Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Its sharky out there...

Anyone who has had the patience to talk to me over the last three months has heard me talk about the leg cramps I’ve been afflicted with. I’ve had no patience for my legs, I’ve been chomping at the bit, sullen at my lack of success. But last night, it changed, even if for an instant, I had a great race. My legs felt good at the beginning of the race, and by the last few laps, they were tired for lack of fitness, but strong, firing when I asked them, and most importantly, loose and supple.

Knowing my fitness level was low I decided before the race started that I would sit it, any notion of being on the front chasing anything down would be a mistake and a waste of resources. So for sixteen laps I basically sat in and tried to stay near the front, never behind more than a third of the pack, watching the moves, the sprints, the dynamics within the various teams play out. There was a strong cross wind on the course tonight, and I watched how teams negotiated it, used it to their advantage, or flatly ignored it when it was time to put the hammer down. I was in class.

I find several natural places within a pack; top ten, first third, second third, and rubber band wagon. Only in the back do I feel simultaneously tired from racing hard and absolutely out of the action. At the back you are constantly accelerating frantically and braking fearfully in response to relatively small movements at the front of the peloton. When the butterfly flaps its wings at the front of the peloton it turns into a chaotic storm at the back. Eventually, riding back there the rubber band wagon turns into the broom wagon- you snap off and free fall, exhausted, emotionally frayed, and with nothing to show for your efforts.

The 3/4 race at Tuesday PIR is a funny thing. It is a mix of sandbaggers, looking for points, teams of sandbaggers, looking for teamwork experience, proper 4’s who are racing within their abilities, and 4’s who are a danger to themselves and others with delusions of grandeur. Last night, the Gentle Lovers team was in our race. I put them squarely in the ‘teams of sandbaggers’ category. It is annoying and enjoyable to watch confident, strong and capable riders cruise around in the pack like sharks. They disappear when they have nothing to gain, and rise out of the darkness and chaos to claim whatever prize they are looking for when it’s time. I watched them do just that last night; it was beautiful in the way watching the animal channel is beautiful. So long as it’s not my baby getting eaten by a tiger shark, the tiger shark is beautiful. So I sat in and took notes. I formed a hypothesis on the second prime, and validated it on the third. When the bell lap rang, I became the shark. I marked the GL rider who had been led out on all the prime laps. When I moved to his rear wheel on the last lap I sensed an S&M rider had made the same connection. We fought for the wheel through the first turn, the second turn, and down the straight. He had the wheel, the position. I was squeezed out repeatedly. I stayed close. Several riders attacked and formed a break, establishing a hundred yards quickly. On the back straight, I got squeezed really badly. A rider who had dropped anchor was traveling backward through the middle of the pack on my right. I was caught between handlebars and kicking thighs, and in an instant I panicked. I fell back a length, breathed and shook it out. That was close, too close.

By the back turns I was back to my mark. I stole his wheel from the S&M rider through the fourth turn. Perfect. I would not lose it. As expected, He stayed out to the right, positioned himself in the crosswind through the penultimate and last turn, powering through it in confidence. As we rounded through the straight away his teammates collected around him, he was impatient. At five hundred meters: ‘Hold steady!’ one of his teammates called out. Four hundred meters: ‘patience!’ and the break was reeled in. Then at three hundred my mark spotted an alley between the tarmac and the barrier. Weeds, chain link, and stacked tires were all that were between my mark and the finish line. His fins twitched. He moved quickly up the shoulder, and I, right on his wheel. Perfect. He was going to lead me to the line and I was going to take the win from him. I was going to eat his lunch. Two hundred meters; we are hauling now, my 53x12 is starting to spin out. In an instant the door closes, a generic white jersey in the very front of the train drifts to his right, slowing, apparently gassed and giving up. I place this rider squarely in the ‘delusions of grandeur’ group. My mark screams ‘hold your line…hold your fucking line!!’ We are cooked! Immediately, I am looking for the backdoor on this domestic dispute. I hear the mark screaming etiquette lessons at white jersey as I find my door to the left. Exit. There are eleven riders in front of me now, I swing hard to my left, come around, and in the last hundred meters I push, push hard and gain three spots, spinning wildly for home. I am edged by a giant on a white bike and six others. My mark reopens the door, and finishes second. Patience.

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