Cherry Pie: 1 Part Crash, 3 Parts Chase
It’s my fault.
That’s what I think as I go down: “Goddamit, that was my fault.”
Then I think: “I gave myself that exit line into the gutter – why didn’t I use it?”
It’s amazing the number of thoughts that can you can have while you’re hitting the ground.
When it happens, I am about 6 rows back in the field – three rows further than I was hoping for. My gameplan going into the Cherry Pie Road Race was pretty simple: stay upright, stay out of the wind as much as possible. Ride toward the front to avoid trouble. Watch. Learn. That was it. Nothing fancy.
No delusions about winning or even placing high. What, are you kidding me?
The pelotons that you see on TV are smooth and silky and dreamy – they move along in a mind-boggling zen-cycling flow.
The ones in the lower categories at the local races are, well, not. There’s a trick and a grace to the whole thing – and it’s not something you learn in Saturday group rides. In a race you don’t know the wheels around you, people are nervous, people are new, people make mistakes.
Nerves and vigilance and worry and stress abound. Every moment is an important moment, even at 16 miles per hour.
My important moment comes at 11 miles in, rolling at 11 miles per hour.
The group hits a slight roller and I follow the wheel in front of me the same way I always do on a group ride. Only this wheel doesn’t go up the hill the way I’m used to. It comes backward as the rider stands. About a foot or more. Straight backward.
It surprises me and I stop pedaling to slow my momentum, avoiding the brakes. The first little bump is no big deal. I look at my exit lane into the gutter on the right but don’t take it, convinced that disaster has been averted. But the wheel is still coming back. The second bump becomes a rub that we sustain for about .45349 seconds until I go down.
I feel nothing except remorse. Immediately.
The rider behind me hits me and goes down and as I’m picking up my bike I look back to see who it is.
Fuck. Eryn. Could it have been anyone else? Please? Anyone?
“I cannot believe it’s you.” I say as the back of the group work their way around.
“It had to fucking be us…” I mutter as I spin the front and rear tires to make sure they’re working. “Is your bike ok?”
She thinks it is and we’re off. But by we I mean me. I look back and don’t see her on my wheel so I sit up for a second and she comes back on. The peloton is getting away up the road so I throw the hammer down in pursuit, and when I check again, Eryn is no longer there.
I contemplate, for a second, sitting up again to see if I can help her get back on. My head is throbbing with my efforts and decisions made in such moments are tricky. Would she even want to suck the wheel that just took her out? I don’t know. I keep pedaling.
While I’m chasing I have some time to think about how bad I feel and, additionally, how shitty it is to have taken out this particular rider. I like Eryn. I read her blog and I think she’s funny. I also respect her – she works hard and trains hard and climbs mountains and ski patrols and does triathlon. She’s pretty hard-woman if ever there was a hard woman. I began reading her blog a few years ago out of a general sense of awe around what an amazing, full life she leads.
So there was that.
There was also the fact that she’s one of the most outspoken people I’ve met about how dangerous the Cat 4 Women’s field is. And now I’m this sketchiness personified. Sweet.
Add to these things the fact that I knew she was worried about this race. She mentioned it in her blog and we talked about it on the line. If she’d been able to stay with the peloton, the race would have been cake. It was a mellow pace. She could have easily finished with the group. But now she’s time-trialing off the back.
I am closing in on the peloton and picking off riders who are dangling off the back. One of them jumps on my wheel and then after a few minutes, mercifully, takes the final pull to close the remaining gap. I thank her.
Self-abuse takes a backseat as I regain contact. I’m tired. The front brakes were loosened in the crash and have started to rub. The front derailleur is toast and I cannot shift out of my big ring. Right knee-warmer is ripped open – a blackish-bloody knee visible underneath. I become aware that my right elbow and shoulder hurt.
Eva Van Deusen rolls up next to me and says, “I’m trying to diagnose your bike.” so I explain what I’ve figured out already. She offers to accompany me off the back of the group for a bit so we can try to get the front derailleur working.
It was well-intentioned but ill-timed and as I work in vain with the barrel-adjuster, the group surges. “Uh oh.”
Another chase. Eva with the insanely monstrous pull. Her draft is a thing of beauty.
The peloton comes back to us in agonizing slow-motion. We pass the follow car (my second time today) and the man in the passenger’s seat says, “good job”.
Back in the group. I’m tired. Sick of chasing. Worried about climbing the final hill in my big ring. Annoyed by my loose brakes that keep moving back into a rubbing position. Eva moves wisely forward but I hang back, recovering.
The road rises again and the peloton goes backward. Chaos. “SLOWING!!! SLOWING!!! SLOWING!!!” Brakes, rubbing, scraping.
I have enough time to stop so it happens all in front of me. When it’s done I’m there with two feet on the ground and carnage spread out in every direction. Someone is in the ditch.
Everyone looks ok and is getting up. I step over a bike and roll out. The field is up the road again and someone has wisely lifted the pace. Another chase to rejoin the group.
This is not the way to race a bike.
My chain is rubbing now and I have to adjust the brakes again. I consider putting my hand in the air to climb into a car. My bike is a mess, what the hell am I still doing on it?
My computer is telling me there are only 5 miles to go. It would be stupid to abandon now, right? Right.
It takes me two miles to get back onto the group and when I do, they surge in anticipation of the final three miles of the race and I pop. That’s it. In a few moments, the men’s Cat 5 race comes around me offering encouragement (thanks for that, by the way).
They finish with the women’s field to the tune of mass confusion and I pull up the rear, grinding away in my big-assed gear as I mash my way up the hill to the line.
Not the best way to start the season, to be sure – but not the end of the world.
The first one is out of the way, my fitness is ok, and there is lots of racing ahead.
Let this race report serve as an official public apology to NoPoGirl and a big thank you to Eva the Powerhouse (and Ironclad in general – they rode a really smooth, smart race). To the rest of the Cat 4 field – we’ll get better, we’ll learn, we’ll gain skills. Let’s be patient with each other and stick with it.
This shit is hard – that’s what makes it worthwhile.