Sunday, June 29, 2008

ToPA - Pittsburgh Crit

Cough, hack. Hack, cough.

Robin said something to me at the very beginning of this whole shindig. I won't forget it.

"Dude, I gotta wash my hands. Too much handshaking."

And he walked off to wash his hands.

It brought to me the whole "racers are superstitious about trying not to get sick" thing - hitting elevator buttons with elbows, not shaking hands, things like that. I just figured it was kinda like an old wive's tale, kinda sorta true but not totally completely.

Well let me tell you, next time I'm somewhere like a stage race, I'll be pushing buttons with my elbows, washing my hands after every few handshakes, no hugs, things like that. Imagine the scenario:

"Hey dude! How's it going? I haven't see you since... sorry, gotta wash my hands, I'm up to 4 handshakes already."



"Hi sweetie! Oh, sorry, I can't kiss you. No hugs either. I know, I know, you're my wife, but I don't want to get sick."

That wouldn't work out too well. I'll edit that last bit. I think this would work better:

"... I don't want to get you sick."

Alright, she probably won't go for that either. Plus she seems to stay in much better health than me.

Anyway, at race central in Pittsburgh, I breezed through the lobby, straight to the building's gift shop, don't pass Go, and bought an uncontrolled (i.e. no pharmacy or ID necessary) bottle of DayQuil.


I just checked the bottle. It's uncontrolled because it has nothing in it that's, well, controlled. The controlled stuff is what I wanted. And I thought I was just much sicker than I thought. I just remembered in my brain haze that I brought some of the controlled stuff with me. Took some of that, and with no overlapping ingredients, I was a lot better for the day.

Next topic please.

Sunday was a bit weird.

The first weird thing that happened - U23 National Crit Champ tumbles on call up. This is a picture on CyclingNews taken by Scott Schaffrick.

The final stage of the Tour of PA started at 5 PM. Great for TV (live coverage on Versus). The racers liked being able to sleep in. So did all the course tech staff. It made for a long day though because of the 5 (or in my case, 10) hour gap between waking up and race start. But that wasn't what made it weird.

It was the tornado warning.

Now, I don't know if it was a warning or a watch, but whichever it was, a Pittsburgh official basically said "Everyone here should seek cover". You know, in case a tornado touched down. Including the racers. So the race officials duly stopped the race.

I got under one of the many tents out there. After a bit I left to see if there was anything I could help with. I had no idea what that might be, but suddenly we needed ice for some guys who'd crashed just before the race got stopped. Myself and another person ran around, found ice, and brought it to the team car corral just in time to see the riders roll away and line up for the restart.

I put down my 80 pounds of ice, a bit disheartened that it'd all just go to waste (plus it was hard work lugging that stuff around). The team staffs' eyes lit up when all that ice showed up - in a minute it was all gone, poured into coolers and such.

All good, except the rider had to be taken to the hospital. I think the team wanted him to stay in because he was in the GC, but after the pause, the officials decided to make the race a non-GC race, i.e. no GC changes. So the leader yesterday was the winner today. And if you got "lapped", you'd be placed as a finisher today.

I say "lapped" like that because there were no stipulations of effort. A bunch of teams, their riders already withering from the rest of the race, decided to soft pedal until they were pulled, leaving a core group of maybe 70 racers to contest the finish.

Then, after a few laps of resumed racing, it was announced that the somewhat substantial prize money for the stage would be donated to Ronald McDonald House. This would prevent some of the kamikaze type racers from hurting themselves.

Now it was a race of honor.

For a lap or two it went easy, probably as directors tried to explain to their confused charges exactly what was going on. Then one of the main teams, the one with the overall lead, Kelly Benefits, went to the front and started driving the pace. True professionals, these. The TV cameras were out, covering US cycling live for the first time in Versus's history. Professionals race to bring publicity to their sponsors, and Kelly Benefits went to the front to race hard and make this last stage an exciting race. Of course it wouldn't hurt to have their team jerseys and shorts plastered all over national TV.

Doing the pro thing. From Cycling News, photo by Scott Shaffrick.

This prolonged effort literally shelled about a third of the racers, with a bunch more in serious trouble at the back of the strung out field. It did show who was truly in it to race though, and I think it was a great show of professionalism and sportsmanship.

The sun started to come out, the course started to dry just a touch, and I went to the YouSahDah area at the start/finish area. The warm sun had almost completely dried my previously soaking wet clothes. That's when the guys clearing the announcer's tent roof of water accidentally dumped about 10'x10'x3" of water on top of me.

I was in shock, properly soaked, waving my YouSahDah folder around to keep it dry. So much for dry clothing.

A section of wet brick seemed to claim most of the victims today, and a couple more crashes there put paid to all but maybe 30 racers. Slipstream, quick to follow Kelly Benefit's lead and race with honor, put all their guys at the front and drilled it for a good 10 laps, leading it out for their guy, the one who unexpected toppled when he got called up. The Kelly boys tucked just behind, protecting their team leader and overall leader (and victor). Waste Management had three guys in the severely pruned field, PA Lightning had two, Zteam stuck it out in there, Time Pro ditto, a few other teams.

Bell lap and Kelly Benefits went to the front, a standard move taken right from the first chapter of KBS strategies.

"Thou shalt avoid long leadouts if possible. Thou shalt hit the front with one lap to go and drill it."

Waste Management had one guy hammering at the front, looking extremely comfortable on the slick turns. He actually pulled off, sat up, and still had a slight gap at the front, and with that, he decided to push again. Kelly Benefits had two guys up there, Slipstream had a couple too. A final lap crash wiped out maybe 10 riders, delayed another 5 or so, and a very elite group of about 10-12 racers contested the sprint. Ultimately the Slipstream sprinter, the U23 crit champion, rocked the last turn in second spot, jumped like there was no tomorrow, and took a very good victory.

With that, the race was over. Or not. I grabbed my YouSahDah stuff and went to collect a rider. I left him at dope control and went back to get out of my sopping wet clothes and take a nice warm shower.

Tour of PA was over for the racers. For the technical staff, perhaps another month of paperwork. And for me, a long, long day in the driver's seat Monday as I drive from Pittsburgh to Philly to Connecticut.

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