Sherman….I heard he destroyed a bunch of stuff?

When you wake up at 4am to make a bike race but have a hard time getting up at 6am for work…that’s when you know you’re a roadie. Saturday marked just such an occassion. For the first time we ‘burbers had to wake at the butt crack of dawn to slog our way into the city for a race. I had heard so many people complain about the neighborhood that the Sherman Park crit was in that I anticipated the worst. I was sadly disappointed. It was fine.

That same kind of talk kept a lot of people away from the Lansing cyclocross race last fall too. That’s just sad. Oh well.

Under the calming blue flash of the light on top of the security camera I parked my car and began the process of pre-race routine – pick up my number, BS with everyone I see, engage in nervous chit-chat, visit the facilities about 5 times, suit up, pre-ride, discuss tactics doomed to failure in the heat of the moment, warm up, tell everyone I suck and am not ready, and then toe the line.

The Sherman Park Crit was a race put on by xXx. That would be the black and white armada of Chicago cycling. Pretty much in every race its usually xXx and everyone else. This being their race, in the city, etc it was fair to guess the fields would be slanted their way in terms of sheer numbers. How does of 50% of the field sound. Yup. *sigh* Thank God there are some pretty cool guys on the team. ๐Ÿ™‚

Our 5’s toe’d the line looking like the crew out of Resevoir DOgs.

We like to refer to ourselves as the fatest team in Chicago racing.

We watched the 5’s rollout and then went to continue warming up. We got back in time to see TQ win in the sprint as I was putting my wheels in the pit. 2 wins and a 2nd in his last 3 races. Nice.

After that we rolled up. This was Joel’s first USAC race as a 4. It was him, Riccio and myself. I was feeling VERY strong. Haven’t been that confident in a while. As we were lined up we got a safety lecture in typical xXx fashion. ๐Ÿ˜‰ It was a memorial race as well so we all took a moment of silence. I remember reading about the guy it was for when he died at Matteson last year. I took that time to think about my coworker who was killed while riding a few years back. That’s when the rain started falling.

Fast, flat, no-corner crit protected from most of the wind….and it’s raining…you KNEW there was going to be a wreck. We started out pretty gingerly. Nothing major. The pace of the race was really fairly easy for most of it but it became a race of position. As water started to pool and rooster tails started throwing sand and mud on you each lap got a little more dicey, a little colder, and a little faster.

I found I kept getting boxed in on the inside. I was always on someone’s wheel when they popped and started floating back. It sucked. I had the juice but couldn’t turn it loose. A couple of times I thought of attacking just so I could ride at my pace, but I knew that was suicide on this course.

I saw Joel wanting to jump on a few moves. I told him before the race to sit in. Nothing was going to get away. He knew that already but his instinct is to pounce. I yelled his name once when I saw him move for the kill and he sat up. The move came back a few seconds later too. I don’t really like giving Joel advice much anymore because only he knows what he can and can’t do…and right now there isn’t much he can’t do. I just get frustrated when I see him waste energy he doesn’t need to waste…and yet it hasn’t affected his riding yet.

Due to poor positioning I was always about 5 riders behind Joel. Riccio was always behind or next to me as well. I saw Joel sit up and start coasting back. As soon as the rain started to really dump on us the flats started. Joel had one. I floated back with him to talk to him. He looked ready to throw in the towell. I told him to get to the pit, take a lap and use my wheels – I brought them for the team. I said I would pace him back up….

….yeah….fog of race there. It took me a bit to realize that with a free lap he didn’t need pacing back up. Now I was OTB for no good reason. Ooops. I quickly chased back on and was fine. I yelled to our guys in the crowd that Joel had a flat in hopes they would watch over him in the pit and yell advice if he needed it.

Next thing I knew he was back in the mix. Mission accomplished.

After that I found that I was getting covered in sand. Especially in my eyes. It was horrible. I couldn’t see crap. At times your were riding by feel. You could sense where the other riders were and just tried to maintain your position with respect to them. We could have ridden off the course and into the lake and no one would have stopped it. The yelling slowed as everyone got colder and more miserable.

I got sick of my position and finally got a couple of good looks outside as the pace finally picked up. I used it as an opportunity to ride to the front. I would get on Joel’s wheel and then next thing you know I would be back in the middle of the pack again. Suck.

I finally heard “2 to go” as we came over the line. Up to then I couldn’t see the cards – wasn’t looking honestly – and couldn’t see my timer. i was shocked that was all we had left. I had the gas so now I was looking for position. I didn’t want to push anything in these conditions so I was kind of waiting for some opportunities.

As we came around – heading towards the line to take the bell it happened. It was a chain reaction. Two guys pinched each other out. They hit and the sound of them hitting set it off. It was like everyone was waiting for the wreck to happen so when they heard it they freaked, hit the breaks, and all hell broke loose.

I have found that when I get into these situations I have this weird sixth sense that allows me to get through. I don’t think much about it my body just does stuff. I made it all the way through everything – and it was ugly. I was thinking I was going over the bars for sure. I was just about clear when a rider on the ground slid into my line. I rode up and over the bike t-boning his chainring with my front tire. *PSSSSSsssssss*!! SUUUUUUUUCCCCCCCCCCCKKK!

I was out for sure. No injuries – for that I was happy. I surveyed the mass of bodies on the deck. The yelling, swearing, walking wounded, bike throwing, etc. I almost wanted to laugh at how serious some of us cat 4’s take this stuff. It’s bike racing. I yelled, “everyone who can get up – do it and get off the course. they’ll be coming through again. Fast.” I then thought I could get back into it because I had wheels in the pit. I rode my flat clincher (don’t ask) all the way back. Before hitting the pit I realized that on the bell lap that pit was going to be closed. Oh well. Turns out joel had taken my front wheel anyway.

“Is the wheel pit still open?”

“Sunnuva…” – check out the flat front…

Riccio came in after me. Covered in head to toe in mulch and mud. he looked like he had just stepped out of Paris-Roubaix. Turns out he went cyclocrossing and was clear until the last second when someone smacked him at full speed from behind. Then he hit a tree. Ouch.

We were able to watch the end from the pit. We looked up in time to see Joel outsprint Slim_77 for the win. NIIIIIIiiice. Joel won’t be long for the 4’s. I told him when he started he was only going to be limited by the time he was able to put into this sport. I still stand by that.

So….we won both of the first races. I was registered for the Masters but honestly I felt like I had already pressed my luck and torn up enough equipment. I was anxious to head home and kiss the family. The two winners hit the town and lit up my phone with drunk text messages all night. You lightweights.

Still….we’re the working man’s team. The fatest team in Chicago racing. …can’t wait until cross.

-pictures from Mark Keller

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