Jim & I were about as excited as two boys heading off for summer camp. We were signed up for the Madera Stage Race and were leaving for two nights in the central valley. We had our race bikes, all of our stuff, and in addition a totally trick LOOK 596 Time Trial bike that we had managed to borrow from Spokesman in Santa Cruz. We got to Madera about 3:30 Friday afternoon and began to scout out the registration, criterium course and the time trial course. The criterium course was a 4 corner wide course that looked doable, but the Time Trial course, while only 10 miles was definitely exposed to the wind. We were both a little worried about that one. Anyway, we went to dinner, talked over our plans and got a good night’s sleep.
Saturday morning dawned clear with light winds. We ate breakfast at the hotel and headed out for registration and the crit. I was up first in the Elite 5’s, so I got in a pretty good warm up, rode the course once, and with Jim’s help, we got our spare wheels over to the pit area. I was a little nervous about the crit, as I had sort of decided they were too dangerous because of the squirrelly riders. I was feeling better though, because Jim had laid out some good rules to follow while riding in crits. I got up to the line and felt good to go. When the whistle blew, I found myself going from the front of the group to the back of the pack immediately. I had put LOOK pedals on my bike instead of my usual speedplays, because the TT bike had integrated LOOK pedals built into the cranks. I figured it was better not to be fooling with switching cleats between races. I did finally get clipped in and found that it was not too difficult to keep up with my group. Our race was scheduled for 40 minutes and I spent the first part of it trying to evaluate the course and the other riders in my group. I felt that I had ridden in crits with far more aggressive riders who had taken far more dangerous risks. I also felt that the course was so wide that I could not be blocked from moving up when I chose to. I did find that while I was comfortable both on the inside and the outside, I felt I was able to move up more aggressively from the out side.
Once the officials posted a card with the number of laps to go (8), I began to think about moving up. I felt that I had identified most of those with the ability to move up and I began following them to the front, and then allowing myself to drift back in order to do it again. With 3 laps to go, I was riding in about the middle of the group and I heard Jim call that I should start to move up. I began to follow good wheels until I was up in the top 5. I was determined to hold my position as I felt at this proximity to the finish, I would be both safer and in better position for the finish. As we came around the final turn and approached the line with 2 laps to go, I could feel other riders beginning to move up. I had people coming up on both sides and was trying to simply ride my line when one of the 2 riders directly in front of me made the worst mistake. I was on his wheel at close proximity when he turned his wheel directly into the rear wheel of the rider directly in front of him to his right. I was appalled. I felt pressure from my left and when neither rider in front of me went down, I decided to try and move out to my right. As soon as I committed to this move, the errant rider, now slightly to my left, again turned his wheel into the rider in front to his right. Both of those riders went down, and I realized I was soon to follow. I really did not have time to react further than my realization before I went down; hard, very hard. I have been told that a total of 5 riders went down in the crash and that the guy behind me ran over my head, but the next memory that I have is of Jim Langley telling me that I was being taken to the hospital to be checked out and that he would be there soon. I think I asked him about his race, and he said not to worry about it.
At the hospital, I had x-rays and MRI scans. They didn’t find anything broken or any brain damage. The one thing I felt good about was Jim. When he showed up at the hospital, he was like,”We’ll just get you out of here and get our stuff from the hotel and head home.” I was like, “No way! Your job is to get out of here and do as well as you can in your race! My wife will want to come down here and get me, so you just get out of here and go do your race. I’ll keep you informed on my progress and we’ll touch base throughout the day.” I was so grateful that Jim agreed to go and do his race. I would have felt horrible if he had insisted on hanging around the hospital with me. And, I would like to be the first one to congratulate Jim on a great race, but I’ll let him tell his own story.
Anyway, the end of my story is that I had to be transferred to the hospital in Fresno to have my left ear reconstructed. I expect that is going to be no fun for a while. Otherwise, I have various contusions and abrasions on my hands, elbows, knees and head. I also have massive hemotomas on my right elbow and hip, the same hip I injured in my crash at the end of October. I also have an abrasion on my right shoulder in the spot that I suffered an A/C shoulder separation last summer. I think I have 30 to 40 stitches in my left ear to accomplish the reconstruction. It really looked like hamburger. My LOOK race bike is in the shop for evaluation. I think the brunt of the punishment was to the bar area and the front end. I expect an estimate at some point. My helmet was destroyed, completely cracked, bloodied and in pieces. All of my clothing was torn, and I expect that I will be sore all over for some time to come. I was able to do an easy spin on my trainer today for 40 minutes. My power was in the low to mid L1 zone, but I was sweating profusely and my HR was in the mid to high L3 zone. Of course, I am out for the remainder of the stage race, and that is a shame because I think I could have done well in it.
Regardless, I would like to offer my congratulations to Jim and Gary. I am very proud of the two of them for finishing, and particularly of Jim for his finish!