« A few moments (25-6) || HOME || A tag »

March 28, 2005

It was a perfect morning for an alley cat race, and Payton put together an outstanding course. He called it Tic Tac Toe, though it more closely resembled Bingo or, a propos, an Easter egg hunt. It tested not only a rider's speed and bike handling but also his guile, game theory and knowledge of Chicago geography.

Each rider was given a unique grid of nine squares. Each square contained an address. At each address was hidden a rubber stamp. The objective was to locate the rubber stamps and use them to mark the grid, with points being awarded for each three-in-a-row. There was also a time incentive, so a rider had to decide how many rows it paid to pursue. No good collecting the maximum eight if it took all morning to do so.

The race kicked off with a bonus sprint from Pilsen to 141 N. Wabash, and for me this was the most exciting part of the day. I was riding a proper road bike, not the lumbering winter bike I'd used at the first stage, so I could keep up with the leaders this time. We left Pilsen in a pack of about 15, but when we hit downtown I called "Clear!" at an intersection and was surprised to look back and find nobody there: We were down to nine. I was the ninth.

I fought to hang on. At one point I got dropped -- getting dropped from a paceline is surprisingly emotional, like getting ditched by your friends at the mall, and it invites the same insecurities: I'm not good enough ... They don't love me ... Why am I the way I am? -- but I dug deep to rejoin the group and enjoy the twin benefits of its slipstream and its sense of direction.

We were heading up State near Marshall Field's when the group suddenly stopped: It had overshot the destination, which appeared to be the subway entrance at State and Monroe. The two riders ahead of me dismounted and started running down the stairs with their bikes, shoes clicking and clacking on each granite step. I followed, and sure enough a race official was waiting for us at the bottom. Thus I was third to complete the sprint -- my first podium finish!

In full stride I grabbed a ticket from the official -- the ticket would prove the order of our finish -- and dashed up the escalator to start completing my grid. I'd mapped out what I thought was an efficient way to complete two rows, but I couldn't find the rubber stamp that Payton had hidden at 31 W. Jackson -- I scoured the Red and Blue Line stations but somehow couldn't find the pedway that connected them -- so I ended with four stamps but only one row. Nonetheless, I was the second person to arrive at the finish line, West Town Bikes, so I earned an enormous time bonus, and I finished in fifth place overall.

Great stage, Payton. Now to get Tic Tac Toe added to the Tour de France.

Photo taken: March 27, 2005