Monday, July 23, 2007

Story - Tour of Michigan - Part 2 - First Race

After a brief sleep in the youth hostel at Muskegon, Abdul and I gathered our stuff and went searching for the race course.

When we got there it became apparent how big of a thing this Tour really was to Muskegon. There was a huge barbecue type thing going on with tents and vendors and an elaborate finishing banner structure - sort of a mini-Tour de France type of thing. And the course was closed for most if not all of the loop, using crowd control barriers, the big heavy metal kind.

I got a bit nervous.

We also saw Coors Light - the pro team, not the beer.

This was pretty serious.

We got ready for our race. Since we didn't know anything about the area, anything about the racers, we simply prepared like we were doing a normal race. There was a slight downhill on one stretch, opposite the slight uphill finish.

I like slight uphill finishes, especially in crits.

So, optimistic, we warmed up.

For the first time I truly felt like a pro. Fine, I was warming up for a race. But there were SEVEN races after this one in the next nine days. And I didn't have to worry about work or anything. Just eating and sleeping and recovering.

For once I was mistaken for a "real" racer. Obvious non-cyclists would yell out "Good luck!" or other nice things. Cops held back cars for me.

I could get used to this.

Now in New York, when you line up for a race, you do the following:
1. Warm up really well. Use heat rub.
2. Go to the start line about 20 minutes before your race.
3. Sit on the curb next to the start line.
4. If you're lucky, you'll be in the third row when they call you (after the pushing, shoving, and all that).

So in Michigan we did steps 1-3 (the third one we had to sit about 50 yards before the start line as that's where the first gaps were in the barriers).

And we got a pretty good spot.

(Abdul, in light blue, me, in red next to him, showing Michiganers how New Yorkers line up)

We learned that in Michigan, people are actually, get this, polite.

I didn't really comprehend this until we started racing.

But before I get to polite, let me tell you about the one thing Michiganers do right - they corner. And they corner so fast it made my mind spin. Guys leaned over so deep they simply fell over. I guess that when you don't have hills to break up the field, you try and string things out in the corners.

It actually took me about 20 miles to get over my rediscovered fear of cornering, especially after watching someone lean over into that downhill turn, lean, lean, then slowly lean a little too much. Then he started sliding across the road, sitting more upright as he slid, and then he slammed into the curb. I don't know what happened to him but his Specialized TriSpoke, a fancy light one, broke into a bazillion pieces and white pieces of stuff (foam?) littered the curb for the next few laps.

I backed off a bit. Explored the limits of cornering. And found that I could do it too. My tubulars were glued fine, the wheels were strong, and I didn't do anything dumb like brake halfway around a turn.

I started moving up but found the accordion effect was working against me - guys would bunch up and then have to jump after the turn. I did what you do in New York. You holler.


Magically, everyone moved to the left. I had a 30 foot aisle open just for me.

I took it.

Man, everyone just moved when I yelled.

I did it again.

And everyone moved.

Wow, people are so polite here.

Eventually Abdul and I found our way to the front of the race, and with a lap to go we were in the hunt but separated. He managed a 12th or so. I got... 21st.

20 places.

First loser.

I licked my wounded pride and Abdul and I went looking for some guy that would house us for the night. When there's a festival, a lot of racing, and hundreds or thousands of people milling around, trying to find some guy (a white guy no less) in middle America seemed to be a losing proposition. Especially since I didn't know what this guy looked like. And remember, this is pre-cellphones and stuff.

Miraculously, Abdul found him, a guy named Alan. And he told us that we'd be staying at his house. And if we liked, we could stay there for the whole Tour.

Michganers are soooo nice!

We took him up on the offer, at least of the first night (we thought we'd be imposing if we stayed for 9 nights). But nevertheless we got our gear stashed and followed Alan across half of Michigan to Midland.

Out somewhere a storm brewed up and for the next two hours we were staring at a storm front on the horizon, black clouds, lightning. In New England you rarely have more than a couple hundred yards of clear space due to trees and hills - so to be able to see literally 50 or more miles was just mind blowing.

I was exhausted (I tire easily when racing) so I got to watch the storm without distractions like driving and following Alan.

There were those moments though.

We were flying along a two lane road, crested a slight hill, and suddenly there were people and vehicles on the shoulder. That barely registered when we flew past a cow pattern.

Actually, it was a cow.

A cow was standing in the middle of the road and we missed it by about a foot at 70 mph.

Abdul sped up. He'd braked and now Alan was pulling away. We caught back up. Eventually we made it to a nice quiet area in Midland where Alan lived with his wife and their dog and cat. I made friends with the cat, we all ate something, Alan showed us our room (or rooms?) and we fell asleep.

Tomorrow would be race #2.

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