Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Story - Tour of Michigan - Part 3 - The Rest of the Tour

Our first race done, we decided to take up Alan on his offer for staying for the whole Tour. The racing got a bit better. Now we knew we could line up at the front, we knew that moving up wasn't too much of a problem, and we started focusing on trying to do well.

Abdul and I didn't work together as a team per se but if he went off (he was definitely more a breakaway guy) I'd go to the front to sit on the chasers. And conversely, towards the end of the race, he'd look for me to give me a hand. The big local teams had leadout trains going each race though so I'd end up following the trains and trying to do something off of them.

Problem was that these trains were big and fast enough that it was hard to move up without a counter train. Meaning the leadouts were fast enough that they were actually effective! One team in blue went to the front at 10 miles to go at every race. Incredible determination, incredible strength. Their racer got second overall.

We both tried to help Alan in his hometown race but I think there was a big crash and it didn't work out. A minor hill really put a dent into my reserves and it was all I could do to hang on - and in fact I think I didn't.

The Lansing race was good for me. The race after the first rest day, we felt fresh and ready to rumble. A course with cobbles and a hairpin turn leading to the finish, it allowed smart (or weak) riders to sit in. At the time I had a cutting edge device called a "heart rate monitor". My heart rate dropped to about 120-130 bpm during the race - the same as when I lined up. Unfortunately the narrow finishing straight meant that even though I was perhaps 15th out of the last turn, I couldn't move up very far - there were ten guys spread curb to curb and literally nowhere to pass them. At the line I threw my bike between two guys, my front wheel ending up around their cranks. I managed to take 11th, the first racer in the second row of sprinters.

The next day was Monroe - a night race with the sharpest turn in the Tour. A 170 degree turn made it imperative that you have excellent position coming out of the last turn. And although it was advertised as a "night" race, our race was actually the darkest (the others ran in dusky conditions). The organizers had only two of those construction trailer lights and used one for the start finish and the other for the hairpin. The rest of the course was as dark as Central Park at 10 PM. It seemed the racers were primarily motivated by fear - fear of hitting a wheel or something else in front of you, fear of hitting the curb or a manhole, fear of ending up on the sidewalk in some storefront window. A couple managed to hit stores but no one did any spectacular endos into plate glass or anything. Abdul attacked a few times and picked up some primes but nothing of significance. I counted pedal revolutions till I hit cruising speed on the main stretch - about 4 or 5 revs - and watched as others struggled to hit the same speed 3 or 4 revolutions later. I don't remember how I did but I think I got another 11th or so. The race leader ended up sprawled on the pavement - his chain broke under an all out sprint and dumped the racer on his head at 35-40 mph.

Detroit followed the second rest day - and this was a doozy of a course. You know those food festivals where there are little booths everywhere? Imagine such a place with a one lane access road meandering through the various booths. Now put metal crowd control barriers along both sides of the access road so you have about an eight foot wide path with a 90 degree turn here and there. Now put a Cat 3-4 crit on there. Yep, disaster. The race was single file from the gun, the big teams pushing to keep their guys out of trouble. I couldn't deal with the pace and filtered right off the back. There were crashes but none of the "The guy took out the Root Beer Float cart" like I expected.

The final race was on a short, half mile, EIGHT turn course. And the skies, mostly helpful till then, opened up. Pouring rain, tight course, downtown, lots of crosswalks and manhole covers and oil and man it was a mess.

I was 21st on overall (or thereabouts) and they paid 20 places for GC. So I lined up intent on placing. If I placed, I figured I'd take someone else's place and therefore I'd break into the top 20 (i.e. I'd be 20th). We started off and I nervously made my way up the field. The big teams pushed the pace, it was single file, but I felt a lot better, a lot more motivated. I'd read about how you find extra energy in stage races (like when you wear the yellow jersey) but I never really understood.

Now I did.

I watched racer after racer slide into curbs or others and I simply rode around them. It never occurred to me that I might be next - I was on a mission and nothing was going to stop me from trying.

I was in the top 20 or so with probably 15 or 20 laps to go when the guys in front of me simply fell over. One guy was sliding on his butt, looking like he just sat on one of those Sit N Spins, his bike clattering beside him. I tried to get around him but I basically ran into his back, almost flipped over him, unclipped, and slid into the curb. I tried to clip in and learned at that moment that my shoe was still on the pedal - and that I'd actually pulled my foot out of the wet, stretched shoe. I started to roll when the bike lurched to a stop. My pride and joy rear wheel, my 28 spoke, Zipp hub, Mavic GEL 280 was totally potato chipped. I went to neutral support to get a new wheel. The mechanic pulled out my wheel.

"Holy **** this is a light wheel! Wow what kind of rim is this?"
"Um, could you get me a wheel?"
"Don't worry we have plenty of time."
"GEL280, 28 hole, 15 gauge double butted spokes, Zipp hub, alloy nipples."
"Wow that's the lightest wheel I've seen."
He slapped in a new tank of a wheel, the rim painted with a brush, so many spokes it looked like a stainless steel disk wheel. I looked at my bent wheel wistfully and then at the "new" replacement wheel. My replacement was a clincher even.

The field came roaring around and I got shoved back into the melee. I'd like to say I got 4th and moved up the overall but that wasn't the case. I was dead last of the finishers, got something like 24th, and didn't get any sort of overall prize.

Abdul, a bit of self preservation still in his system, had dropped out with the other hundred or so guys. He was looking pretty chipper when I finally got back to the car. He told me that after 4 or 5 or 6 crashes he decided to pull out - he had nothing to race for and the GC guys were so motivated he figured it'd be difficult to break into the money. Yep.

After I got changed we bade farewell to our new friend Alan, swore we'd come back and do better, and set off back to New England.

My souvenir from that epic race:

We'd return for another year, staying at Alan's the whole time. He was by far the strongest of us three and ended up doing the best of us. The year after that they started incorporating mountain bike races in the mix and we didn't return. Shortly after that the Tour de Michigan disappeared off the schedule.

A pity. Such a race series really made an impression on me - the professional race organization, the race bible, the overall battle, riders from all over, and courses that actually suited me. Well, usually. The organizers made racing a lot more interesting than just showing up for a race and then going home afterwards.

Here's to the Tour of Michigan!

No comments: