Sunday, April 10, 2011

Always Wear a Helmet

So I've always been a dirt rider, and an endurance rider a that, but sometimes all your friends decide to jump off a bridge and despite your better judgement you decide the drop looks like fun.  < leap >.  Rumor has it my current alma mater is pretty good at road racing, and since I used to ride bikes all the time, said pretty good road team is incessantly trying to to get me to pedal on pavement.  Fine.  You Win.  But I'm not gonna be fast! (the last time I was on a road bike was 2010).  And so begins the story of Hubris' ride and fall...

It all started in last weekend at the Tufts campus crit, which I'm told is one of the most technical criterium courses on the east coast.  As a trail rider who knows his way around a bike, I was excited and terrified all at the same time:  Excited because I'd be bringing Cat 1 off-road bike handling guns to a Cat 4 roadie knife fight; terrified because I'd be trying to ride a bike through a Cat 4 roadie knife fight.  Really, it's a wonder they avoid stabbing themselves most of the time. (while concurrently making me look like a couch potato fitness-wise)

Let's digress a moment to understand my perspective on this road racing thing:  I'm a guy who races with big spacing at average speeds of 14mph; on dirt, which is soft; dodging trees, which don't move; on a bike that eats obstacles the size of baseballs for breakfast.  Now take this same guy and put him on a bike that feels like a toy, speed him up to double the pace, replace dirt with concrete and add a couple dozen clean shaven 20-somethings as fit and aggressive as they are squirrely bike-handlers to swarm about while whipping around in circles until everyone is blind from oxygen-deprivation.  They tiptoe on the brink of disaster where the minimum penalty for failure is ending up like a lemon skin after an evening in a french kitchen.  This is pretty much the definition of scary. 

With the above perspective in mind, you can understand why the strategy for said most technical crit on the east coast was "Get to the front. Stay there.  Don't get in a wreck.  [win?]".  At the start of lap 2, I took the lead in an effort to test the field's cornering jones.  At the end of lap 2 it was me, two tails (Tufts, Villanova) and gaaaaaaaaaaap.  "Sonofa---, umm guess we gotta make this stick?"  With my current level of fitness (none), and the number of for-real crits I'd raced before (none), this development was less than ideal.  On the other hand, it was better than sitting-up in a writhing ball of sketchiness for 35 min, and we did eventually stick the break.  The few that managed to hang (the two originals plus a few that bridged on, including Steve from MIT) were glad to keep the ante up in the corners until we were sliding out one guy about every three laps in corner 2 (ouch).  Only five guys rolled to a sprint in the end, but MIT's winning move was blocked by yet another crash that ruined my lead out for a teammate.  If only we had a few more laps, we could have just crashed out the rest of the sprint and gone 1-2, but I'll take 3-5 any day.

Fast-forward to this week:

Coming off a successful race at Tufts, I was ready to make some moves in New Haven.  I was a little under the weather so the hilly circuit race was not my best performance, but this crit, man, this one was gonna be AWESOME.  I had one other teammate in the race (Loomis) and since I sprint like a little girl with a sprained ankle, the plan was to drag his 200lb diesel tractor to the finish and make him a hero on the downhill sprint.  I'd cover all the attacks, but otherwise sit in until the last lap where I'd bury myself on the the back stretch and give Loomis the clean line to the finish. Deal?  Deal. 

Everything started out according to plan.  Loomis and I were right up in the top five, and I was lazily grabbing all the wheels of riders trying to ride off the front.  Then came the first prime lap.  Now, remember that I sprint like a little girl but I'm also easily bored, and being up near the front I was in a great position to make some moves.  Even better, the guy making an early break for it was the climber who exploded the pack the day before in the hills.  In other words, the little girl with the busted ankle had a chance to throw down against another little girl with two broken legs. GAME. ON.

With 100yds, a 90-degree corner and a long downhill straight to the finish, I jumped into chase.  He was on the inside.  Coming through fast, I wanted the inside but with the pack coming on I couldn't count on a clean cut behind him from the wide side so I opted for the wide line. In retrospect, I should have given the rest of the pack a curt, "I'm cutting in and if you're there, I WILL run you over", then taken the inside line but hindsight is 20/20. I went wide and hot.

Unsurprisingly, the leader (Williams) took a terrible line through the corner from the middle of the road and took it all the way out to the curb, cutting me off and causing me to scrub all my speed. I still had position so I got on the gas, coming out of the saddle to a full sprint.  Being cut off turned me into a ball of blind, snarling rage.  BLIND. SNARLING. RAGE.  Williams would be buried for his insolence, save for divine intervention, and I don't have much belief in god at the moment so I was pretty confident of the outcome. 

God may or may not exist, but if he does he realllly wants to remind me that I am NOT a sprinter.  Three pedal strokes into my merciless attack, my left cleat released on an upstroke and threw me over my bars at a speed I care not estimate. Thanks to some MTB ninja skills I managed to roll through the impact with only a bit of road rash (and maybe a cracked rib) but returning to my bike I found my wheels would not spin.  My helmet, well, looked like this: 

...and so ended my second for-real criterium.  Down two wheels, short a pound of flesh and in the market for pedals that don't suck.  As a whole, this pretty good road racing team of ours had a pretty solid week, running away with the team omnium and taking top 5 spots in lots of categories.
The MIT success story is not in small part due to the fact that they're a scrappy bunch, Including this lady at right who rode back to a top 5 after dragging her crashed butt out of a ditch, and her teammate who blew out a knee on Saturday and then finished not one, but two crits on Sunday.  If only we could get some of them on mountain bikes!

Fortunately the collegiate field as a whole, but especially team MIT, has a great sense of humor.  While I may not be much of a roadie I toss a mean heckle, and our team has its own megaphone... 

Thanks team MIT for a great weekend, even if you did try to kill me.


xsdg said...

Sounds like fun :o) What pedals were you riding? They weigh a ton (the non-aluminum ones weigh a little less :o), but I've never had problems riding on the road with my ATACs. Of course, if you get to the point where you care about aerodynamics, they might not be the ideal solution :o)

cw said...

yaaaay for free medical care.

Amy said...

please please now that downhill race Chile?!

I think that helmet photo belongs in your dissertation somewhere, perhaps under acknowledgements.

Unknown said...

@xsdg: The pedals were TIME RXS, a perfectly legitimate road pedal. Meybe the cleats were worn or there was some dirt in the interface? I've never had them release like that before.

As far as ATAC's go, i love them for MTB, but on the road I find them to release too easily. My preferred characteristics in a road pedal are huge float and then a really big wall you have to push through to unclip. I thought the RXS were the pedal for this, but now I'm questioning whether this is true. I'm going to replace the cleats first and see if they can regain my trust.

Roger@Bike Racks said...

Hey, The MIT team had done very much fun. But be careful while biking in such areas. The two person were injured badly.