For the last week, I’ve felt like garbage. Still sick, I was really struggling with the idea that on Sunday I would wake up at 5am, pack the car and drive to Gloucester. I put myself to bed exceptionally early, barely slept, and at 5 I was primed and ready to go. It was weird. I didn’t need it, but I had a coffee anyway, which basically keeps me awake for days since I drink it roughly twice a year.
I was very early to the race, which was great. The venue was beautiful. The course winds along Stage Fort Park with nothing but the Atlantic in the distance. I picked up my race number – 311 – and figured right off that today was going to be a good day.
I had a great warmup along the surrounding roads, did some stretching, and then started my pre-ride of the course. Pretty fast course. My gearing was fantastic for this setup. Windy, somewhat technical in spots, and I spent the first lap just picking lines. The second I took a little faster, and the third practice lap I took at speed, trying to see what I could get away with in different spots.
On the third practice lap, I was slicing through a set of sweeping downhill turns on hardpacked grass; kind of an S-shape. I remember getting through the first part of the turn frighteningly fast but under control, and thinking “wow”. I get to the second half of the S, and I’m leaning in and cutting the bike in really, really hard to the left. Both wheels completely lose traction at once. I feel like my whole body is sideways for what seemed like forever. I was even thinking “wow, when am I going to hit the ground?”. Then I hit the ground. Hard. My shoulder plants and my head whips from right to left and bounces off the ground. Something in my neck snaps. I have riders behind me, so immediately I scramble to pull my bike out of their way, and they ask if I’m okay as they ride by. “Don’t do that” I offer.
My bike seems okay. The brake levers are packed with muddy grass and a little off center, but otherwise everything looks straight. My head is ringing like a bell. I get back on the bike and continue a slow pre-ride, wondering if I should even race. My helmet is cracked, but I would only discover this after I had gotten home. The race/no race decision would have been pretty easy if I had seen that in Gloucester. But I struggled a bit and decided I would race anyway, given everything I had already put into today.
By the time we line up for the start, I’m about as normal and ready as I’m going to get. Physically I actually felt really good today, aside from the crash. I felt like my gearing was going to give me a chance, I had some good lines picked out, and I was fired up to see what would happen. Since I registered almost last, I get lined up at the very back of the field, which turns out to be 107 riders. I know I have a lot of work to do to get out of here.
We go off, and in the first few minutes I’m just doing whatever I can to stay moving since the swarm of 100+ bikes is making its way through a course wide enough for maybe four riders. I start picking people off slowly. A lot of riders don’t have good lines and are riding tenatively (with reason I might add) on the wet grass. I feel like I’m passing riders in droves. On the flatter sections, my gearing is by no means a liability and I’m at least not getting passed.
On the second lap, I’m still making gains. And then, it all goes away. I power out of a switchback about halfway through the second lap and my chain comes off. Off the front and off the back. Pedaling is futile. I pull to the right, and I’m livid. I am so pissed off that I actually process the thought of throwing my bike. I can hear herds of riders passing me while I kneel down and try to work the chain back onto the gears. I have no tools on me, so once I am able to get the chain back on, I can’t get the tension back. It’s just kind of flopping; barely rideable but on there. I get on and everyone is long gone. I look around behind me and I can’t see anyone on a bike. This f*cking sucks.
Now I’m completely rattled. It takes me a good lap to mentally come out of it, if I ever really did. Physically, I’m shot; my momentum is all gone. It was like a switch. The fire is out. I have little faith that I can be aggressive on the bike now, and I keep listening for another chain derailment every time I stand up on the bike.
Soon I’m completely gassed, and I no longer care. The entire third lap I’m just waiting for it to be over. By lap four, I start to catch people again, but only very small groups; nothing like the numbers I was picking off at the start. Within sight of the start finish line, I get lapped by the leader, and I get pulled. I knew I would get pulled. I was basically begging for it to happen. So the result, I end up 88th. This morning, my neck is killing me. I can feel every muscle in my neck and back involved in the crash as I move my head laterally from right to left. Hopefully a few days of heating pads will cure that.
Stompy Stompy Stompy. We had a deal. You were going to be mechanically simple and not let me down, and what did you do. ^%#!#$!@#!!!!