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May 15, 2005

Everything was going great until I fell into that ditch.

Saturday's road race was very similar to my last one: three loops for a total of 41 miles near Baraboo, Wis. The course's main hill was much larger, however, a 360-foot climb stretched out over about a mile. Nothing that would challenge a proper cyclist, but significant for us Chicago flatlanders.

Starting up the hill the first time I was near the front of the pack. By the top I'd been gapped by about 30 meters. Fortunately the lead group slowed down in the flat and a few other stragglers and I were able to catch up.

Alas, what goes up must come screaming down, and the descents here were much steeper than the climbs.

On the first of two descents I topped 46 mph, the fastest I have ever gone without the aid of internal combustion.

The second descent had a brief flat spot and a slight turn at its midpoint. Feeling tentative at that midpoint, I tapped my brakes, but that created more of a wobble, so I had a choice: slow down or turn. I chose to slow and quickly ran out of pavement. Fortunately the ground was damp from the night's rain and slurped up my wheels, allowing me to come to a safe but humiliating halt in a grassy ditch.

This would be the last I'd see of the leaders. I hadn't thought I'd be able to stay with them the whole way, but I'd hoped to at least finish a lap with them, and I'd hoped to get dropped because I was going too slow, not because I was going too fast.

I hopped back onto the road and caught up to my teammate Dave. He'd been dropped from the pack back at the hill and had came just short of getting back to the pack. We rode together the rest of the way.

The hill seemed easier each time we took it. Part of that was knowing that there was indeed an end to it, something I wasn't so sure of the first time. The third time we hit it, Dave and I were in a group of five and were 10 meters behind a group of eight from the masters race that had started five minutes after ours. I surged ahead of the 4/5's I was with, and then one by one I passed the masters.

In the flat I was in the middle of the masters pack. I wasn't sure about the etiquette, so I asked whether it was bad form for me to ride with them. "Um, yes," one said, so I peeled off and enjoyed the scenery until Dave and the three others caught up.

Except there weren't three others: It was just Dave and a young rider from Sturgeon Bay. The three of us rode together for the balance and it was almost a replay of Baraboo: I attacked going up the final hill and got a good gap but was unable to hold it long enough. I'd promised Dave that if this happened I'd try to lead him out, but I didn't have enough left to help him much, and the Sturgeon Bay kid beat both of us.

Rain started to fall as we hit the finish line and grew into a downpour as our team debriefed under a tree. We'd have no chance for a cool-down ride, so 24 hours later my legs are still stiff.

Photo taken: May 14, 2005