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Hoisted by my own petard

By Luke Seemann | Aug 8, 2009

Race name: Grayslake Cycling Classic
Race date: Saturday, Aug 8, 2009

“The escapees worked together well. Close to the end, Moser tried to jump several times, but was always caught. When he tried it again five kilometers before the finish, Demeyer and Planckaert jumped with him, but De Vlaeminck, with Maertens on his wheel, let them go.

“Maertens and De Vlaeminck were bitter rivals.

“‘De Vlaeminck is the one who let them go,’ Maertens figured quite rightly. ‘So it’s up to him to bridge the gap.’

“He waited. The gap grew and grew.

“‘He wants to win, so let him bridge the gap,’ thought Maertens.

“‘He wants to win, so let him bridge the gap,’ thought De Vlaeminck.

“Both of them knew that the one who finally bridged the gap would use up energy to his rival’s benefit. What mattered now was: staying patient.

“Both riders stayed patient: bravo! The winner of the 1976 Tour of Flanders was Walter Planckaert.

“Oh, the wondrous powers in a man that only come to light thanks to rivalry.”

—“The Rider”

It’s been a rough stretch of racing and training for me. I haven’t had much success since late June, and the mojo officially went missing with Elk Grove, where the intensity and accelerations ended my race after 10 minutes. Frankly, I don’t much care for the big-money, argy-bargy big criteriums of summer. I prefer me a proper road race or a gentlemen’s criterium.

Grayslake fit the bill nicely. Only about 25 guys, and I knew most of them. It felt like Matteson. My kind of race, and ripe for a much-needed confidence boost.

En route I briefed new 3 Liam on how I expected things to shake out. With a big Burnham presence, a small field and steamy heat, a break was certain, and it would likely start early. We’d want to take turns covering anything that had the hint of viability.

Cover? Shoot, that’s boring. Let’s start the break, why don’t we? I’d told myself to be patient until after the first prime, but I couldn’t help myself and was off the front on the third lap. Two joined me. More joined when the prime bell rang shortly thereafter, and over the next few laps we’d grow to about eight, give or take, with people both getting dropped and bridging forward, including Liam.

Among the eight were the two of us and two Burnham. One of those was Nate, a powerhouse sprinter. I wasn’t keen to that, so after making sure he took his turn at the front, I followed with a strong pull and he was gone. Sorry, Nate.

This remaining group of seven worked well together for the next 30 minutes. With six to go we were well out of sight. Time to race.

Neither Liam nor I are fearsome in the sprint, so my goal was to split this group into two. And this is the luxury of having two in the break: While everyone else is moaning “Whadya doing? Keep it smooth!” you get to have some fun.

I attacked a few times, and I played the game of letting gaps open, forcing others to sprint around. Caught some heat for this. Such is racing. Indeed, our group was losing its rhythm and going much slower than before as guys either fatigued or tried to save up for the endgame, but we were in no jeopardy of getting caught by anyone.

To this point I had not yet felt taxed and was confident that I could get me or Liam off the front for good, but I didn’t really care how things played out. After a month of being a non-factor, it was refreshing to actually be involved in a race again.

With four to go, I was between attacks and skipping pulls, getting ready for my next dig off the front. Having had enough of this, the 5Nines rider declined to accept my invitation to slot in ahead of me. We floated backward together, he daring me to surge forward and take a pull. This was the proper way to deal with the wheel-sucker that I’d become. He was the Maertens to my De Vlaeminck.

The gap from us to the break grew. 5 meters. 10 meters. 20 meters. He started riding with no hands to show how determined he was not to let me get away with anything. “That’s cool,” I said. “I’m fine with my guy in a break of 5. That gets him in the money.” (He may have thought that 2 out of 7 would be better odds than 1 out of 5, but he’s never seen us sprint.)

It was a game of chicken. Who would first give up the charade of being content racing for 6th?

I decided to give it a few more seconds, then try to attack and see if I could ditch him. And of course, that’s when I felt my rear wheel go slack. Flat city. Serves me right for being such a git!

I cut the course to the wheel pit, but with four to go there were no more free laps. Someone yelled, “But you can chase!” Oh yeah! I took a neutral wheel from SRAM, but it was a slow change, all my fault. I didn’t even have the bike facing the right direction. First the break passed, then 30 seconds later a twosome passed, and finally a threesome. Man, this race had really blown up!

If I’d changed the wheel with any sense of urgency I probably could have still raced for 7th, but instead I was racing for 9th, and thanks to a sprint that remains only a few watts higher than my threshold, I settled for 11th.

Liam, meanwhile, flatted himself in the last half lap and couldn’t contest the sprint as well as he should have.

Tough luck, and it’s hard not to think what could have been. Nonethless, it was a total success, and brought some joy back to my legs. Tactics, gamesmanship, teamwork, aggressiveness—now that’s racin’!

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