You only get one first road race. Further, just because yours ends with an ignominious flat tire does not mean that you can’t write a bloated, overwrought, race report about it. Cf:
This weekend’s kermesse, held in Leland, Il and hosted by Flatlandia was run on a 10 mile loop out in the cornfields west of Chicago. If you kinda squinted, it looked like the pastoral portions of the Paris – Roubaix, and it shaped up to share the spring classics’ tendency to be windy and foul weather-wise. The howling wind made for some really brutal crosswinds, and the sky was black with potential rain. The course itself was flat and had a few turns before it ended with a mile packed dirt farm road to truly echo the spring classic style.
Fellow TATI riders Eric and Francisco were in the 4′s, and I lined up with ~40 of my fellow 5′s for pre-race briefing. After being briefed, the two groups were led away a couple of minutes apart by their own pace cars. After a half mile of neutral start, we rolled across the start and the pace picked up quickly. I made my way up to third or fourth wheel, and it wasn’t long before two Cycle Smithy riders pulled to the front and cranked the pace up still further. This was good as it allowed me do what I really was looking forward to doing: making the first attack of the race. After a few minutes of tempo riding, someone a few wheels up shouted “rough road” and the group slowed a bit which was the mark I’d been looking for. I jumped out of the line into the headwind and heard two people shout “TATI left!” Ah, now that sounded nice. I hammered for a minute or so to open a gap, and looked over my shoulder to see that someone had come with me. Even nicer. The pack wasn’t having any of it though, and they were back on us within a couple of minutes. As we sank back in, another attack went off and the pace surged again.
By this point, we’d covered a few miles and dropped the vast majority of the field — there were maybe 15 or so riders left in the group with a largish knot of XXX riders. By the time we reached the mile of dirt road which marked the end of the lap, we were even fewer. In fact, I was snoozing as we turned onto the dirt, overshot the turn, and had to slow way down to keep from bogging into the soft shoulder. As a reward I got to make a gut churning charge to get back on over the dirt road. Despite the massive crosswind from the right, riders were inexplicably holding the center line when there was a really nice line to the left — i.e. allowing me ride out of the wind. I thought I might use this information on my next lap. I made my way back to the front of our group just as two guys were attacking (a smart place to do it!). Nobody seemed interesting in chasing so we watched them ride away. As we came through the finish line for the second lap, our group had dwindled to 8 people with the two guys off the front. At least four of these guys were XXX riders.
Everyone took a break for a few miles, which felt pretty darn nice, and we began to encounter riders who’d come off the back of the 4′s and 3′s races. Soon, it was time to start working again, and I settled very well into my role of wheel sucker — I figured that with XXX so well represented in our group, they would be happy to do the work. I was starting to form a plan involving trying to attack right at the outset on the dirt to maybe shake the group up a bit when the wheel I was following suddenly jerked to the right and in it’s place a big pot hole appeared. I tried to stand, but we were traveling at nearly 30mph and my rear wheel dropped into it very hard and instantly started to hiss. I screamed an explicative, pulled out of the group, thought (wished) maybe I’d imagined the whole thing, made a move as if to slide back in, and heard the guy who was next to me say over his shoulder “no dude, you’re flat.” And I was.
As I walked down the road for the next 25 minutes pushing my bike, I had lots of time to think about how things could have gone, and what difference it would have made, and what I thought about road racing. I decided I liked it lots. The walk was kind of nice, but I would have liked some cleat covers and a bit less rain. It was nearly 10 minutes before I saw the next group of cat 5 riders.
I finally made it to the dirt road and was a couple hundred yards down it when Julie Popper of Half Acre rode up, stopped, said “you’ve got to ride in with dignity man,” tossed a flat repair kit at my feet and pedaled off despite my protests that I didn’t deserve it. Julie rocks. I fixed my flat, rode the last half mile in, and dropped to the cheers of my awesome friends, who’d driven all the way out there to watch me race.
Eric and Francisco came through soon after, and had to suffer through a fourth lap during which the bottom fell out of the sky. A huge cold wall of rain roared across the course and made a seriously epic last lap — they both looked like they’d ridden a cross race afterward, they were so covered in mud.
Flatlandia is to be commended for putting on an awesome race. I know I echo a common sentiment when I say that I look forward to next year’s kermesse.