After imploding the second half of Prairie State in what can only be described as “spectacular fashion” (2 crashes and 1 flat in the final 4 races,) I was feeling pretty low. Like, “do I even want to race anymore” low. Well that passed soon enough (mostly,) and then I was faced with the reality that the next racing I could do was at Gateway Cup over Labor Day. I was looking for a tune up race in between, mostly just to shake off my bad juju. This little race popped up and I figured “why not.”
The Wood Dale crit is the state championship for ABR (American Bike Racing.) It is a smaller, competing organization to USAC and not held under USAC guidelines. As such, some choose to look down on the ABR races as substandard. I’ll get this out of the way right now: there was nothing substandard about this race. It was organized, safe and well officiated. There wasn’t a lot of flourish but, honestly, after the pomp and circumstance of Prairie State, a nice little office park crit was just what I needed. I had no teammates in the race--none of those pesky “team tactics”--just me, my legs and my brain.
And did I mention it actually was in an office park?
The course itself was nice, safe--really only one legit right hander--with some elevation between turns 3 & 4 and a noticeable cross-wind on the back straight before turn 3. Even still, I was pretty much looking for any reason to bail up until the whistle went off. The memories of crashing don’t fade fast. But then the whistle blew and just like that I was off with a small pack of guys who had big dreams of putting on the snazzy, half zip ABR state champ jersey.
It took us a while to get going, really. The first several laps were, um, gentlemanly, but about 10 min into the 40 min crit some things started to happen. It was a hot day and my heart rate was definitely up but I could feel my legs opening up nicely. I played around--attacking here and there just to see who would chase. The back straight with the crosswind was a perfect place to attack and when a prime was called I saw a Got Wind rider make a great move to get away. I identified him as Kris Wiatr--the former domestic pro and national criterium champion who has been kicking around in the masters ? races as of late. It wouldn’t surprise me at all that he would be out here trying to win a jersey.
Now, say what you will about the ethics of a former pro (and national champ,) racing with Cat 4’s. Kris has a reputation for riding aggressively and chopping wheels in turns. I haven’t personally witnessed that but I have seen him positioned perfectly in the final sprint on several occasions. The guy is a smart racer and I decided to mark him. If this came down to a bunch sprint, I was going to take his wheel. He would be savvy in the last few turns and I knew I could just let him take me to the final 200m and then come around.
Several attacks went off and came back. Finally about 30 min in I made a dig on the back straight and opened up a decent gap. I solo’d for a lap or so then was joined by 3 others. “This is it--the winning break,” I thought. I looked back and we had a good 100m on the main field and started to organize. Unfortunately it wasn’t super smooth and after another lap and ½ off the front our group came back. That’s Ok, though. I was ready for this sprint--ready to follow my unknowing Polish accomplice to victory. I sat in and recovered and waited as the group sped up in the bell lap. Just like clockwork, I saw the Got Wind jersey move up on the inside and I deftly moved to take his wheel on the back straight. I was fourth wheel as we approached turn 3. Perfect.
Then a funny thing happened: my lead out started falling back a bit. I felt like we should be moving faster but resisted the urge to jump then, even though guys were coming around us. “Don’t panic,” I thought. “He’s just pulling some super slick move to slingshot out of the turn...or something.” Out of the turn 3 and into the hill, and Kris is now very much going backward. Damn. Time to improvise. I jump around him and dive on the inside of turn 4 but by this time we have been passed by a lot of guys. The sprint is slightly downhill so I go as soon as I clear the corner but I knew it was too late. I passed a few but ended up 13th and rather disappointed.
On the cool down lap I looked over to see the Got Wind jersey and, to my horror, I realized it was NOT Kris Wiatr. It never was. It was just another older Got Wind racer with Kris’ squatty build but not his fast twitch muscle fibers. Nooooooo!!!!!!!
I had marked the wrong guy. I had raced a good race and many of the guys ahead of me are men I routinely beat. My legs were there but I outsmarted myself. I felt like an idiot. I should have trusted my instincts and not let myself fall back--no matter who I thought was in front of me. It’s like Luke Skywalker opting to leave his targeting computer on and telling the ghost of Obi Wan to piss off.