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Aug. 28, 2006

Road racing imitates life, the way it would be without the corruptive influence of civilization. When you see an enemy lying on the ground, what's your first reaction? To help him to his feet.

In road racing, you kick him to death.

Tim Krabbe, "The Rider"

A strange thing happened Saturday. I won a race.

It was fun. I should try to do it again sometime.

It was the masters race at Sherman Park, the criterium my team hosts on the South Side. Because there was a competing race and because most masters riders don't like the idea of bringing their nice bikes from the North Shore into a shady part of the city, the field was small, only 20, and 10 of us were xXx.

I'd just finished the 3/4 race, in which I'd wiped myself out to support teammates in the break and the field sprint. I was just hoping to finish the masters race.

Randy got off in an early break of six. After a few laps, I was feeling recovered and decided to join two teammates in attempting to bridge. We got off hard and clean, dragging no one with us, and by working together it was elementary to get up to Randy's group. By now there was a rider off the front, but xXx now made up four of the eight-man chase group.

Our chase was disorganized as we figured out who wanted to pull. Gaps formed, and the pace rose and fell. It turned out that nobody wanted to pull but us, so we formed a rotating paceline at the front until we got within sight of the leader.

Then Randy attacked. Two others marked him, so I counterattacked immediately. It was the perfect set-up: After surging to catch Randy, nobody was inclined to catch me -- or they didn't take a guy in tube socks seriously; fools! -- and my teammates went into blocking mode.

I caught the leader with about five laps to go. As soon as I did, I was thinking of how satisfying second place would be. "Pull me around," I was about to say, "and I won't sprint it out." Such is my killer instinct. But he beat me to it. "Pull me around," he said, "and I won't sprint it out." Deal!

I pulled for 3/4 of a lap and let him take a turn. Shortly after I took over again, I turned around and he was nowhere to be seen. I had no idea he was so close to the brink.

I rode hard and kept riding hard, trying to not look over my shoulder but failing. It wasn't until the last lap that I felt certain I was going to do it. Coming out of Turn 4, I slowed as much as I could without being obnoxious, trying to savor the moment.

Naturally I did a throw at the line.

This would be Race 54 in my racing log, and it would be my first win.

I like to say that in cycling, victory doesn't go to the fastest. It goes to whoever crosses the finish line first. This race supports that truism. I don't pretend to have been the strongest in this race, or even the strongest on my team. I just caught the lucky break and managed not to blow it, and I know I wouldn't have done nearly as well if xXx hadn't stacked the field.

I raced again Sunday. I raced stupidly and burned too many matches along the way but managed to get fourth.

Assuming all my races qualify, I've now earned 20 points, exactly what I need to upgrade to Category 3. I remain torn.

I've finally become a good Cat 4 rider. It's equivalent to being a B student in the first grade. Who on earth would go to second grade and remain a B or C student if you could repeat first and be an A+++ student?

Photo taken by Cecile Redoble: Aug. 26, 2006