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Race Day Beckons

I pedaled up E Henry St and onto N Finley, to the start line of the final bicycle race of the day. I lined up next to dead last of the 35 riders in the 20th running of the Olde Mill Inn Tour of Basking Ridge, category 5 race. Which was held on Monday, Labor Day, September 5th.

This was a 10 mile, 6 corner circuit race in downtown Basking Ridge. The category 5 class is for newer racers, weekend warriors and the more serious racers moving up to the category 4 ranks and beyond.

I had entered this race in 2009 and finished 19th of 36 riders, quiet mediocre at best and I haven’t raced since. So, my ambitions were to place mid-pack and maybe, possibly top 15. I approached this race with a very laid back attitude- which is something of a stretch for me. Though I did take my race week preparation fairly seriously as well as my pre-race warm-up.

Perspective

One thing I am unable to fully prepare for though, is the injuries my 46 year old body has to constantly deal with, which are a myriad of physical issues.

*Psoriatic arthritis – both hands and right knee
*Degenerative disc – L5/L6 (chronic)
*Pinched nerve – neck (chronic)
*Claudication – both lower legs/calf’s
*Peptic ulcer

I reference these issues not as excuses or complaints, but rather to put my athletic endeavours in some kind of context and perspective. Even though at times, I suffer from pain relating to these conditions, I still refuse to stop playing sports or competing- it’s my own choice. Luckily, I was taught by some key people in my life to tough it out. Always tough it out if possible.

Sure,  I take prescription (Metaxalone, Diclofenacum and Protonix) and many non-prescriptive med’s, such as ibuprofen, naproxen and aspirin- all like candy. But hey, everyone has something to deal with, so no big deal I suppose.

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All bets are down

The rain held off on this Labor Day, temps were in the mid 80’s but with a fair amount of humidity. By the days end, the crowds were thinning though still enthusiastic on the start line and all along Finley Ave. I glanced around for any locals I might know but I don’t see any recognizable faces (later, after the race I spot two guys I know and turns out my riding buddy Eddie was cheering me on)

“Gentlemen, have a good race” were the parting words from the Race Starter…and we were off! I stayed off the rear of the pack down the front stretch and into turn 1- not wanting to get caught up in anyone’s silly antics and then closed up a bit before turn 2. Between turn 2 and 3, I began to move up through the field.

On the backside of the course now through the esses, into turn 5, I continued my ascent in the standings. Just after crossing start/finish the guy I was in the back of starting grid with, Bruce Rice, called out to me- “let’s work together” I nodded and gave the ok. Trailing Bruce was a another rider who joined us and we pacelined for the next lap.

On lap 4 one more rider attached to our train and now we were 4 strong, each taking pulls at the front of our small group. I glanced over at the start/finish line to peek at the electronic lap counter to see 5 laps to go and I was feeling winded already.

I backed off my pace just a bit and drafted at any point I could, to save some energy for the last couple of laps.  Lap 7 on the back half, we dropped one rider from our group, while passing a bunch of others. We were moving up I thought, cool!

Now I began strategize a bit  in my head. How can I pick up some more spots and maybe drop one of these riders I’m battling it out with. I decided I was going to try and pick one off into the fast and sweeping turn 1. I was 3rd in our group down the front straight, then I hunkered down and  went hard and fast into T-1 up the inside of Bruce.

Driving furiously out of 1, I dive-bombed  turn 2 stuffing my carbon Pro-Lite up the inside of the rider ahead of me- the classic block-pass! Now the road rises slightly, so I had to put in the extra effort to carry my built up momentum. Just as I approached T-3, I caught two more riders, local Califon rider Tyson Witte and an another unknown. The pace was picking up and by the exit of  turn 3, Tyson and I dropped the third guy in our wake. Then there were two… heading into the Bell Lap!

Crunch Time

Back across start/finish I can hear the lead out vehicle approaching- which means the lead pack is not far away. As I set up for turn 1, I can see out of the corner of my eye the fast, full time racers coming through. I moved to the inside to make sure my momentum wasn’t balked by the front-runners, get low, turn my right shoulder, counter-steer and lean her in. I continued my ‘push’ into turn 2, then eased right to allow the few faster riders to come by.

I counted 6 guys who lapped the field- not too bad I thought- only 6 of 35 on the last lap. Okay focus, back to the battle with Witte. I stayed right on his rear wheel all through turns 3, 4 and 5. My plan was to jump him into the last turn, but he had gapped me a bit before 6, so I had to adjust my strategy on the fly.

I closed up on Witte out of T-6 because I knew how to keep the pedals turning through all of these corners, something not many riders can or don’t want to do. Tip it in, leaning over and pedaling as hard as I can out 6 onto Finley, I was right on his back wheel. He seemed to be tiring just a bit, so I  jumped out of the saddle for more speed, to try and go by him- (I yelled to myself- Andiamo!) Just as I started to pull even, Tyson stood up on his pedals, kicked hard and pulled away from me in the last 50 or so yards…my gasping lungs and burning legs could just not respond.

I glanced out of the corner of my left eye to make sure no one else was threatening my wheel before the line, I was safely ahead of the next rider coming through. Across the stripe I sat up, short of breath and feeling the burn of lactic acid in my legs. External thought returned to my head and I realized I had survived the 10 miles of corsa veloce. I tried to work out where I placed, but couldn’t pin it down really, I figured maybe it was a mid-pack result.

It’s all over but the shouting…

Back at start/finish, the race director called out the top 10 finishers- when he called my number, “#135” it was for 8th place. I was elated, really happy in fact. I clenched a celebratory fist in front of my body with genuine pleasure- 8th, yea!

Now 8th place in a Cat 5 race doesn’t mean sh*t to a lot of folks, especially
the racers themselves. But for me it was a real solid result and accomplishment. Consider the fact that I usually race only once a year, I haven’t raced since 2009 and I don’t “train” either. Couple that with the physical issues I contend with and you might see why I was really pleased…molto soddisfatto!

I haven’t been that excited about a top 10 placing since my amateur roadracing season finish of 7th place in lightweight supersport at Daytona in 1992, a 5th in LW superbike at the now defunct Bridgehampton in 1993. And then my 5th place in the National 125 Grand Prix Series at Road Atlanta in 1994. All of which are great memories for me.

“…so hard for me to shine- been so long…”

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4 wheels move the body…2 wheels move the soul

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In the whirl of wheels streaming by- spectators, cheers and late summer blue skies…The Race is on

Historic downtown Basking Ridge, NJ was once again the setting for the 18th annual Olde Mill Inn – Tour of Basking Ridge. The Labor Day race is always an eventful contest near the end of the road cycling season. The  event features 8 separate races accommodating all abilities- from pros to amateurs. Presenting Sponsor, Liberty Cycle puts on a great community event each year.

The 1.12 mile sweeping course features six turns around the bucolic borough. The Start/Finish line located on South Finley Ave and Lewis St., which is the front stretch of the short circuit- that rises and falls into turn 1-  a fast left onto on Henry St that leads to Turn 2- a quick left onto Rankin.

Turn 3 is a sweeping right/left combo onto Dyckman then a slight rise towards the left hander onto Colonial. The final corner, turn 6 is another left onto S Finley to the Finish line.

The final sprint race of the day was the  category 5 event. The competition was a short 5 laps that saw 36 riders line up for the start. Atop my Hutchinson-shod, Pro-Lite carbon frame, I lined up at the start line on the left, about midpack so I would have an inside line into T-1. Local guy Doug Ernst, Joseph Meyer-Fuchs of Oakland and Nick David from Hoboken were among the top favorites and all quickly went to the front at the drop of the starters flag.

Not being a true “racer” (this was the my first race of the season, and really had no training in my legs to speak of- read: I am slow) I planned my strategy around the design of the tight course. I knew that attacking the corners was the only chance I had of a top 20 finish.

As the pack tore off into T-1 I was mired somewhere in between the chaos of lap 1. Immediately I powered through 1, and 2 the left handers, closing up on the guys in front of me. As we headed onto the back part of the course I would lose a bit of ground. But dive bombing the turns would bring me onto the wheels just ahead of me.

I have found that some riders are a bit hesitant and stiff when cornering. I have found that I can exploit that weakness by not slowing and going as fast as I can through the turns- whenever possible. Eight seasons of motorcycle roadracing has its advantages.

The gap to the front grew as I watched the leaders quickly pull away. I settled into a sort of frantic rhythm dicing it out with 4 other riders- who kept the pace at about a 23 – 24 mph average. (good thing this race was only 5 laps!)

Doug, Nick and Joe were picking off riders at the front and waiting for their opportunity to take command. Yours truly was hanging on for dear life in 26th spot with 2 laps to go. The four guys in front of me would gap me on the straights and I would suck right back up in turn 1- a fast sweeping left, which I took at full speed, about 28+ mph.

More riders fell off the lead as Nick and Joe were moving up to the top spots. Lap 4- out of T-2 our pack of 5 pass two guys who seemed like they were standing still. So far I’m thinking- “This is cool, I haven’t been lapped and I actually passed a couple of riders” But I’m sucking wind hard, and my legs are burning with lactic acid.  This was it, the crux of race, gotta hold on one more lap….

Past the start/finish we begin the “bell lap” the final circuit…

The imperfect and often awkward synergy of Man and Machine…merge for a fleeting chance of perceived glory…fore now the battle is between heart and mind

I can hear the crowd but its muffled. My vision is tunneled as I flick the bars and lean the bike in for the hard left. The gap of nearly 50 feet quickly disappears as I close up. I’m sitting last in our group of 5, trying to draft and save any energy I may have left. I’m watching to see if anyone is going to try and jump- as we bend into the right/left combo T-3 & 4- so far nothing.

I wait for turn 5. I swing slight right of the pack and square off the corner. Arc it wide and keep pedaling through the corner, as this gives me the momentum I was looking for. I swoop up on the four riders in front of me and jump out of the saddle to add some power to the pedals- I move right and pass all four.

Meanwhile Joe and Nick had control of the last lap, sprinting towards the finish, as Nick popped up and made his move for the lead and the win. Across the line it was Joe who took the victory followed by Nick and Doug garnering the last podium spot in third.

As I set up for T-6 I glance back to see what- if any gap I might have. I tuck my chin into my left shoulder and see a substantial space between us. As I crest the rise on S Finley I spot another rider just ahead of me. I’m in the drops and keep my head down- but eyes up. I can see he is as tired as me-

Shoulders rocking, cadence faultering…”I have to get this guy, I have to.” I put every last ounce of breath and energy into the my weakening legs and watch the distance between us shrink. The finish line is in sight as I’m closing in on his rear wheel…once again, I swing right and pass the lonely rider- with a familiar grimace on his face.

I fly pass the finish, totally spent. Sitting up I try to catch an elusive breath and give a thumbs up to the guys around me- I make a feeble attempt to say “good race” but not much comes out as I am somewhat oxygen deprived. The guys at the front are not even breathing hard, while me and some of my similar competitors are shagged. smiley

 

My post race thoughts were a combination of satisfaction and disappointment- after finishing 19th of 36 riders. Sure that was a good result for my first race of 2009, but as a ‘competitior’ I wanted better. But what my mind wanted and what my body gave were just not equal- Yet still the moment was good, the day fulfilled.

And in the end, on dreams we will depend…

 

Machine Specs

Frame/Fork: Pro-Lite Carbon  | 53cm

Drivetrain: Ultegra 10 | 53/39 | 12/27

Wheels: Neuvation | M28 Aero 3

Tyres: Huchinson Equinox (slick rear) | Quartz (intermediate front)

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