Sunday was a milestone. It was the first time all year I’d be driving to a bike race. Also the first time, obviously, driving there in my own car. Which was weird. Cyclists have a routine before every race, and for my entire cycling life that routine has involved working in and around other people’s cars and schedules. The freedom was nice.
Air Force Road Race
Race was a big lumpy circuit on the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. We’d do five laps. Wind was blowing something fierce. My coworker and friend Kennett took off right from the gun, and I happened to be on Julian Kyer’s wheel (deja vu) when he took off to go chase Kennett. So I was along for the ride, didn’t really want to be, as I hadn’t warmed up. So I came back to the field immediately, while Julian and Kennett kept going. Soon enough the two of them were brought back, but Kennett hadn’t had enough, so he countered his own move. Then he spent the next lap by himself, with five guys in a group behind, including my only teammate at the race, Ian Holt. Eventually Tom Zirbel took off and bridged by himself, and the group up ahead was six-strong after losing one. Me, Chad Haga (Zirbel’s teammate), Emerson Oronte and Alex Hagman (teammates of Ian Burnett, who was up the road in the move), all patrolled the front. And when I say “patrol the front,” I mean instead of doing the major hill in 15 minutes—as we had in laps 1 and 2—we all sat on the tops of the bars at the front and did it in 17 and change, effectively giving the breakaway a nearly-insurmountable 3:30 gap by lap 4. Didn’t think the peloton would allow that to happen so easily. The course was hard, though. And at 7000 feet.
We were racing for 7th. I didn’t get 7th. I almost crashed, though, which was weird because it was totally my fault when I took a good-until-the-very-last-second-when-I-swerved-unnecessarily-onto-a-little-curb-dropoff left turn. Whoopsie daisy!
Two main takeaways:
- I had no problem being at/near the front all day long
- Colorado racers are complete morons. Some literally more stupid than geese.
I’ll expound on point #2. People here think crosswind means automatically throwing everyone in the gutter, regardless of what’s happening in the race. They’re wrong; these people are idiots. Here’s a good primer on echelons, which are the sideways lines of riders that form when the wind is coming from the side, rather than head-on. You’ll see the golden rule is that you always pull off INTO the wind. This is easy. You learn this when you’re a Cat 4, at least in Chicago. In Colorado? Not so much. There were single guys and a couple teams who wanted to bring back the move because they’d missed it and thought the way to do that was to ride as hard as possible on the far left side of the road, so everyone behind them was “guttered.” In effect, they simply dropped a few guys off the back of the peloton, and also increased the lead of the breakaway, for as soon as they were done with their little gutter game, they’d pull off, and the next guy was destroyed because he hadn’t had any shelter from the wind. And I saw this happen multiple times each lap.
The most egregious thing that happened, however, was courtesy of this dude named Luis Rodriguez, who must have moved quickly up the ranks without an actual mentor. There are coaches out here, thousands of them, and some of the “best,” but after racing several times out here, I think they’re an embarrassment to word “coach,” and should simply call themselves “Training Plan Creators.” They do no teaching. Not like this guy, certainly. I would be willing to bet they’ve never actually coached someone on the bicycle. They simply give riders workouts and pray they don’t crash anyone out. And maybe riders don’t actually watch pro races, where you can always learn something.
Here’s what happened: we’re in said echelon, and it has existed for the last minute or so, after the right-hand turn that put the peloton into a crosswind. I’m sitting maybe 5th wheel, waiting for my turn to pull through and around and head back toward the back. Imagine I’m the guy in red in that photo, and Luis is the dude in blue in front of me. Well, when I get to 2nd wheel, Luis decides he is going to GUTTER IT! Without actually attacking. Holy shit! He hits his turn on the front, and immediately swerves left, toward my front wheel, to get over to the left side of the road. I yelled something like “Whoa!” as I touched the brakes and maneuvered quickly to avoid crashing out. Alex Hagman, immediately behind me, gave me a good “Jesus, what’s he doing?” as this Luis guy rides off the front having almost taken both of us out. Luckily no one crashed (i.e. good thing I know how to ride an F-ing bicycle). As the echelon reforms, I very tactfully explain to him his mistake, that he shouldn’t do what he just did, as riding in an echelon by definition means that I am half-wheeling him to his leeward side. He nods, apologizes, and I figure that’s the end of that.
In the parking lot, I hear the dude loudly telling his three buddies he drove with all about the incident. I listen, but don’t want to introduce myself as the intelligent bike racer who gave a quick lesson in racing etiquette/non-idiocy if I don’t have to, as I don’t particularly like or welcome confrontation. I let him speak. I figure he’s just bullshittin’ with the boys: “And then this guy’s like, Whoa, what are you doing?” We all tell stories like that after races. I’m curious to hear how he paints it. And that’s when I realize he did not actually learn that which I informed him. And because it’s a matter of safety, and his not crashing people out needlessly, I must acknowledge, and speak to him again for the sake of all who line up with him in future races. He is making it out to be like he was completely in the right, and I was somehow mistaken in correcting his horrible move. I also had called it an “attack,” during the race, which is the only way I could redeem it as a somewhat comprehensible maneuver. He took offense to my calling it an attack. I explained that the definition of echelon—the thing he had been in for nearly a minute, and of which he had moved to the front—means the guy behind him will be overlapping wheels. So to dart to the left, when that’s the way the echelon is splayed, without attacking enough to ensure you’re clear of the wheel behind you, is mind-bogglingly stupid.
“I didn’t see you,” he comes back.
What? No shit you didn’t see me, I was behind you. It’s not a matter of seeing, it’s that you’re in an echelon, and therefore you must assume there is someone there. Cat 4 stuff, man. You cannot be a Cat 2 and not know this. Alas, he did not understand. We talked in circles, with me always coming back to the definition of an echelon, and having to know what you cannot see, and he just being woefully and blissfully ignorant.
Yes, my heart has been broken by girls, but here I was at the Air Force Academy, and a grown man broke my heart, for he led me to the realization that geese are smarter than humans.
Garden of the Gods
Since I was in the Springs, I figured I’d spend the rest of the gloriously sunny day at the Garden of the Gods. I don’t know about you, but our family vacations generally had catch phrases. Say the word “flashpoint” near me and I’ll tell you stories about Lowden State Park left and right.
Well, there was truly a catch phrase associated with my previous family vacation visit to the G of the G. And yes, Dad, this is truly the Garden of the Gods. I then hiked maybe three or four miles. That hurt a bit. But man, it was so nice out, and the place is beautiful.
Then, I stopped in Denver at like 7 to see my good friend Kristie, whom I hadn’t seen since her wedding years ago. Her sis just moved, so she was out visiting. We wandered around the neighborhood, going to Cheesman Park, and caught up as much as we could in such a brief time. I then had to drive back home. Tired Liam.
Such a day! Made me think how glad I am I moved out here.