Sometimes you’re the hammer and sometimes you’re the nail. And sometimes you’re an unsuspecting wood beetle that’s burrowed deep into a 2 x 4 and you get skewered by the nail and your guts, blood, juices, and brain get smashed and pushed through the grains of the wood as the nail drives down through your corpse. Nobody even notices the beetle. Except for the low quality of the wood.
Wednesday morning: the unnecessarily long drive up to Big Bear (organizers: please bring back the old TT course) was accompanied by three or four large cups of coffee. I had a 129th GC place to defend, and was hoping that a high blood-caffeine level would do the trick.
After a good warm up I was out of the start gate and heading up the hilliest section of the 13km course. Not looking at power, I relied on my keen instinctual “inner” power meter, which told me I was doing 987 watts for the first three minutes. Somehow, even at that pace, I did not make up more than about 10 seconds on my 30-second man. I started blowing up about five minutes in and the gap remained the same. At the turn around, I noticed that despite my supreme cornering prowess in the winding, technical section of the course, I was most likely going to be caught by my other 30-second man (the one behind me). Halloway went flying past me out of one of the hair pins and that’s when I realized my ambitious GC aspirations of a top 150 might have just gone out the window. I rallied hard during the false flat uphill section, and got as aero as possible for the final kilometer. I came in a victorious 131st. Only one minute slower than last year. The sterling performance bumped me up to 122nd overall! Everything’s coming up Millhouse.
My more fit teammates put in some actual results, with The Sheriff “Michael Burleigh” moving on up to 14th GC. We hung around for the podium presentation, hoping that he might get to pull on the best amateur jersey. But alas, 17-year old super freak Adrian Costa Rica donned it in The Sheriff’s stead.
Thursday: Oak Glen. Fuck me I’m slow. My legs were blown before we even started, as proved during our 40-minute ride out to Oak Glen from Redlands. Adelaide rode out with us to be in the feed zone, and at one point she was hurting on one of the climbs. I thought I might give her a push if she started to fall back. A few minutes later I realized I might need a push.
The race started out downhill, fast, and slightly scary. I hate starting out a race on a descent, in a huge pack, on a wide open road, with attacks flying, and nerves still unsettled. There’s almost no worse way to start. Scratch that, there’s a worse way.
A long false flat “climb” suddenly took the downhill’s place and I found myself drifting backwards through the peloton. I’d been up somewhat close to the front (top 70 is considered close for my standards right now) and rider after rider came around as I prayed for a few seconds of coasting to regain my breath and legs. The coasting never came, and about two kilometers before the KOM I finally came unhinged from the very back of the now 160-rider-field. About 30 other weaklings didn’t make the time cut that day.
I found myself desperately sprinting to get in the draft of the caravan, forcing others out from the best middle position into the wind and off the back. When you’re that desperate, no one else’s race matters. For a few miles I thought I had a chance to work my way back on to the group, but a few of the cars opened up gaps that I couldn’t close, and then rightfully sped off without me.
A group of seven came from behind. We caught another group of seven or eight, and the bakers dozen of us who’d obviously eaten too many baked goods that winter, struggled along in silence, each deep in thoughts of self-hatred.
By the end of lap two (of five) the officials pulled us. I rode on to the feed zone to distribute bottles with Adelaide and George’s dad Bob for the next three laps. After the final lap, Adelaide and I rode to the top of the Oak Glen climb, hoping to see the team. They’d already left, so we rode home.
I knew it would be a long shot to finish Redlands. I really didn’t think I’d make it through that first day. When I got back to our host house and began packing to take off, Faith (our team cook/soigneur/mom) said “Don’t be sad. I’m tired of sad bike racers.” I can attest to that. Cyclists are a sorry bunch a lot of the time, especially after a race they did poorly at. I replied with, “Cycling is my life and identity. And I currently suck at it. So it’s hard to not be sad.”
Then I stomped out of the room like a spoiled little child and said I hate you all and I’m running away from home!!!
Despite the self-pity, I had a good time that night out in downtown Redlands and a pleasant drive home with Adelaide the following day. We camped at Monument National park and the next week back at home was my first in a long time with some decent consistency.
Oh yeah, the team: Michael ended up 16th on GC and we were the best amateur team at Redlands, with Chris and Michael both making the front group on the last day despite Michael’s handlebars falling off on lap two.
We just arrived in Arkansas for the Joe Martin Stage Race, so my redemption is just around the bend. I’m here with a stacked team once again, and we’re shooting for nothing less than a GC podium or stage win. I’ll have my work cut out for me, shuffling the guys around to the front. With a few more miles in my legs and a clear set of lungs, I’m hoping for a slightly different outcome than Redlands and a slightly more uplifting blog post to accompany it.