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Giro finale
Photo ©: Bettini

Tales from the Peloton

Everyday curses

A day in the race of Team Lardbutt

By Greg Taylor

There is an old saying that it is better to be lucky than good. If that bit of wisdom is true, then I’d better plan on becoming a damn good bike racer because I managed to demonstrate this weekend that I can’t depend on being a lucky one.

Elite elements of Team Lardbutt – your humble scribe and Jose ‘Quads of Fury’ Aguto – attacked the Carl Dolan Memorial Circuit Race (Columbia, Maryland) on Sunday. This particular show is put on by DC Velo, a local club. The DC Velo guys certainly put on a great race.

The circuit was laid out in the Gateway Business Park – a gentle 2.1 mile loop with only one real corner. That corner – a 90 degree affair that spit the riders out onto the one climb on the course – was the key to a good lap. Lap after lap, the pack would wheel through the corner, and then sprint on the exit in hopes of (1) catching the guys in front of them, and (2) dropping the guys behind them. The hill was a gradual 1/4 to 1/3 mile long big-ring effort that topped out near the finish line. The Cat V race was scheduled for 11 laps, which works out to be about 23 or so miles. Piece of cake.

However, it soon became very clear that my particular piece of cake wasn’t going to go down very easy. The omens were all there that this just wasn’t going to be my day.

First, there was the Registration Ordeal. The Cat. Vs (and the 50+ racers) were scheduled to blast off about 8:00a.m. Registration opened about 7:00a.m. I was there at 7:01... and there was already a long line. The folks manning the registration desk were doing their darndest to deal pleasantly with a large group of snarly, snappy, nervous, and cold racers. Despite everyone’s best efforts, I didn’t get my race number until about twenty minutes before the race, which left me little time to get ready.

Ahh, the race number! More bad juju. Through the luck of the draw I was given rider number ‘513’ – the 13th rider in the Cat. V group. When I picked it up at registration, I thought that riding with number 13 on my back was actually pretty cool. Indeed, as I was sitting there on the tailgate of our station wagon, pinning the number on my jersey, I decided to turn this bit of fate into a fatherly moment with my eight-year-old son. “You know, son,” I explained to the lad in my best Ward Cleaver manner, fiddling with the safety pins, “there are some riders who wouldn’t get near the number 13. They think that it is bad luck. That’s all a lot of silly superstition...” Looking down into that sweet, angelic face, I could see my young son thinking, “Ha, ha, ha. What a load of bollocks, Dad. You’re doomed.”

And he was right, but I had no time to think about that as my pre-race preparation careened uncontrollably into its next crisis – the Porta Potty Situation. With about 15 minutes to go until showtime, I had to pee. I mean, I REALLY had to pee. Bad. Looking over at the Porta Potties, it appeared that the entire Cat V and 50+ race fields were heeding a similar call. There was about a 15 minute wait to use the bathroom. Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem except for the fact that I was running late so I still hadn’t had a chance to warm up yet. With the start time fast approaching, the incessant urging from my bladder meant that I was presented with a horrible dilemma: it was either pee or pedal, I couldn’t do both. My bladder won out over my legs, and so it was off to the Porta Potties. I tried to make the best of a bad situation by trying to warm up while standing in line. So there I was, doing squats and stretching exercises to warm up while I was waiting in line to use the loo. I guess that my gymnastics gave folks the distinct impression that I really had to go, because the line moved very swiftly after I joined it.

In the end, everything worked out okay. I squeezed in a short warm-up/recon lap, and connected up with Jose and his cousin, Candido. It turns out that this was Jose’s first crit/circuit race. You couldn’t tell it from his demeanor, as he looked very calm and cool. I, on the other hand, was a wreck.

Ready or not, it was time to race. The 50+ age group blasted off first, followed by our race a minute or two later. The peloton for the Cat. V race was dominated by an ocean of NCVC jerseys. Other teams were there as well, a number of Squadra Coppis, a good number of riders from the Artemis squad, and lots of other teams. There weren’t that many ‘unattached’ riders. The field was full at 50 riders.

Anyway, at 8:02 the Cat. V pack wheeled off – and for the next few laps we basically got comfortable and sorted out who was who, and who needed watching. Jose and I were keeping tabs on each other, and generally having a ball. As would be expected of a bunch of novice racers, the pack was a tad squirrely, and folks were using their brakes way too much. Things would occasionally accordion up for no apparent reason, other than someone got scared and backed out of an uncomfortable situation. Jose’s cousin got dropped when he lost the draft out of The Corner, and he made an early exit from the race.

Around lap four or five the team tactics started to play out. A couple of the smaller teams threw a rider or two out off of the front, without much effect. One of my goals for the race was to lead a lap, so I decided that lap five was going to be my lap. I got positioned on the outside of the peloton, and then worked it hard coming up the hill. I popped off the front and into the lead, much to the delight of my wife and son. Yes, it was a pointless and show-offy thing to do, but how many times in your life do you get to lead a bike race in front of your sweetie and kid?

Lap six was where the fates caught up to me and my race came to a premature end. Before we started, Jose and I figured that we would find each other on Lap six and see what we could make happen. After I got my lap, I was feeling pretty good – finally warmed up and ready to go. My burst off of the front had deposited me about 20 or so yards from the main group, so I sat up and allowed myself to get re-absorbed into the pack. Jose went by, and then a pair of riders went down right in front of me. Turns out one of them overlapped wheels with Jose. Jose stayed up, the other guy lost it, taking down another rider. I was directly behind the mayhem and had nowhere to go... I came out of it with a lightly skinned knee and a slightly tweaked front wheel. Ten minutes with a spoke wrench and it will be good as new. The guy who tangled with Jose hurt his shoulder. The other guy was unhurt, except for a dinged bike.

With my race done, I spent the rest of my time cheering Jose. As it turns out, I had a lot to cheer. Jose later told me that he decided to lead a lap as well, thereby finding immortality in a USCF Lap Charts as being the first across the line on lap six or seven. (I didn’t see it because I was still wandering back to the start-finish line). He stayed near the front for most of the race, motoring along with the best of them. A break of about ten riders got away from the pack around lap eight or nine, helped by some rather robust blocking tactics by the NCVC guys. Jose told me later that the pack slowed WAY down (about 18 or 19 mph) on the fastest part of the course when the break went up the road. This was all for naught, however, as the Artemis squad took the final sprint. Our own Jose was giving them hell in the field sprint, eventually finishing up about 12th or 13th, maybe better. This was just out of the prizes... If he finished 12th, he may have collected some District 20 BAR (Best All Around Rider) points.

Anyway, next time you see him out commuting or on a Sunday ride, give Jose some major league kudos for a very, very strong showing, dude! Team Lardbutt: we may not be much to look at, but we can turn the pedals with the best of them.

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