Monday, June 07, 2010

Racing - Workin' The Feed Zones at the 2010 CT Stage Race

I sat on my erstwhile stool, a white lidded cooler full of precious fluids, teeming with electrolytes and fancy sugars. My eyes focused on a gap in the foliage, one that revealed the first hint of pavement visible from my vantage point. As point man for the rest of the feed zone, I took my self-assigned task seriously.

If a car came through there with its hazards on, I'd need to jump up, pull out said bottles of fluids, and get ready to feed my teammates.

I spent 4 hours peering down the road today.

And that was at the first feed zone.

The second one wasn't quite so exciting. First off, we were all parked a bit chaotically, so it resembled more of a disaster-recovery crew, not a military operation. Secondly, I (and my teammates) were at the end of the feed zone, so I wasn't point man anymore.

When I say point man, it's kind of a job assigned by where you place yourself in the feed zone. By default, if you line up at the beginning of the feed zone, you end up the canary in the coal mine. If you get up and grab bottles, so does everyone else. Everyone looks to you. So you're point man.

At the first feed zone I sat at the beginning of the feed area, so the Expo Boys would be able to pick me out right away. But then I became the look out for everyone else, kind of.

Which wasn't that bad, come to think of it.

I think I'd be pretty good at a certain kind of look out duty, like maybe in the military or maybe security. Not the kind where someone tells me, "If you see anything out there, shoot it!" I think I'd be better at, "Keep an eye on that area there, and let me know if anyone shows up."

"Yessir!"

Okay, so not a look out like a guard look out. Maybe more like a lobby receptionist.

'Movement sited in highlighted corridor. Target acquired. Target approaching. Initiating reaction sequence...'

"Hi, how can I help you today?"
"Um, yeah, I'm looking for the radiology department?"
"Right, that would be on the third floor. Elevators are there, and you should take a left when you get out of the elevators."
"Thanks."
"No problem. Have a nice day."

'Target assimilated.'

30 seconds later...

'Movement sited in highlighted corridor....'

I sat there, peering out from under the brim of my Cutter-soaked cap, looking for the elusive and rare vehicle, the ones call the "Pace Vehicles". These are sited only at the head of bike racing pelotons, and with only four around today, they were a rare vehicle indeed.

This was Feed Zone One, situated 40 miles into the 91 mile race route. I got here in my white van, not the smaller red or blue cars, because someone had pointed out that maybe, just maybe, I'd be driving exhausted riders and their bikes back to the start/finish area.

The van also held more stuff. I brought with me a variety of things, including FIVE coolers (using three of them), two generators, a microwave oven, chairs, two umbrellas, spare helmet, floor pump, a bunch of bottles, two calzones, and a bunch of baked goods I bought from the Senior Center ladies at the registration building.

Okay, I had more. I had my gear bag, loaded with two rain jackets and a vest, extra tubes, and tools. I had a shopping bag with fresh towels, rubbing alcohol, for those riders needing to clean up a bit.

I had my mosquito spray, DEET, and Yard Net area mosquito spray.

And finally I had the stuff I forgot, sitting at home - first aid kit, clean and dry street clothes, more towels, an extra bench for the van (I only had one of four benches in it), spare wheels, and whatever weird stuff still sat in my van.

So, if you were driving a 1984-1989 Ford Escort, I had a wheel for you. Or if your Saab 900 (pre-1989) needed ball joints, well, I had like six of them. Need a jump? Had jumper cables. A tube for your clincher? Got 700c tubes. A tarp? How about three? Bungee cords?

You get the idea.

Earlier in the day I'd met up with my teammates. Joe T, Taylor, and myself would feed our rider in the 3s (Cliff), the M40s (Dave), and the 4s (Dennis, Mike, and Steve). I got two bottles from each, put them into the two coolers (FZOne - Feed Zone One, FZTwo), and took Dave's cooler as a whole (he supplied a bunch of bottles for himself).

We also took some bottles for a lone guy from a yellow/black team. We'd feed him as a favor.

Both coolers also held all the bottles I could find and wash in the dishwasher the night before. I told the Missus something like this:

"I'm gonna get all the bottles I can find, wash them in the dishwasher, and hand them out to whoever wants them."
"Will they return them?"
"No, usually not."
"Oh, good!"

The pile of extra bottles strewn around the house suddenly got really, really small.

Before we left I also bought some baked goods from the Senior Center ladies. I asked if they'd be around after the race - they told me they were packing up to shut down their sale. I mentioned that the racers would be hungry after a 91 mile ride, and they would probably have some business if they stayed open. They laughed, asked for my name in case no one showed up, and started bagging more cookies.

Properly armed, Joe and I set off to FZOne. Taylor hopped a ride with me since he didn't have a car.

We successfully fed the 3s.

Then, because we'd run out of time, Joe T took Cliff's second feed in a mini-cooler and took off to FZTwo.

Of course, as he drove away, I realized that he needed to take Dave's feed also, because we'd probably miss him. So I asked a kind lady in a nice car to drive Taylor to FZTwo, along with Dave's cooler, after we all fed the M40s. She kindly agreed.

When the M40s came by, they were led by one Ed A in a solo break. He looked a bit tired but declined my feed. He'd be out front for 50 miles alone, and still manage to take some prizes home. Incredible.

We got Dave okay, and the yellow/black team guy. He crashed later in the feed zone but we had no idea - we were busy getting Taylor packed up and into the kind lady's Bimmer. She'd handed up a bottle to her husband in the M40s, and she and Taylor headed right over to FZTwo.

That left me alone to feed three guys in the 4s race at FZOne.

Occasionally lone riders would roll by, dropped by their parent pack. I'd offer them a bottle, but inevitably they'd turn me down.

Two riders approached at a more leisurely pace, and from their voices I could tell they were two women. I figured they were riding the course in lieu of their canceled races. But after they rode by, they stopped - they were feeding their respective boyfriend and fiance in the 4s.

The skies threatened all day with rain and before the 4s arrived the clouds opened up with a vengeance. I ran to the van, grabbed my super-sized golf umbrella, and frantically pushed the "open" button. The rain hit so suddenly that the four extra jabs at the button meant I was soaked - had I hit it right the first time, I'd just have been damp.

A bit miserable, I returned to my post.

The rain didn't seem like it'd go anywhere soon, so when it eased a bit, I offered the two women a ride to the next feed. They accepted.

The initial two man break of the P12 race, containing Bethel Spring Series overall winner Robert Sweeting, rode by, looking solid for having covered something like 80 miles.

About 15 minutes later, a guy in light blue came by. He didn't look too happy and he declined my offer of a bottle.

Another minute and another light blue guy rode by, covered in mud. He also looked unhappy, and he also turned down my feed.

I guess pros don't take feeds from strangers, else they might pick up a spiked drink. That was my thought at the time. I had no idea.

The the 4s showed up. I had our best GC rider's bottle (Dennis's) in one hand, Steve and Mike's in the other. Of course Steve showed up first, I dropped the bottle, I never saw Mike, and I dropped Dennis's bottle.

I knew this was critical, and I'd promised them I'd feed them, so I scooped up Dennis's and Steve's bottles and ran after the pack, handing them off to Dennis.

Note: Never, ever run in a feed zone. Except when it's a matter of extreme honor. It's totally against the rules to run in a feed zone.

I got a really loud warning from an official for my rule-shattering hand off, but Dennis, and later, Steve, had their bottles.

The two women also successfully fed their friends so we scrambled into the van and set off to FZTwo.

After an forever-drive (in CT Stage Race, each bit of road seems to be 5 miles long with no houses or cross streets), we finally made it to FZTwo. There we had some inkling of what happened to the P12s.

The overall race leader was hanging out there, banged up, bleeding a bit, bandaged a lot. He looked cold in his soaked jersey and shorts, and someone was commenting he was looking for some food. I found him and gave him cookies (Senior Center sourced), a blueberry cake piece (same source), and I think something else.

He scarfed them all down.

In between bites I offered him the option of sitting in the van to keep warm. He declined but asked if I could give his bike a ride back to the start/finish. I agreed and loaded up his Extremely Light race bike. It weighed about what my bike does if my bike had no wheels on it. Incredible.

When the 3s went by I fed whoever I could - I had a lot of extra bottles now. And when the M40s rolled by, with Dave nowhere in sight, we fed a bunch of them bottles too.

Dave rolled in a little while later, shattered. He'd dropped out of the break, basically racing as hard as possible until his body shut down. We collected him and his bike, although he rode down the road to pick up a cone that some kids in a car ran over (on purpose).

We fed the 4s, successfully, with Joe, Taylor, Dave, and myself handing out bottles.

Then we got ready to roll back to the start/finish. One woman (and her bike), Dave (and his), and the Leader's Bike, Taylor, and I climbed in and set off.

At the finish we waited and waited for the 4s. Dennis, Mike, and Steve finished well, in the lead pack. I'd bought two of the last three bags of cookies for Dennis (nothing else left except bagels), a soda, and went looking for everyone. Dennis had been dying for some of the baked goods (he told me about them Saturday), and when I gave him the two bags, his face lit up.

Overall, for us, a great day. I had a lot of fun, our friends in the 3s, 4s, and M40s made it okay through the race, and the support crew had a good time too.

Dennis D and me after the finish of the road race. I'm holding a very handy-for-the-day umbrella. it doesn't look like he rode 91 miles, does it?

1 comment:

Dennis Desmarais said...

Aki -- there would not have been a big smile on my face at the end of this ride had it not been for your support in the feedzone and/or the cookies you had waiting for me at the end. Once again a big thanks to you for suffering in the rain and giving up your Sunday to support the team!