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July 25, 2007

I told Sandy and Sarah that if they wanted to see me in Sunday's criterium in Evanson, they'd better be there in the first 20 minutes of the 40-mile race. I didn't expect to last much longer than that. By then I'd have either run out of fitness or have crashed on the course's technical turns.

Happily I stayed upright despite a few close calls, and happily I lasted a full hour, much longer than expected. Looking at the photos that Ellen took, however, it was obvious I was in over my head. My mouth was agape the entire time, and I lurched precariously from the tip of my seat in a desperate effort to grind every extra watt out of my body. Even if I could have lasted, I would have been useless to help set up the sprint.

With 10 laps to go I was able to make my way to the front and pulled for a block to help chase a break. By the next lap, however, I was back in the rear and when I took a tricky corner extra conservatively, a gap opened. Teammate Chris was also on the back and gave me a push, but it wasn't enough. I was done. I took a few laps of shame, then pulled out in time to get the camera to shoot Ed's victorious sprint.

It was fantastic to be able to race so close to home. I cheated and used Ellen's car, but I easily could have ridden or even walked to the course. All day long, curious and enthusiastic spectators watched the races, something we amateurs are not accustomed to. Technical crits aren't my bag, but I can't wait to return next year.

The next day was more up my alley: a 70-mile road race through the rolling hills of Wisconsin. The sole objective was to support Ed and defend his lead in the overall. Unfortunately there were only two of us to do so, and we lost Matt around the 50th mile. I didn't race smart at all. I drilled it at all the wrong spots, and when it came time to chase a break, I didn't do it smoothly or cooperatively. Instead I twice found myself off the front by accident, where I would be useless. Meanwhile, other riders counted on the vast army of XXX riders -- both of us -- to be doing all the work.

There was a tricky, milelong stretch of chip seal where the road was covered with loose, sticky gravel. It began with an off-camber turn that hit us immediately with steep climb. Then came a long, straight descent that we took single-file at close to 40 mph. Gravel flew up in our wakes, requiring us to close our mouths lest we lose a tooth. I took several off the bridge of my nose. Someone remarked that the gravel bouncing off bikes sounded like storming a beach at D-Day: Ping! Ping! Ping!

Each time I had trouble turning into the hill. I'd always find a bad line and end up climbing up last, then scrambling to regain contact on the descent. The 7th time up, after 60 miles of racing, the gap was too big and I couldn't reintegrate. I rode the last lap alone and at times with another dropped rider before rolling in for 23rd place. (About 45 had started.)

The breakaway was never caught, and Ed had to settle for 8th place. It's a shame I didn't quite have the tactical know-how or fitness to make this work. I love races of attrition like this, and in many respects it wasn't all that different from April's great Hillsboro Roubaix. Oh well. Maybe next year.

Photo taken by E. Wight: July 22, 2007