Standing at the start line, I knew this was a test. The lesson from Snake Alley was that it was OK to pull out if I didn't feel right. And here I was, not feeling right. I'd practiced on the Downers Grove course that morning, but then the rain started with the first race, and things looked dicey.
Could I pull out with everyone looking at me? What about Matt, behind whose hopes of winning the team was throwing itself?
I decided to stay in and see what would happen on the first lap. In my pre-race visualization, I attacked on the first lap and stayed off long enough to benefit Matt. I even pre-visualized his podium interview, in which he thanked me and my Web site. Heck, I even visualized winning myself and apologizing to Matt from the podium. (A guy's got to dream.) Surely I could give it one lap to see.
Well, by Turn 3 it was obvious that this was not going to happen. On the wet roads I had trouble getting any acceleration, and as we came down the descent into Turn 5, I knew I wanted no part of it. "Pulling out! Pulling out! Pulling out!" I headed straight into the wheel pit, my bike pitching from left to right as I applied the brakes. Somehow I stayed upright and didn't clip anyone behind me.
"Get back in," the official said. "You can still get on the back!"
No, I told him. I was done.
A lap later I was in dry clothes and taking pictures, in time, unfortunately, to watch Matt wipe out in Turn 1. He's one of the most experienced riders on our team, but he'd break his collarbone, our fourth this year. (Mine is the only one to have been self-inflicted out of personal negligence.)
And so it went. Nobody looked to be having any fun. The rain fell harder on Sunday, but with national championships on the line, the riders who stayed in raced as aggressively as ever. I count seven crashes that I saw myself, but I expect the actual number was five to 10 times that. As I've mentioned before, there are two, coincident sensations in watching a crash. On the one hand, it's unnerving to watch, the sound shakes your spine and your heart goes out to the riders. On the other, it's exhilarating and almost comic, and I am quick to the swing the camera to the unnatural sound of wreckage.
Next week: My team's criterium in Sherman Park. Maybe a crit on the North Shore the next day. I should be out riding right now, but it's still wet, and as they say, the hay is in barn. It's quite possible these are the last races of the year.