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June 29, 2005

I finally had a good criterium experience last night at the practice races in Matteson. I felt much more in control of my bike and my position in the line. In all three races I stayed with the leaders -- which I guess made me one of the leaders, fancy that -- finishing fourth, fourth and sixth, but came in last in each sprint, each time banging a fist on my handlebar as I got passed a few meters before the line.

Satisfaction was muted by what I took to be the tacky tactics of one rider, a teammate with whom I'd never ridden before and who finished ahead of me each race. He didn't take a single pull the whole night, instead sitting in until the final 200 meters. When he could have blocked for my flyer, he didn't. When he could have worked with me on a breakaway, he didn't. When he could have finished a race without laughing at me afterward, he didn't. In contrast, two South Chicago Wheelmen worked together admirably, sacrifice that I think paid dividends for both.

Such is the criterium. If the time trial is the race of truth, the criterium is the race of guile. It's the road race, my preferred format, that like life itself is a combination of both. But until I can move to Europe, where road races are more common, I'll have to deal with it.

I discussed this with Bob on our training ride this Sunday: Even if it is not always requited and even if most teammates don't yet know me from Adam, I have in three short months developed an intense love for my team, not just for its riders but even for its uniform and what it represents. (Yes, I'm crushing on laundry.) When I see a teammate, any teammate, I swell with admiration and a desire to put their needs above my own -- true love, in my book.

On the bright side, the wheelsucker finished the night with a Cat 5 tattoo, and I did not.

It's unlikely I'll get to Matteson again this summer -- if I ever have another Tuesday night off, it will probably be spent at Chicago's Outdoor Movie Festival -- which is a shame. The guys who run the races are fun and generous, and I enjoy the atmosphere of racing around an active paint factory. It recalls the old "Mortal Kombat" video games where the hero battles the boss in some industrial setting busy with pipes, barrels and explosions of steam.

As a result of the racing, however, my legs felt heavy this morning for the monthly time trial my team runs as a fitness check. I finished 35 seconds slower than my last outing, a slowdown of 2 percent, strange considering I feel like I'm in the best condition of my life.