Thursday, April 05, 2007

Bethel Spring Series - Criterium de Bethel

You know that if I don't do a pre-race post, things are busy. And if I don't do a race post, it's even busier. I didn't even do a "day after the race" post.

Things were so busy that Sunday I decided to write off my season. Not the Series (that's already gone) but everything. The next time I line up with serious training and a competitive mindset will be in March 2008 and even that is a bit doubtful. What I do know is that 2007 will be for fun and involvement.

Yesterday I got to the race sans my other half - she's an accountant and it's tax season... 'nuff said. This meant that when I dropped the two muffins in the van I couldn't retrieve them till I got out of the van 30 minutes later. So I drank a lot of coffee instead.

Overall things went well. A blog reader who happens to race, helped sweep, helps marshal, and is generally enthusiastic about the sport asked me about trackstands and picking things up off the ground while riding. So I did a demonstration of both those techniques. I didn't video tape them so posting a clip will have to wait for a different day. Plus I wasn't in my race kit (I was in my "promoter kit", i.e. street clothes) so it's best that I tape it some other day.

The Target Training pro women's team showed up in force for marshaling duties in the morning. It's always nice to see elite level riders putting energy back into the sport, even if it's in such a relatively trivial way. No attitudes there and I think that's great for the sport. And the team owner even offered a whole lotta primes for the races - so many we couldn't organize things for that day. So there will be LOTS of cash primes on April 15th.

And it's good to see the riders who started out in the lower categories show up with their new team kits, pedaling smoother, riding in closer formation, and doing well in the harder races.

There were less pleasant aspects to the race. Over the last few weeks I heard, second hand, of some less than clean riding. After I posted a comment to this effect last week I got a couple concerned riders asking me if they were the guilty ones but no, it wasn't them. Those guys, and they know who they are, are good guys who have their competitive moments. Hey I have them too. They're good by me.

There are others who are still in a sort of an evaluation phase from where I'm standing. The only problem is that I haven't seen anything myself. And though I trust the reports I get, I won't act on them without confirming them personally.

When I do confirm something personally, I speak with the rider/s in question. Whether or not I know the rider, their actions reflect the attitudes of the race. And I don't want Bethel to be known as an overly aggressive place to race. Over the years I've had some interesting conversations with some of these racers and every single time, after all the discussions about who pushed who, who punched who, who blew their nose on who, whatever we talk about, it all boils down to one thing.

It's just a bike race.

A racer I respect pointed out that bike racing, for all intents and purposes, is like intramural softball. It's a big game. No one lives off their racing. Sure it's nice to win some gas money or a nice apres race meal. Or like the winner of one of the $50 primes last week, rent a power tool and work on your house. It's great to be enthusiastic about the sport but we all go to work on Monday.

This means we all do this for fun. At least I hope we do. No one gets anywhere with bike racing except the start line, the finish line on a normal day, and out for some training during the non-race days.

As a promoter I help the racers enjoy themselves. I'm supposed to be neutral towards everyone. I try very, very hard to be just that, even if sometimes I don't like what I have to do.

However, when the race starts, I am a racer. As such I am no longer neutral. If I'm not racing for myself, my teammates, or friends, I'll choose sides.

At the Criterium de Bethel I chose sides.

I decided I'd try and help some guys out who seem to genuinely embrace the sport. They are enthusiastic racers, they're nice when they're off the bike, they seem socially adjusted, and they even want to promote their own race!

Note: If you ever want to get on a promoter's good side, mention the race you promote. If the promoter is a good person, you're set.

So anyway I decided to try and help a couple of these racers. After all I wrote off my season. I figured I wouldn't even be around for the sprint. Ultimately they took things into their own hands so I didn't contribute to their effort at all.

That was unfortunate because I completely forgot about racing for myself. I was so intent on seeing what happened at the finish I did something very unusual.

I simply forgot to sprint.

The clip, still to be edited, makes this painfully clear. By the time my brain switched from spectator back to racer I was at the base of the hill, 150 meters to go, and people were starting to launch. I was completely unprepared for any hard effort and let the field stream around me. I tried to keep some semblance of speed so I wouldn't get rear ended but that was the extent of my sprint.

A little annoyed at myself I started the P/1/2/3 race. I felt some bursts of speed in the P/1/2/3 race, something I haven't felt in a while. Perhaps it was that I wasn't feeling sick for the first time in the Series. Whatever, promoting duties called and I didn't feel right racing around the course. So I made a few unusually hard efforts and called it a day. Before I stopped I thought, heck, I think I can do this. It's been a while since I've thought that.

Having packed up the van, I thought the tough part was done. Just the long, drawn out process of posting results and stuff. But the fates threw one more punch my way.

It came up on the drive home. In the rush to pack things, the gas cans ended up balanced on things like leafblower tires. Not a stable platform. And after two of them toppled and started leaking gas, I started getting a pretty bad headache. I didn't realize this - I figured a can was simply venting and drove with the window open. It got worse though. At the end of my drive I was almost hanging my head out the window like a dog (sans wagging tongue).

It didn't help. I was reeling when I climbed out of the van. I checked the cans and two had completely emptied - one being a somewhat full 5 gallon container, the other a half full 2.5 gallon container. I figure anywhere from two to five gallons of gas sloshed onto the floor. I opened a bunch of windows to vent the gas and hoped the drizzle would prevent an explosion when the guy who lives across the street goes out for a smoke.

All that "drive my econo car to work" and I vent 15 or 30 pounds of unburnt hydrocarbons into the air. Great.

I walked in the house feeling queasy, dizzy, and apparently reeking of gasoline. Breathing those unburnt hydrocarbons really worked me over. It took me a while to recover, but a shower, some new clothes, and some food got me going again.

Finally things went smoothly. I had the results posted by 7:15 PM. It helped that this was the fourth race of the Series - there are lots of the same guys placing again and again. As the guy typing up the results, I like the racers who place every week - less editing for me. It's best if they maintain their spot in the overall. It's great if they place in the same spot as the previous week (I use the previous week as a template).

The worst? It's when someone new places and he's on a team that hasn't placed previously. I have to type everything.

Team results are easier too, and I finally figured out (i.e. had the guts to try something) how to add the Women's team classification section.

So all in all, things are good. I am a bit disappointed to make the decision to drop my commitment to training but it's not like I'm losing much. I've been doing an hour or two a week on the trainer but Monday night I sacrificed my trainer spot so I'll rarely ride from here on in. The reason for all this non-cycling is the work being done to the house. It's very exciting and I'm looking forward to the results when it's all done.

I wish things were a bit less busy so I can ride a bit but this busy stuff is part of racing. Things come and go. Racers who were so into the sport are now gone. And the strong Cat 5's will be beating me in a a couple years. Or maybe this summer. So a little excitement at the Series is okay. Keeps me involved.

And when I lament the passing of a year of potential this or that, I think about all the other things I'm so thankful to have. And I remember.

It's just a bike race.


Anonymous said...

Fantastic post Aki - and a nice reminder to keep things in perspective (something competitive types sometimes find hard to do). Funny about the softball analogy. I've thought that myself whenever I started taking my racing WAY too seriously. Who am I kidding - I'll never be able to do this for a living (heck, I'd like to win a prime every once in a while). Remembering "it's just a bike race" helps make the racing a lot more fun. Thanks for another great post - and good luck on the house!

Rebecca H. said...

Yes, it's great to read your post-race posts, and I agree completely that it's only a bike race and it's best to keep that in mind! I find it's so much more fun if I don't take it too terribly seriously.

Aki said...

Thx both of you. It's sometimes hard to remember when the "red mist" (common term in amateur car racing) clouds people's judgment. Of course I have the luxury of not worrying about how I do and not thinking "I really have to do something this year".

Anonymous said...

Women pros and elites are the best. While the men act as if they are entitled to gear and sponsorship, the women seem to understand their role in the relationship and have been genuinely appreciative and respectful to their sponsors in my experience.

I would recommend a women's team over a men's team any day to a prospective sponsor.

It's a shame, but bike racing is one of the few sports that lets the participants believe that they are pros and to act like they are, too. Maybe because we all where flashy team uniforms (costumes?), ride the same bikes as the pros and even race some of the same races as the pros, we can get this feeling that the pro contract is just a win or two at the local crit away. I think the "class system" that USCF categories creates also influences this and encourages the more athletically fortunate among us to feel superior to the rest of us. It's funny how some of these people that seem to powerful and heroic on Sunday morning, can seem so meek on Monday out in the real world.

And don't kid yourself about softball. I've heard some pretty bad stories about competitiveness from the beer-league crowd.

Anonymous said...

Good post Aki. I'll still be hassling you to race. Although it is just a bike race for a lot of us it is the first time we have been able to afford (time and money) to be competitive and we aren't getting any younger. Setting and meeting or exceeding your goals is a great feeling.
Racing for the 10-15 years you have done is unbelievable. You are a legend. I am sure we'll see you out there in a couple weeks training again.
If you aren't there who's going to write these great cycling blogs?

I'll look for you on the last lap.