for two, scored poorly in two, and so to try and be in the overall wasn't meant to be.
When I was adding up team points though, a weird thing happened. Our team tied the Leader (he was the only one on his team to score points, and in fact I believe he did all his racing with no teammates) in points, but because we scored six points on the last race, our team took the prize.
I watched the Pro-1-2-3 race. A couple guys from Calyon-Credite Agricole showed up, including a very long time Bethel Spring Series racer, the ever friendly and powerful Mike Norton (the pro, not the Cat 3 promoter or the Masters racer - there are three Mike Nortons who have raced here, once in the same year, even the same day). He popped up suddenly, said hi, I noticed his Calyon team "apres wear" (or was it before wear?), and we chatted a bit.
I favored him to win of course. He won one year by literally leading the field for the last lap, riding everyone off his wheel, and crossing the line on his own. And he brought with him a silent, smiling pro, the kind of guy that then proceeds to rip your legs off one muscle group at a time with the same benevolent smile on his face.
The finale looked like Mike (Norton, not my teammate) started to dish out some serious softening up. Ends up, speaking with Mike Fraysee, that smiling silent pro was something of a sprinter. So Norton tried to pummel the field, simulating 80k of racing in 5 or 6 minutes, so that the sprinter could finish the job.
But before they got there, with a couple laps left, there was the sound of a gunshot.
Calyon rider, smile erased off his face, walked his bike back from the first stretch. His tire bead had failed, kevlar threads everywhere, and his tire had blow off his rim.
So, with the pro ringer threat eliminated from the race, the field settled back into its normal battle lines. And when it came down to the sprint, it was, incredibly, a dead heat. A bunch of people looked at the finish line tape and they all agreed.
After some debate we decided to award equal points to the the two riders, and the third place rider was third overall too, so the finish seemed appropriate.
We did some final awards presentations, I handed out as many envelopes as I could, and called it a day. I didn't help pack up very much, a bit zonked, but, to be honest, probably no more zonked than anyone else. The four of us left headed out for some food before we went our separate ways. At the burger joint Sycamore we ran into a bunch of other racers, said more hi's and bye's, and then sat down to eat.
The four of us, ends up, have all gone to UCONN. Well two of them are going right now, and the other guy and myself were there 10 and 20 years ago. We talked about the old days, the new days, and I felt lucky to have gone when I did.
After swapping vehicles (I leave the van at my dad's) and taking all the stuff I need to ride at home (and worried about forgetting something significant - two weeks ago I forgot my training kit - pump, bag, etc), I set off in my much smaller, much lighter, much lower car, stuffed to the gills with bike stuff.
On the way home I played a bunch of 80s music, my UCONN music. Music combined with situations always makes me wistful, flooding me with long lost memories, and the long drive home was no exception.
My perceived value of "stuff" determined what I unpacked. Unwilling to make more than one trip from the car, I took my bike, race wheels, laptop bag, and food. Everything else stayed in the car.
I opened the screen door, fumbled for a second for my keys. The front door opened, the missus smiling. She'd had a very, very long day, much longer than mine, but she still managed to raise that smile, to open the door when I got home.
Another year, another Bethel.