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Oct. 1, 2005

Today was a time trial, my first and the first event of the Fall Fling, a four-race series that will end most riders' seasons, including my own.

I experience gear envy at most races. I have an entry-level bike with entry-level components and entry-level legs. It's worse at a time trial, where about half the riders are flush enough to afford not just one bike better than mine but two, the second being a time trial-specific bike complete with $2,000 disc wheels and aero helmets pinched from the firing station of the Death Star.

Since I'm not likely to do more than one or two time trials a year, I haven't even sprung for clip-on aerobars, so I must resort to the poor man's aerobar: Resting my forearms on my stem and hoping circulation returns to my fingers by the next morning.

The race took place in Maple Park, a rural village that looked destined to be rural for not much longer. For every field being plowed there were two staked out for development.

The course was advertised as 10 miles long with two turnarounds. The wind was about 10 mph out of the south. In theory, wind-borne gains and losses should net out, but I felt like I was fighting it in all four directions the course went. And that's a Chicago truism I've learned and relearned: The wind will always be in your face, whether your cycling north, cycling south or sitting at your desk.

My goal was 25 minutes, which would have been an average of 24 mph and based on last year's times would have been good enough for the top 10. Coming into the last mile, I knew I was well below where I needed to be. My legs were regretting the two hours I'd spent on the bike at Critical Mass the night before.

I checked my odometer to see how far was left. With about a kilometer to go I got ready to gas it, to ration out every last calorie of energy, every last watt of power. I was in my poor-man's tuck and staring down at my front tire when I saw a thin blue line pass below. I looked back and saw a card table at the side of the road and some people standing nearby. "Was that it!?" I yelled. Yes, they said, that was it, the finish line. The race was done.

A few hundred meters later I came across a race marshal. "That was a pretty short 10 miles," I said.

"Yeah, it's only 9.5 miles."

It was my own damn fault. I knew at which corner the finish was supposed to be, but I blew it by navigating with my odometer and lost my chance to earn a few more seconds with one last push. My time was 24:33, which would have been great for a 10-mile course, but I didn't think it would earn me any points for anything shorter.

Race headquarters was in the village American Legion hall. While I was looking up my time a large, angry woman in a large, cheerful sweater came in demanding to talk to the race organizer. She proceeded to chew him out for the fact that she'd never been notified of the race and suddenly there were 50 cyclists going by her house. (In fact there would be 220 cyclists going by her house, one a minute for four hours.)

She was a vision of flimsy indignance, or perhaps of indignant flimsiness, so out of proportion was her rage to the grievance. The organizer was polite and apologetic, saying that press releases had been sent to the local paper and other outlets but that he was sorry one hadn't been mailed to her. She kept badgering him about not being notified; he kept apologizing. He took her address for next time.

"Do you even have a permit?" Yes, he said, and she demanded to see it. He dug it out and handed it to her, but she couldn't read it: She hadn't brought her glasses.

"There'd better not be trash in front of my house," she shrieked. "Who's going to clean that up?" Volunteers would be sweeping the whole course, he said.

"Why have I never seen a bicycle race here? Have you done this before?" This was the fifth time the event had been held in Maple Park, he said. "Hmmmph," she said. "Must have been on days I was working."

She continued grasping for a legitimate reason to be upset. It was like she really, really wanted her day to be ruined and the organizer's polite, rational answers were foiling her at every turn. Her final thrust was to act as if she was just looking out for us. "What if I pulled out of my driveway without paying attention?" At this all the cyclists within earshot rolled their eyes at this crazy lady, apoplectic at the thought of having to pay attention while driving. The horror, the horror.

Poker was at Jeff's tonight. During a break I went online and checked for race results. They were up. Out of 55 riders in my category, I finished 13th, much better than I had expected, considering how poorly I felt I rode.

Out of six people at the poker table, I came in second. But I've come to expect that.

Tomorrow is a criterium race. I don't expect anything to come of that, but next Saturday will be a longer road race, my preferred format, and it will be worth double points toward the overall standings. I'm hopeful. After that, winter. Rest. Indulgence. And then rebuilding for next season.