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May 14, 2007

Mind your safety pins, please.

Sunday's pro/1/2 race was my third of this years Monsters of the Midway, a popular criterium at the University of Chicago. My goal was simply to hang on as long as I could.

By the third lap I was lagging and having to get out of the saddle to close gaps I'd let form. Suddenly a loud clicking sound started coming from one of my wheels. It sounded like a baseball card slapping against the spokes. I figured one of my zip ties had come loose.

While I fussed with the noise, a gap grew to 10 meters, then 20 meters, and soon it was out of reach. Even if I could catch back on, the racket my bike made would make me an unwelcome guest.

I swung into the wheel pit. I checked my tires. If the problem was a flat, maybe I could steal someone's wheel (I hadn't put in any of my own) and jump back in. But both tires had full pressure, so no free lap for me. I walked over to the officials and drew a finger across my throat. I was done.

My first voluntary DNF.

When I got to my team's tent I examined my wheels more closely and found the source of the problem: a safety pin in the rear. Five minutes later the tire was completely flat.

I didn't have much to show for the other two races of the day, but they were still fun and productive for my team.

As we staged for the 30+ race, I saw a familiar face in a Delta Faucet kit. "Hey, wow, it's the Druber!" As in Mark Swartzendruber, national caliber time trialist and entertaining True Sport columnist. I'd been a fan of his ever since I got into this sport. His rants against "feckless weenies" were influential in my early development as a racer.

"Who's that?" someone asked.

"That's who's going to win this race," I said. "Hold his wheel and you might have a shot at second."

Sure enough, the 30+ race quickly established itself as a game of Follow the Druber. He led the field around the Midway like the Pied Piper leading so many rats.

With about 5 laps to go, Druber was off the front with three other riders. They seemed just the right distance away: far enough to be viable, but close enough to be reached. I got away from the peloton in the headwind and a lap later had successfully bridged. Phew! I had it made! My most triumphant, gutsiest move of the season!

But Druber was already pulling back the throttle. He was taking an unusually long pull but wasn't going terribly fast (I had caught on, after all), and the other riders in the break, myself included, weren't doing enough to encourage a faster pace. Sure enough, the pack caught us a lap later, with 2 to go.

As soon as we were caught, Druber instantly unleashed his real attack and solo'd the rest of the way. I and many others tried to catch his wheel as he departed but it was like catching a rocket with a butterfly net. I then tried a flyer with 1 to go but it went nowhere, and I rolled in at the back of the pack, not even bothering to get out of the saddle in the sprint.

There's not much to say about the 3's race. My job was to cover breaks, but none threatened to stay away. In the final laps I'd hoped to help string it out to give our sprinters room to work, but I didn't have enough leg left to even get to the front, much less get there and drill it, so I was pretty much useless. The team, however, got second, fourth and seventh, the best collective result of the season.

Next week: Another crack at Baraboo.

Photo taken: May 13, 2007