I'd been looking forward to Sherman Park for weeks. It would be a nice bookend to a season that started with my very first criterium, a race in St. Charles in which my goals were merely "don't crash, don't die." Four months later my goals were more ambitious: I was confident I could either finish in the top 10 or contribute to a teammate's finish in the top 3.
Truesport's Mark Swartzendruber had a fun rant a few weeks ago about "feckless weenies" and the merits of racing vs. "riding in circles." It was with this in mind that I tried to create as much action as I could during what little time there was in Saturday's Cat 5 race. Last thing I wanted was to be in a bunch sprint, but especially in a field with so many crash-prone Freds.
I got off a few flyers, usually on the heels of a prime, but unfortunately I couldn't get any takers, and I couldn't create a gap big enough to sustain on my own. With about 4 to go I was considering one last jump when I found myself tight on Nestar's wheel heading up the inside. Suddenly I went in and out of a giant pothole. I swore loudly and a few seconds later heard the dreaded hiss of a pinched tube. My race was done, and so was Phil's: He'd flatted in the same hole. (No, I was not riding Maxxis tires. Curses!)
I'd be darned if this was going to be how my USCF season would end, so on a whim I ante'd up for the 30+ race. I'd never done a masters race. All I knew is that they were F-A-S-T fast, full of riders who've been racing for decades and the occasional national champion (Hi, Randy!). I briefly worried that I could even be a safety hazard among such seasoned riders, but what the heck. If nothing else it would be a nice 45-minute training ride.
It turned out to be a small field, only 12, and although the pace was indeed high I was feeling comfortable keeping up.
There was a prime lap about 20 minutes in and I found myself at the front of the line. I wanted to get out of the wind but I couldn't get anyone to pull through. Halfway through the lap I slowed down dramatically to see if someone would pass, and pass me they did: All 11 of them in a sudden surge, and just like that I was dropped.
So there I was, dropped in yet another race, and feeling pretty sorry for myself. All this work all summer and this is how I fare. Maybe this just isn't for me. Maybe I need to go back to running, which is boring as hell but at least a guy can suck in relative anonymity.
I was at my nadir, then, when I saw a friendly uniform just up the road. It was Brian Boyle. I bore down onto his wheel and we quickly scooped up two other riders. When a prime was announced for the four of us, I jumped without much thought and didn't look back. And by "didn't look back" I mean to say, "I looked back every 10 seconds to see how my gap was holding." Miraculously, it was growing.
And so here's the point of this report, to give a big shout-out to Brother Boyle, who in addition to selflessly taking several monster pulls laid down a block for me that would do any offensive line proud. OK, sure, he'd later report that the other two riders were in a generous mood and didn't put up much of a fight, but it was just the boost I needed. I hammered down and caught up to the next rider, a UoC guy in yellow. I rode with him a lap or two before I was able to ride him off my wheel (granted, he'd just done the 3/4 race and would later plead that he'd cramped). I pushed on and quietly passed the next racer before he even noticed I was coming. I caught up to one more rider but couldn't sneak past, and he beat me on the sprint. Still, I felt good about coming in 7th. It my not have come the way I'd expected it, but I had the top 10 I was shooting for.
Thanks again, Brian. You turned my second DNF of the day into a 9th place and then into a 7th. I owe you one. (Come out to Fall Fling with me and you can cash in.) And thanks also to all those who helped make Sherman Park so much fun. Can't wait for next year. Just please put a cone in that hole before Turn 2. It's a doozy.