Thursday, August 7, 2008

Crossin’ it up at the Elk Grove Criteriums

So here I am, driving back from Chicago. I’m getting pretty good at the I-70 to I-35 to I-80 (not very much fun with all the tractor trailers) to I-88 process. This time, however, Chris Hall and I came armed with an atlas, the race bible, fuzz detector, and an IPod adapter. Ready, set, GO!

It’s strange how the realm of racing works. Racers go in and out form, where that “super fitness” is always on the fingertips, but never quite within grasp. You want to train, but you’re exhausted. You want to race, but you’re sick. You go race, only to find that the form is lacking so you ride and race more in search of the fitness you thought you had. In reality, you’re probably on great form and just need a bit of a break to rest and rejuvenate yourself.

Racers also go in and out of motivation. This demon is much more serious. Obviously racing is a stressor. It takes effort and energy to make the plans, travel, race and travel home. Throw in some stress from the “real world” and all of a sudden racing becomes something that can become tiresome fairly easily. Ask most racers and they’ll say, “I want to race, but I just don’t want to travel.” That’s about average.

I just raced the last 5 days of Super Week. Fun, fast, faster and Ludicrous Speed! were the name of the game. While I wasn’t really a factor in the races I do think I gained some fitness from them, as well as refined my criterium abilities which I’ll need for the next few weeks. Then, I looked on the web and saw that Elk Grove was week. $12k on Saturday, $13k on Sunday. 80k long each day, AND they were Amateur 1, 2 riders only. Yee Haw! Let’s make like Paris Hilton at a Spelling Bee and get out! Chicago here we come! Friday 3pm, clocked out of work at the hospital, jumped in the Saab to head north. Picked up Chris, set the cruise at 85 and pulled into Chicago around 11:30pm.

We stayed with the parents of an old friend of mine from my KU Cycling days, Rob Kelly. Naperville, IL. If anyone has ever seen the movie “Pleasantville” then this probably describes Naperville is nearly a carbon copy of this with its manicured lawns, people walking their dogs, large trees overhanging the streets and viable, fun downtown area right next to a college.

Chris and I spent Saturday evening walking around downtown Naperville as Rob gave us a guided tour via cell phone. Props to Rob for getting us some great Pizza, excellent beer, and marvelous scenery!

Elk Grove Criterium 1.

I spoke a little bit about motivation. However, motivation is also influenced by the “fun factor” of the races. This is typically decided by: venue, crowd, quality of competition, course, organization, prize money, atmosphere (ambiance) and there are probably more but that’s what comes to mind immediately. I’m going to address those things now…..

Toll roads. I hate toll roads. Well, not really. Actually I like the idea of toll roads but I despise stopping to pay a toll. I have a K-Tag for Kansas, but the KTA doesn’t seem to think it’s necessary to link it’s K- Tag software with any other toll system in the country…. Which means I have to stop ON THE HIGHWAY and pay a toll every 5 miles. Oh, and the I Pass gives you a hefty discount.

Let’s take some time and talk about the race bible. The race bible is written expressly for the use and enjoyment of the Professional riders. That’s understandable as the Pro race was for $250,000! However, it was a bit strange how, in order to find any useful information, you had to read the entire 34 pages of the race bible, all the while, combing the pages for any useful information for any amateur race. Things like, location, start times, scoring methods were all tricky to find at best.

Parking: HA! Ever try to find a way around a particular stretch of road in the suburbs of an amercan town? Remember that suburbs are NOT built on grids but rather in windy, twisty culdesac infested growths of asphalt which are nearly impossible to navigate without the aid of a GPS device. This we did not have one of these wonders of technology so we drove, twisted, turned, and off roaded our way to a respectable parking spot.

Next, the registration process: In order to find the proper room to pick up your number asking for directions was a necessity. Then, it seemed like no one really wanted to give you the answer. Is this normal in the big city? Finally, when you found the building there were something like 5 doors into the building, all numbered. It was like some sort of twilight episode! By the way, door number 3 was the winner.

Door 3 put you into this gymnasium which had an upper and lower deck. Upper deck was “Day of” registration while the lower deck was “Pre- registration.” Oh but you didn’t know this until you asked someone which brings me too….

Crossing it up: From afar, the registration personnel were middle aged women. Probably volunteers, which is normal for bike races. However, as you approached something wasn’t quite right. They had shoulder length hair, which was real, and a fair bit of make up. More than you would have thought was needed for a bike race. These ladies aren’t very feminine looking either. They kind of have rough looking faces and is that 5 o’clock shadow? Then they talked…. Holy crap! The registration ladies have deep husky voices and Adam’s Apples! Awesome! I’ve never once seen cross dressers at a bike race. It’s pretty impressive that this can happen so openly.

Venue: Bike racing is currently a fringe sport in the US. That’s why you don’t see every rider with big money contracts and why races often are promoted and executed with a “mediocre is okay” attitude. Often times, the location is key to attracting people to the race. (Actually, as a promoter, you are selling a product so location is everything.) Elk Grove, as a race is a positioned in a place which makes it a destination spot for spectators. That is, the race doesn’t really get the passers by that a downtown area race would. There was a fairly good crowd so maybe racing in the Chicago area has progressed enough be viable in this format. Time and sponsors will tell.

Course: Basically the course is like circumnavigating a lollipop. Long straightaway, U-Turn, Long straightaway, corner, 2 blocks, corner, 50 meters, corner, 2 blocks, corner, 700 meters, finish line, repeat.

But the MONEY! $12000 on Saturday, $13000 on Sunday. Let's get rich or die tryin'!

HRRC/ Trek Stores was represented by myself, Chris Hall, and Derek Goerke. Derek is self proclaimed "not fit" but he did manage to grab a couple of primes and place well in the field sprints. I wish I could be that "unfit" and do the same. Back to the race!

The first day wasn't quite technical enough. With long straightaways, it allowed the riders who had horsepower, but were nervous and can't corner time to get back to the front and really foul up the rest of us. When there are more corners, those guys tend to get pushed to the back and stay there- they remain unseen.

There were Primes, lots of primes. $500, 250, 150, 100, 50 and lots of them. Crazy fun and crazy fast. I thought I was riding bad but I was bridging across to moves at 32-33 when the field was already going 27-29 mph so I guess I wasn't going that slow. In the end, nervous riders do what they do best when trying for lots of cash.... crash or get close to it. I had to grab my breaks hard with about 700m to go and about 20 guys passed me. Over, done. Oh well. Derek placed and Chris was just out of the paying spots.

Day two saw a shortened straight away which was good as it prevented the afore mentioned problem, mostly. Same deal with the prize $$. I led out for some primes, but basically nothing worked. Very frustrating day as I saw a lot of dollars ride away from me lap after lap. Maybe I should become a sprinter and go for them myself?

In the end, my overly, unconservative riding led to a total shut down once the pace got really high. I guess that sort of effort does wear on you after some time.

The drive back was as "eventful" as the drive up. It was my only time in Chicago by car... now I know why.

Thanks for reading.