Last weekend, at the Panoche Valley Road Race, I was standing on the top step of the podium, grinning ear to ear. But yesterday I was sitting on the pavement in pain, gasping for breath, as my competitors finished the last lap of my race without me. Man, life, and bike racing, sure has its ups and downs.
San Jose Bicycle Club's Memorial Day bicycle race has been a mixed bag for me. I won in 2007 but crashed in 2006 (talk about binary) just as my friend Rob Jensen had in 2005. This year I had pre-registered for two events: The "Elite" Category 3 race, and the "Master" 45+ age group of combined Category 1, 2 and 3 racers. That was a bit of a stretch, but with our friend Carole staying the weekend she and Margaret would want to do some shopping and that gave me the free time to overdo it. I figured I'd get a good workout, but didn't count on getting worked over!
I arrived at the race venue in Morgan Hill's business district just before my teammate Bryan King's Cat. 4 race finished, but somehow I missed getting any photos of him because I got stuck in a slow line at sign-in. He did well, and we chatted a bit as I got ready for my Cat. 3 race's 9:40AM start. Maybe I had a premonition; this was an 18+ age-group race after all, not the crusty old veterans I usually race with. I decided to leave my old wheels on the bike for this race, just in case there was a crash (wheels are usually the first thing to be destroyed). I remember looking at my Team Bicycle Trip skinsuit and thinking I'd hate to see it get torn up too. Didn't update my will, but you'd think I was leaving for a war.
Bryan volunteered to operate my camera, and I dropped off my spare wheels in the pit area. I got one lap of the course for warmup (plenty for me!) and lined up. I was surprised at the youth all around me. Geez, I'm getting old. But I figured I could keep out of harm's way thanks to guile.
The race was moderately fast at first, but several small breakaways formed, I think of two or three guys at most, and that upped our efforts as guys chased them down. The intermediate "prime" sprints were hotly contested, perhaps because some were worth as much as $250, and this also provoked an increase in our pace. I just sat in, as I had no teammates and was treating this partly as warmup for the Masters event anyway. I felt great drafting in this large 75-rider pack!
The peloton seemed to be running smoothly, with just a few wobbly riders who stood up to sprint out of slow turns, and some guys yelling "inside" as they got themselves squeezed into the curb in turns. Tip: Make sure you are clearly the "inside" guy well before the turn. Don't just yell it out at the last second while trying to make up some positions. If you need to yell "inside" you are probably already making a mistake.
Anyway, I was feeling fine, and smiling at my camera as Bryan cheered me on. With 3 laps to go he yelled at me to move forward. Excellent plan! I was executing on this nicely, and while the tension in the pack was palpable we were still fairly clean. I noticed several teams trying to set up leadouts for their chosen sprinters and decided to latch onto one. I started with a Metromint leadout, but the young sprinter lost his leadout for some reason. Perhaps the increasing speed (we averaged 26.8 MPH, up to this point!). I then switched to a Wells Fargo team leadout, but they also got separated, then to a third leadout (maybe Trek Bike Stores) near the front. I was well-positioned and working hard, but not too hard, at 85-90% effort. Perfect.
On the last lap, we were really moving and soon hit 35 MPH! As we rounded turn 3 into the sweeping back "straight" we had to skirt the row of cones on the left, as we'd done every previous lap. I'd been comfortable there but this time some of the leadouts were swerving across the course, I guess to prevent others, like me, from latching on? I guess it worked, because as we came even with the last cones the guy in front of me got squeezed into them and clipped a stack of 5 or 6 cones with his left pedal, dropping them directly into the path of my front wheel. It happened so fast that I only had time to hold tight and steer as straight as possible. Slam!!!
In an instant I went over the handlebars and body-slammed full-length on my back onto the pavement. 35 MPH to 0 MPH in 0.1 second! I was completely stunned and had the wind knocked out of me. In an instant I was surrounded by the Course Marshalls and soon the E.M.T. (named Katherine, I think) was checking me over. No obviously-broken bones, but, man, my back felt like it got hit by a 20-pound sledgehammer! I was scraped up some on my back, left hip and calf, had an odd puncture wound on my left forearm, my left heel really hurt (it must have hit the ground first) and blood dripped off my nose. It took me a while to get my breath back too.
My bike was thrown 20 feet down the course, and soon we discovered my beloved new Giant TCR C2's carbon-fiber frame was cracked almost through on the downtube just behind the headset. The saddle and some other minor things were scuffed, but the wheels were fine and my skinsuit nearly so; go figure!
Bryan was being his usual awesome self and brought his car over so he could take me to the E.R. at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Gatos. The bumps in the road really hurt my back and I thought of how David Zabriskie had cracked a vertebra in the Giro d'Italia a few days earlier. When we got to the E.R. the Doctor pressed my spine and it was fine; only the muscles around it were sore. Whew! But my heel hurt pretty badly, so the Doctor authorized an X-ray of it that fortunately showed no cracks. An E.M.T. flushed out my deep puncture-wound, cleaned up the scrapes and bandaged me up.
Carole drove Margaret to the E.R. and then continued home while Bryan dropped Margaret and I off at the race site so we could retrieve all of my stuff and drive home. I was already feeling better, and just kept feeling better thanks to Margaret's tender care! I escaped with the usual scrapes, cuts and bruises, and some expensive equipment damage. We'll see how much a new frame ends up setting me back. Sigh.
At least I'm feeling way better now, and I have no doubt I'll be back in my scuffed-up saddle soon... hopefully tomorrow. Uh, wait a minute; that's crazy of me... why do I keep racing bikes? All I could think of was how I didn't want to miss my next workout ride, or next weekend's race, so I guess I'm an addict!