Day 1: (Day 2 of ToAD actually, but for all of us who don’t get paid to play – it’s Day 1)
East Troy. Nerves on edge, been training and looking forward to this since the end of ToAD last year (like hundreds of other riders). Storm blows in and dampens the course and bodies, but not spirits. We’re still all jacked to race… too jacked. Corners are sketchy and riders pile up like bodies in a war zone. A friend from velocause flats his rear wheel and neutral support gives him a rock hard slick replacement to ride for the last laps in the rain. That’s not a good combination in any playbook, and he eats it hard right in front of me and 2 teammates in turn 1 with 4 laps to go. My teammates and I all slide into someone’s front yard, but somehow manage to stay upright. By the time we veer back on course, the main pack has mostly passed us and any attempt to get to the front is a suicide mission. I decide to play it safe and finish mid-pack ~ 38th of 74.
Grafton. A fun course, nerves are settled down quite a bit. Was able to follow Dave Eckel’s wheel around at the end of the course and sprint for 10th (of 116). I’m still learning how to ride aggressively at the end of races, having been a support guy at last year’s ToAD, but I was happy with tenth. I knew I wasn’t close enough to the front on the last lap, so I was hoping to improve the next day.
Waukesha. I ate it hard with 3 to go on this course last year. Over-shot turn 1 and flipped into the barriers. I was able to get back on my bike and work my way to the front with 1 to go, but I burned every match I had to do so and fell back quickly. No crashes for me this year, but apparently everyone I rode behind didn’t get the memo. Every time I tried working my way to the front, I’d end up behind a wreck and get relegated to the back again. One guy piled his bike into the barriers, went to neutral support and got another bike, then piled THAT one into the same corner. I was lucky enough to be right behind him both times. I spent the entire race avoiding crashes, then trying to sprint back to the front of the pack. With 3 laps to go, Dave Eckel and I found ourselves out in front, me on his wheel. He hit some soft tar in the gutter and thought he flatted, so I’m all alone off the front with 3 to go. With all the yo-yoing I had been doing combined with the extremely humid heat that day, I knew I didn’t have enough in the tank to gut it out alone for 3 laps. I sat up and waited for a wheel. The group passed me like a freight train and I was pushed to the back. Tried my best to make it back to the front but once again I had burned all my Waukesha matches before the final sprint. Finished a disappointing 41st (of 110). After the race, my body temp was so high I could not cool down, or catch my breath. An hour and a half later I jumped into my neighbors pool and sat with ice on my neck for 15 minutes before I could slow my breathing. I love riding in the heat, but I’ve never experienced anything like that. Waukesha was by far the toughest race of the series for me.
Sheboygan. This course was made for guys like me. Fast and flat with just 4 corners. I moved to the front right away and just stayed on the gas with the race leaders the entire race. With no traffic in my way, I was able to roll through just about every corner at will. The effort felt like 50% of the previous day. I was having a great race, until 2 to go. Rather than take the riskier, but faster, inside line, I found myself taking corners on the outside and giving up 2-3 spots on each corner. By the time I worked my way back inside I was probably 30 spots from the leader. Clawed my way back a bit in the sprint to finish 17th of 69. It was just lack of experience, and I told myself not to make the same mistake at Fon du Lac (a carbon copy course) four days later. Overall, I was really happy though. It was fun to race at the front, and I knew what I had done wrong at the end. I was making some progress.
Schlitz Park. The great big lie detector test. I’ve raced it twice before, both times pulling myself from the race after about 20 minutes. There’s no faking it at Schlitz. If you can’t hang, you either blow up and slither away to lick your wounds somewhere, or the race officials step in front of you and pull the plug for you. This year, since I planned to race every day, my goal was just to finish it. I’ll never be confused with a little fella who skips meals, so this wasn’t as easy as it sounds. Even with a long warm-up, it takes me about 15-20 minutes to settle in at races and not feel like my heart’s going to explode. I fought hard for the first 15 minutes and managed to find a rythym. With 1 lap to go I rounded turn 1 and started the final climb. Everyone got out of the saddle and hammered. I knew that if I tried that, I’d make it to the top with everyone else, then I’d fall over dead. So, I stayed in the saddle and ground my way up. Crossed the line 21st of 60. Since my only goal was finishing, I was satisfied with that. Cross it off the list and move on.
Fon du Lac Road Race. When I started racing road bikes a couple of years ago, I did so with not a lot of group riding experience. Well, not 25mph-corners-6-wide group riding. I was a mountain bike guy, used to riding alone. My very first Crit was a 9 corner, .8 mile Superweek race. I started dead last on purpose, so I could see things unfold in front of me. I assumed that this would be the best way to do it, and like in a mountain bike race I could just pass people one at a time. I think I might have lasted about 8 minutes before I was so far off the back I had to take a bus back to the start line. After that I assumed that road racing would be my forte. But live and learn, and now I prefer crits to road races. I stayed upfront for the whole race and sprinted for 12th of 81. Had I been more patient, I would have done better. I started my sprint too early as we climbed the final hill. I don’t think there’s enough Meth in the world to get me to sprint all out for a quarter-mile.
Road America Road Race. Schlitz Park and then back to back road races. Hope you’ve been eating your Wheaties. This was a really fun course to ride. Again stayed at the front whenever I could, though I did find myself on the outside wheel in the wind a lot. On the final lap I heard Eck yell “Patience!” which is great advice if you follow it. Instead I decided to try a Groundhog Day version of the previous day’s race. Giant finishing hill, I get out of the saddle and mash the pedals like I’m driving a rented Pinto. As I crest the top I look into the (very distant) horizon and see what looks like a finish banner somewhere in the next county. Several months later I cross the line 23rd of 109.
Fon du Lac. This is the one I was waiting for. A big, flat rectangle. Wide streets. I’m ready. My plan is to just sit on the race leaders’ wheels at the front, maybe take an early pull or 2 and finally line myself up for a real sprint. Plan works just as scripted, though I still give up a few spots on the final lap. Coming around turn 4 I’m in good position and I stand up and hammer. I can see the banner coming up fast as I’m passing guys… this is working! Probably a good time to mention that my Mom and Stepdad came to see this race and positioned themselves right at the line to watch the final sprint. 50 yards from the line, a guy comes across 3 lines and clips a wheel sending a rider to the pavement directly in front of me. Zero options at that point – I hit him full force and flip onto the pavement. As soon as I do I curl up and wait to get hit by the rush of riders directly behind me. 1, 2, 3 hits, then I’m up and running my bike across the line. Turns out someone had ridden over my back and into my head with their chainring. Blood is cleaned, stitches are waived off and I wash down my frustration with 2 pints of Guinness. When results are posted There are 2 “unknown number” slots, so I go to the podium and watch the video of me running my bike across in what appears to be slot #1, 29th. Once results are finalized I realized that I’ve been bumped to slot #2, which is 51st. Either way, it’s not part of the plan, and it’s just salt in the many wounds.
Downer Avenue. The biggest and baddest of all the ToAD races. This is the giant party that everyone comes out to see, and therefor every rider wants to do well at. Really an uneventful race for me. I was really stiff and sore, so I did a nice, long easy warm-up. Worked my plan, but didn’t get to the front with 1-2 to go, sprinted for 15th of 94. Starting to become a bit predictable when things go well for me. I have 95% of the race handled, and I’m getting good at it, but I can’t seem to finish it off. Tired of using the “lack of experience” excuse in my own mind. I know what I need to do now, and I have 1 race left to prove it.
Wauwatosa. I ride in Tosa practically every week. Half of my friends live there. This is it! The night before, I send an email to the entire M 3/4 squad: here’s the plan, we stay at the front the whole day, push the pace but don’t take unnecessary chances. With 5 to go we start making our way to the front. With 2 to go we ARE the front. Last lap, anyone with anything goes and they go as hard as they can… Break! I’m kind of impressed with my sudden and complete understanding of the entire game. It took 10 days, but I have absolutely nailed this one! Race Day… there’s a hill in this course? Did they just put that there? It’s always been there? Are you sure? 2 free laps and I line up mid-pack. That was not part of the plan. Whistle blows and we start into a nice hard tempo ride, right? No? We go balls out from the start? Did anyone read my awesome email last night? Apparently I was not the only person who wanted to win this thing. I was not aware of that. The guys in the front are just laying it down, lap after lap. The guys in the middle are gasping like goldfish that just jumped out of their fish bowls and have no idea what the Hell to do next. Hard on the brakes into every corner, hard on the gas out of every corner. Hey, this reminds me of that first Superweek Crit I did! Just when I start making up a little ground, they announce a prime. The field surges. Then another. And another. And another. 4 back-to-back primes and in my mind I’m just trying to figure out how to recall my email message. With about 5 to go I pop. Nowhere to go but backward. I find a friendly velocause rider and we pull each other around a little and limp across the line. I’m 41st of 92 and my 2013 ToAD is officially over.
- Despite not being able to use all the knowledge I was picking up as I went along, I definitely learned a lot. I have more confidence than I did 2 weeks ago. I’m OK with riding at the front now. 2 weeks ago I didn’t feel worthy, and I’m still struggling with the mental part of racing as much as the physical. I ended the series in 10th overall in the Masters 3/4 35+ category. Next year I’ll be racing in the 45+ category, and it’s a whole different ball game.
- I had fun. Like everyone else, I put a lot of effort into training and make some sacrifices. If I didn’t enjoy it as much as I do, there’s no way I would put that much of myself into it. At the same time, I’ve enjoyed getting better over the past couple of years. I used to be an excuse maker, for every aspect of my life. Cycling has helped me prove to myself that if you put the work in, you get results. There are no excuses that can take the place of that work, and quite honestly no one cares about your lame-ass excuses. Score your touchdown, set the ball down and go back to the bench.
- I have some really great friends. Not only the guys I ride with, but the people who lined the courses. There was always someone yelling for me – at every course. It makes you want to do better, for them, and it’s a great feeling knowing you have people around you hoping that you succeed.
I’ll be back next year, I’m already planning it out in my head. But first, there are kids to play with, burgers to grill and beers to drink.