This is a really hard report to write, but I’ve taken credit for the good times so now I have to fess up about the bad. I’ve kept pretty mum about my thoughts and preparations for this race all season – not because it wasn’t a big target (it was) but because I knew I had some serious competition on my hands. Scott Sifferman showed himself early in the season to be a major threat in the Masters 50+ by winning the Tour of Hermann TT (which I missed due to illness) and then beating me by a minute to win the Velo In The Valley TT. My teammate Mark Ewers was routinely beating me in the Wed night TT series – the only question was would he race Cat4 or Masters 50+, and when his name showed up early on the State TT registration list in the latter my hopes of winning faded further. Late registrant and strong man Curt Evenson completed the triad of terror – I figured the three of them would be battling for the jersey while the best I could hope for was 4th place. With luck, maybe one of them would have a bad day and I’d be able to crack the podium.
It didn’t used to be that way – for a couple years racing Cat4 and my first year as a Cat3 I almost felt like I could win any time trial I entered. I don’t really know how or why that happened – I just built a TT bike and developed a seasonal TT training program that seemed to work well for me. Last year I missed State TT because of my trip to France, but I trained nevertheless and finished the season with a solid (though not winning) performance at ABR Masters Nationals in August. This year I got a little distracted with running early in the season and then had to battle sickness, so my training didn’t really begin in earnest until later in April – about a month late. Once I did get going, however, I figured the form would come back like normal. It never did, and I really don’t know why – I was probably more rigorous and disciplined in my training this year than ever, but I just never felt like I was coming around. My short-intervals were okay after awhile, but I ended the run up to State TT with two very mediocre long-interval sessions that left me feeling not very confident. Okay, I can live with that – I’m not afraid to give it my all and hope for the best.
The heat and wind conditions on race day have been well reported – even at my early start (#21) temps were already ~90ºF and a ~10mph W wind meant going out would be fun but coming back would be really painful. No problem, I’ve done that before. Obviously, I had no problem warming up and actually felt pretty good at the start line – I just had the feeling things would work out this day. I made my start and pretty much nailed the settling in period – getting up to speed quickly without going too hard for the first couple of miles. Despite the tailwind, I kept the pressure on and settled into a nice pace that got me to the turnaround in 25:40 – 29mph flat! I nailed the turnaround and did the mental math – 20.6mph average for a 1-hour finish, 21mph flat to lose a couple minutes (about the fastest I figured I could do it). The wind was tough, but I held 21-22mph pretty well to stay on track. I passed my 2-min man (another 50+ competitor) right after the turnaround, so that gave me a little more confidence (with Shawner as my 1-min man I was worried I might not pass anybody!). It got harder and harder, but I kept my target until about halfway back. I had been suffering for a while, but it was then that I thought to myself, “Man, I really don’t feel good.” Of course, I always think that at the 30k mark, so I pushed on, slightly cutting the speed and eventually passing two more riders. By the time I got within ~2 miles from the finish I really felt horrible, but I was encouraged by the fact that I looked to be on ~59-min pace, and I still hadn’t been caught yet by Andy Chocha (4-min behind me). I started really pushing for the finish and was really fighting the bike. The next thing I knew I was headed down the embankment – What? No! I could see the crash coming, and with my arms on the aero extensions there was nothing I could do. I crashed into the gravel and weeds at the bottom, got up quickly and hussled back up to the road, thinking all the while, “How the f__k did that happen?” The two riders I had passed came by while I was getting going again and each said something to me that sounded like encouragment, but I knew I’d blown it. My pride wasn’t completely demolished though, so I got going again – determined to put in an at least respectable performance as I pulled clumps of grass and weeds off my handlebars. I settled back in, repassed the two riders, and started driving for the finish once again. Though I was feeling like I was gonna pass out, knowing the finish was close at hand kept me going. About 1km from the line, all of the sudden here I am again headed down the embankment! WTF?! I managed not to crash this time, but I was in shock – how did that happen? I was even trying to be careful. Once again, I scrambled back up to the road and got back on the bike, but this time there was nothing left to give – I could barely turn the pedals. I didn’t even get down in the aerobars, I just limped home trying to breathe (with weeds still hanging from the rear derailleur – click photo to enlarge) and crossed the line right at around 1:02 – most definately not a podium performance, and possibly even – God help me! – last place.
As I rode into the parking lot I really thought I was gonna die – I just could not catch my breath. As I was rolling, stunned by what had just happened, a teammate rode up to ask me something. The next thing I know I see that I’m headed straight for a curb – I didn’t even have a chance to try to hit the brakes. I hit the curb, the fork went “snap!”, and I went straight over the handlebars and landed in the gravel on my back. As I tried to get up I started feeling sick, and it finally dawned on me that something was really wrong – three crashes in the last 2 miles, with the last one busting an all-carbon fork! Who breaks a fork at a time trial?! Teammates extraordinaire Vince DeBlasi and Joe Walsh immediately rushed to my aid with ice and water (thank you, guys!). I heaved a couple of times and really couldn’t drink, but the ice on my neck felt good. I layed back down while Vince got my family, who brought the car over and took over caring for me. It would be a half hour before I felt well enough to sit up and another half hour before I could try to stand. Once I could stand, my family helped me get things loaded in the car, and we left without even bothering to look at the results.
I now believe that I was suffering not from simple dehydration but from a real case of heat exhaustion, perhaps actually starting to pass out each time I ended up crashing. Looking back, I can see several things I could have done differently that could have helped – I had to wear my long-sleeved skinsuit because the zipper broke on my short-sleeved, and once I got going I only drank once at the turnaround (a big swig, though). My biggest mistake, though, was misinterpreting my growing discomfort as lack of top form rather than recognizing it for what it really was. I feel better today – my injuries are limited to some nasty scraping on the left leg (from the 1st crash). The bike, unfortunately, did not fare so well. In the shop discussing fork replacement, we found a rather severe crack in the top tube – the kiss of death for a carbon monocoque! It seems likely that the actual damage was done in the 1st crash – when the handlebars were empaled into the ground – and the 3rd crash in the parking lot just finished the job. I realize that there are bigger problems one can have, but going from 2 miles away from a sub-hour State TT finish to having no TT bike is quite depressing. I’m in no position to replace it right now, so it looks like I won’t be doing ABR Masters Nationals in August, and with the fire gone now my season just may be over.
The story does have a rather amusing ending – I mustered up the courage to look at the results today and saw that I still finished 4th – behind Scott, Curt, and Mark (congats all!) as I originally predicted. Two crashes in the last 2 miles apparently had no effect on the final placings! I finished ~3 min behind Mark, which is probably a bit more than the amount of time I lost. Even more amusingly, I finished 2 seconds in front of 5th place, so my final 1k limp to the line was still enough to keep me from slipping a place. I don’t know that any of this makes me feel any better – it’s certainly not important, but it is kinda funny. As for next year, I don’t know – it seems like I’ve got some things to think about. I’ve been contemplating retiring from racing (though not from riding!), but I hate to end things like this. Maybe it’s the end of an era.