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Sept. 7, 2005

When I compared poker to cycling last week, I mentioned that luck has a role. In Saturday's criterium at Sherman Park I got a first-hand lesson.

My Cat 5 race was the first of the day. I was executing my plan, trying to keep the race safe from the feckless weenies who just sit-in until the final sprint. I got off a few flyers, usually on the heels of a prime, but unfortunately I couldn't get any takers, and I couldn't create a gap big enough to sustain on my own.

With four laps to go I was considering one last jump when I found myself tight on a teammate's wheel heading up the inside. Suddenly I went in and out of a giant pothole. I swore loudly and a few seconds later heard the dreaded hiss of a pinched tube. My race was done. Walking back to the start area I passed a second teammate who had flatted in the same hole.

I would be damned, however, if this was going to be how my UCSF season would end (there are still a few ABR races in October) so on a whim I ante'd up for the 30+ race. I'd never done a masters race. All I knew is that they were F-A-S-T fast, full of riders who've been racing for decades and the occasional national champion. I briefly worried that I could even be a safety hazard among such seasoned riders, but what the heck. I tossed caution to the 10 mph breeze out of the east.

It turned out to be a small field, only 12, and although the pace was indeed high I was feeling comfortable keeping up.

There was a prime lap about 20 minutes in and I found myself at the front of the line. I wanted to get out of the wind but I couldn't get anyone to pull through. Halfway through the lap I slowed dramatically to see if someone would pass, and pass me they did: All 11 of them in a sudden surge, and just like that I was dropped.

So there I was, dropped in yet another race, and feeling pretty sorry for myself. All that work all summer and this is how I fare. Maybe this just isn't for me. Maybe I need to go back to running, which I now find fantastically boring, but at least a guy can suck in relative anonymity.

I was at my nadir, then, when I saw a friendly uniform just up the road. I bore down to his wheel and we quickly scooped up two other riders who'd been dropped. When a prime was announced for the four of us, I jumped without much thought and didn't look back. And by "didn't look back" I mean to say, "I looked back every 10 seconds to see how my gap was holding." Miraculously, it was growing.

And I have my teammate to thank for growth. He was blocking on my behalf, meaning that when he saw me jump he slowed right behind me, creating an obstacle for the other two riders. Granted, he'd later tell me that the other two were in a generous mood and didn't put up much fight, but escaping them gave me the boost of confidence I needed.

I hammered down and caught the next racer, a UofC rider in yellow. I rode with him a lap or two before I was able to ride him off my wheel. I pushed on and quietly passed the next racer before he even noticed I was coming. I caught up to one more rider but couldn't sneak past, and he beat me on the sprint. Still, I felt good about coming in 7th. It my not have come the way I'd expected it, but I had the top 10 finish I was shooting for.

And that's the subtle teamwork that makes cycling such an elegant sport. My mate's block turned my second DNF of the day into a 9th place and then into a 7th. I owe him one and look forward to when he can cash in.

Photo taken by Sandy Weisz: Sept. 3, 2005