By now we'd started to get accustomed to the beautiful studio where we have registration. Everyone started getting into their routines.
And riders forgot to bring their licenses.
I wasn't necessarily angry about the license thing, even though it may have come across like that. I realized, on the way home, that I'd pointedly ignored people standing in line in order to help others who weren't prepared.
That, I decided, wasn't fair to the folks that had their act together.
Therefore it only makes sense to treat those who have their act together "a bit more fairly". If you don't have your license, you wait. If you do have your license (or authorization to ride or copy of an annual renewal) we take care of you.
In the first two weeks I've scrambled to get onto the bike before the race, really scrambled. This week I swore I'd get ready earlier than 60 seconds before the scheduled start time.
I had help from one corner - JT, or slowroadie on YouTube, came top the desk early on and pretty much forced me to give up my CountourHD cam, helmet, mount, and whatever else and left to set it up properly. He returned with a nice, snug, secure setup.
In the meantime, with decent temps, not much wind, and some sun, I kitted out in a SoCal sourced baselayer (Ride On... you guys in SoCal know which one it is), shorts, and a short sleeve jersey.
I also used my new long finger gloves, bought through team sponsor Manchester Cycle. My last long finger gloves got holes in the finger tips after my August fall; this leads me to believe that I avoided some finger tip abrasions. Since I've had such abrasions before, and they are painful and inconvenient, I try to wear long finger gloves in crits.
I also put on my Bell Volt helmet for the first time while riding a bike. It fits really well and happened to work well with the CoutourHD cam mount thing.
Finally, as the trio of redheads helping out with the race pointed out, I wore some vintage Jelly Belly gear - socks and a cap.
In the meantime I had three teammates in the race - SOC, the captain of the team; Drew, a great guy who has collegiate cycling experience and therefore understands teamwork; and Dennis, a Cat 4 who was dipping his foot into the "faster" races to help me out.
Our goal was pretty straightforward. Like anyone who does better in a field sprint than not, I needed the race to finish in a field sprint. The guys helping out would try and keep the field together.
It meant that the boys had a long, hard day in front of them. They'd chase down any threats to keep the group together. If we had more guys, like we did on the second week, we could use some of our gas money to keep the pace going as well. But with just a few guys to help, we had to meter our efforts properly.
Now, one of the reasons I waited to post this was to pull data off the helmet cam footage. I checked and saw that I had about 7 GB of data, an hour chunk and a hour-twenty chunk. That kinda sorta lined up with the times for the 3-4 race and the P123 race so I figured I had good footage.
Instead of wonderful bike racing, I got a lot of footage of... the official's desk. Apparently I turned it on when I put it down, and it recorded all day until I went to put the helmet on my head. By then it was used up.
So no verification of what I thought happened.
And, I have to admit, the camera tells stories my brain didn't see or register. But we'll have to go with my recollections and wait for JT's helmet cam footage.
Before the race the Cat 3-4 Leader came up to the desk. He was proudly wearing his Leader's Jersey but it was getting warm and he was wondering if we had a short sleeve version.
We didn't but I thought of something.
I had a stack of past year jerseys sitting around. I grabbed a spare 2009 Leader's Jersey, and, after the Leader tried it on, I set about snipping the sleeves off the jersey.
Presto, one short sleeve Leader's Jersey and one happy Leader. He left with a big grin on his face.
Incidentally, the guy is fit. He's not a little guy but the size Small fits him. Holy smokes.
On to the race. We started off reasonable, no weird first lap attacks on my part. Much of the race I felt a bit off, kind of weak, a bit sloggy. I hadn't ridden the day before, a busier day than expected, and my legs didn't like it.
I saw one big separation that had a lot of promise. I'd been trying to stay closer to the front, but this move had happened while I was still buried in the field.
The front group had daylight behind it for sure. They had a gap.
Then I saw the Leader's Jersey go up the road, a huge effort, with only one rider able to respond.
He bridged okay and suddenly that "promise" had a lot of "threat" strewn around in it.
I started moving up a bit more aggressively. I wasn't sure how the Expo legs were and I didn't want to see the group ride away from the field.
Then, up front, I saw SOC moving up. He'd seen the threat too. He moved up towards the front, efficiency forgotten, sliding up the outside, and hit the front.
And he drilled it.
The whole front end of the field stretched out, single file. SOC's back did its thing, his "tell" when he's working hard.
And after a frantic lap of chasing, the front group slid back.
I'd moved up a bit so I could counter if I had to follow a move, but the move seemed to have tweaked everyone's legs for just a bit. The pace eased.
I made some decent efforts to stay up closer to the front and found myself up around where it counts going into the last five laps of the race. This gave me some false hope because I'd spent a lot of the Ronde finale at the front and I won the sprint, even though I felt tired and exposed in the wind. I'd spent a lot less time at the front in the Ris and faltered, cold and tired, unable to pull the effort from my legs.
So, now, in Kirche, I nosed myself forward. I realized I was bluffing myself, trying to trick myself into feeling better than I thought I felt.
With two laps to go the Williams team seemed prematurely well organized, with four guys at the front. I say prematurely because it takes four guys to lead out for a lap, and having three guys (plus the sprinter) with two to go... that's asking a lot of the leadout guys.
One guy pulled off right away, then the next two fought tooth and nail to keep the pace high, but as we hit the bell riders shot by on either side of the riders. The Williams sprinter, to his credit, knew exactly what was happening and steeled himself for the surges. When they came, he went too.
We hit the hill going into the bell lap and the field shuffled itself nicely. I felt okay, probably sat about fifth wheel, and felt reasonably comfortable.
Then, for whatever reason, after the first turn, when the pace slowed up front, I started balking. Guys started moving past me.
And I let them.
By the time we got around to the backstretch, I was probably 15 riders back and losing ground.
Mentally I was done, off. I watched the Leader make two somewhat desperate moves to keep his position. I guess I'd have done the same thing years back, and now, honestly, I think that certain guys would let me in without too much of a fight. The Leader, though, was new to everyone, and no one gave an inch. He had to earn every single move.
And he did.
When the field packed left, a surge went right, and I tried to ride the wave. I sat about sixth going into the hill, with both the Leader and Bryan in front of me. They both jumped, and, in the shuffle in front of me, I lost sight of them.
Then, driving hard for the line, I knew I was done.
That's what "well done" looks like. Courtesy Corey Lynn Tucker.
The Leader took a strong win, Bryan took second, and I took third.
Leader, left, winning. Bryan, middle, taking second. Me, right, a distant third. Note short sleeved Leader's Jersey. Photo from here.A mirror image of the overall standings.
But, for me, although our positions remained the same, the relationship between us didn't. Just like the ever expanding universe, the gaps grew between us.
The gap from the Leader to Bryan is a large one, five points. That's a missed week of racing right there.
The gap to me?
Having been just one place, two points, out of the win last year, I understand how close races can be when competing against riders who don't necessarily sprint well.
But to have an eight point deficit in half the race, to a guy that can win out of breaks (definitely not my specialty) and in massive field sprints (the only way I can win)?
Yeah, that's what I said too.
If I were playing chess I'd be thinking about flicking over my king.
But unlike chess, my race is a team effort. Guys are sacrificing their own ambitions to help me try and win the race.
And, just like in games, the unexpected can happen.
So, for now, I keep fighting. I know that from a pure racing point of view, I've managed to get into yet another situation where guys flying up the category ladder are stepping past me. And, like so often happens at Bethel, I just can't beat them.
As penance for my third place finish, I lined up for the P123s. I wasn't sure how I'd feel, but since it wasn't as cold as it was the prior week, it couldn't be that bad. Secretly I hoped that my legs would come around and let me fly a little.
We set off, not too hard, and I made efforts to work my legs, to punish myself. I chased down a little move that joined another little move, and, suddenly, I was in a break. I took a very short, hopefully not too slow pull, tucked back in.
We came around to the hill.
I almost came off, the guys drilled it so hard up the hill. My legs screaming, I figured I'd just go until my legs stopped working.
Miraculously the guys driving eased and I regained the tail of the break, swearing at myself to kick my butt back up to the break.
I could barely move my legs and declined to join the rotation.
Since a few of the guys in the break knew me, and, more specifically, knew my weaknesses, everyone glanced at me and rotated in line in front of me.
I suffered alone, at the back, chin dragging, wondering just how long I could hang on.
Then, in quick succession, about four riders bridged, and then, half a lap later, the field sat on my wheel.
No counters, thankfully, so I got to recover and poke my head back out of the pain cave.
Man, if that's a failed break, what's a good break feel like?
I played it smart for the rest of the race, enjoying the efforts in the single file bunch. I was within myself, not totally extended, and things felt... possible.
I used the outside of the hill to move up. Sheltered from the wind, it seemed a safe and better alternative than fighting it out in the trenches along the left curb.
I rued tossing my bottle in the 3-4 race because it broke the cap - I couldn't drink from it. So about 20 laps in I started getting some crampy twinges.
Note to self: slide bottles, don't eject them.
I hoped that the racers would stay upright for the finale because I really wanted to play around in a P123 sprint - I've only placed once ever in a 123 sprint at Bethel and it was for sixth.
I started to move up just a bit, using my legs a bit more aggressively than usual, testing them. I thought things would be possible as we hit the backstretch for the last time. Not a win, no, but maybe a 10th or a 15th. My legs didn't feel that fresh but they had a jump in them, maybe.
We rounded the bottom of the hill. The right side started getting really tight, like really tight. I think a lot of guys were thinking that was the good, sheltered side. I started to move left.
And that's when, again, I saw two bikes from the side, a few feet up in the air. When you see rim and frame sides you know it's bad news.
This time Matt went down, the captain of the Bubbles team, Stage 1/FusionTHINK.
I didn't know it was him, I just knew that one of the Bubbles guys ate it hard, and I soft pedaled up the hill.
My legs started to cramp up and I was afraid that I'd fall over. I reached out to some friends and eased myself off the bike and onto the curb.
I watched as various vehicles went to Matt's aid.
Then, a long while later, I realized something.
I never crossed the finish line.
I hadn't finished the race.
I mean, I had, but I hadn't.
I got up, went inside, and started working on the post-race stuff. My brain a bit bleary, I couldn't focus well. Then, finally, we were done. I said my good-byes and got in my car. Long drive home.
Next week I'll finish the P123s, in the sprint. And I'll do my best to win the 3-4 race. Because, you know.
I owe it to my teammates.