14 June 2010
IN A PERFECT WORLD the bike racing season in Florida would run from November through March to take advantage of the beautiful weather down here during that time of year. Bike racing itself is hard enough. Is it really necessary that race organizers make it that much harder by scheduling races when the heat index is 105 degrees?
But, alas, we don’t get to make up the race schedule. We just pin our numbers on and line up when and where we are told to like the good little soldiers that we are.
And so a couple of weekends ago, a Few Good GearLink Men made the trek out to Stuart to battle the heat and the humidity, not to mention a couple of tough courses and a couple of hundred tough competitors, in the Treasure Coast Race Classic. The race format consisted of a Saturday Circuit Race on a curvy, narrow, fast course, followed by a 4-corner Criterium in downtown Stuart on Sunday. Sunday’s race was a Florida Cup race as well.
For 3 hours of the 3½ hour drive across to Stuart I lectured fellow 55+ Masters racer Joe Becchetti about how the entire race on Saturday was going to boil down to the last corner, a tricky, narrow, crazy left-hand turn only 125 meters from the finish. “Whoever gets through that corner first is going to win the race”, I promised Joe. “Do whatever you have to do to get to that last corner in the first spot!” We talked at great length about the different scenarios that might play out, and how to parlay each and every one of them into getting to that final corner first.
Eventually Joe asked the $60,000 question: “But Bob, if everybody knows about that last corner, aren’t they all going to try to get there first?”
“Good question, Joe,” I replied. “Surprisingly, many bike racers show up at bike races without having given much thought to how the race will probably play out, taking into consideration the conditions, who else is in the race, and in this case, the course itself. Although a lot of racers are really strong, a lot of them are also clueless. As for the ones that do have a clue….Well, that’s what makes bike racing so interesting. To borrow a quote from Ken Chapman, ‘Bike racing is a chess match and a knife fight all rolled into one’.”
Joe had all night to ponder my answer. And on Saturday when we stepped out of my car after parking in a field next to the race course, I immediately noticed two things: First, even though it was only 8:00 in the morning, the air was thick with humidity. Worse yet, it was already sizzling hot. (By 11:00 later that morning the air temperature in that field stood at 99 degrees). Second, looking down the road at where the finish line used to be, it was obvious that it had been moved for this year’s race. Our ensuing conversation went something like this:
Joe: “I know it’s hot. You don’t have to tell me.”
Me: “Not that. Actually I wanted to tell you that it looks they’ve eliminated that last corner. You can pretty much disregard everything we talked about yesterday.”
Joe: “[expletive deleted] So, what do we do now?”
Me: “Beats the heck out of me. I guess we’ll have to figure it out during the race.”
Later on, during our brutally hot race, Joe and I had little time to reformulate our finishing strategy. Instead, we were too busy trying to stay upright on the narrow, curvy course, as many of the Category 4 (beginner) women, who the race organizers decided to combine with the Masters racers, tried to turn the race into a demolition derby of sorts. I honestly cannot remember any race where I have heard as many “WTF”’s or “Hold your line!” shouts as in that Stuart circuit race. My comment to Joe about “clueless” racers was coming back to haunt me. “It’s like herding cats” one Masters racer muttered to me after a particularly dicey section where a particularly spastic Category 4 woman careened through a turn, coming dangerously close to taking down 3 or 4 of us in one fell swoop.
But somehow all of us in the 55+ Masters race managed to keep the rubber side down. And somehow we all managed not to get heat stroke. And somehow Joe and I both managed to figure out how to handle the re-designed finish. Mr. Consistency, JOE BECCHETTI, turned in another Top Ten finish (9th Place), and Yours Truly managed a 2nd Place. It’s always a good thing when you can live to race another day.
After recovering a bit, Joe and I sucked down fluids and tried to stay off our feet while we watched the 35+ Masters race in which a lone GearLink representative, TONY TIMONERE, raced extremely well and finished in 8th Place, ahead of several formidable Masters racers like Didier Fresne, Vance James, and Adam Baskin.
Then Tony followed his impressive top ten finish by sitting around in the heat all day until the 4:00 Cat. 4 men’s race (not to be confused with the earlier Women’s Herding Cats 4 race), where Tony grabbed another podium for the team with an even better 2nd Place finish. Awesome job Tony!
In the Masters 45+ race Joe and I witnessed the epitome of the “timing-is-everything” cliché played out before our very eyes. It was a hard-fought contest that saw WILL LARSON repeatedly chase down attack after attack while his teammate, KIRBY JOHNSON, sat in the back of a large field, just biding his time. As it turns out, Kirby was actually struggling at the back desperately trying to shake off the cobwebs after a previous day of golfing in the hot sun, followed by a night of intense “pre-hydration” (“pre-hydration” in the Michelob Ultra sense, not in the Hammer Nutrition sense). Anyway, the ONE and only break that Kirby found himself chasing down just happened to be the one and only break that ended up sticking. (Like I said: “timing is everything”). Will was thereafter forced to shut down any further chase efforts in favor of protecting his teammate up the road, while Kirby now sat on the back of the nine-man breakaway, still biding his time, and perhaps still reeling from the heightened effects of his hangover in the suffocating heat.
Will later told us that while the main field debated among themselves who they thought in the breakaway group was the likeliest to win the sprint finish (Kirby being one of the favorites, at 1-3 odds), Kirby was actually starting to feel a little better. At least his dry heaves had subsided. Eventually, the bell for the last lap sounded. KIRBY dug deep and masterfully pulled off a 6th Place in the 9-man sprint finish. 3 chasers who had found themselves in no-man’s land between the lead group and the main field followed about 30 seconds later. Then the main field came in with WILL sprinting to a 4th place (16th overall) finish. I don’t think that Kirby’s results are scientific proof that the “Hangover” training method is an effective training program. The likeliest lesson to be learned from Saturday’s Masters 45+ race is that good fortune certainly plays a role in the outcome of bike races.
On the television news Saturday night they said that the hottest spot in Florida that day was at, no surprise, Stuart, at 102 degrees!
Sunday morning we ate breakfast to probing pre-race questions like “Did you pee yet?” Then we headed out to beautiful downtown Stuart for the second installment of the “What-it-must-be-like-to-race-in-Hell” race weekend.
In the Masters 55+ race Joe and I battled the heat, and the lingering effects from Saturday’s hard race, and we even battled the Cat 4 women again. I am proud to say that we held our own, with JOE BECCHETTI finishing in 9th Place once more, and Yours Truly finishing in 6th Place, in a race where only .08 seconds (that’s 8/100’s of a second) separated 1st through 10th places. Overall, that’s 4 top 10 finishes, including 1 podium for GearLink’s two 55+ Masters racers at Stuart.
In the Masters 45+ race WILL LARSON improved to 12th Place, while KIRBY JOHNSON finished 15th. Coming on the heels of Saturday’s tough race Will and Kirby had two commendable top 15 finishes, besting such well-known Masters racers as Brian Lofton and Mark Stein.
And in the 35+ Masters race, a brutally fast race where the last lap averaged over 33 mph, TONY TIMONERE hung tough and came in with a top 20 finish, at 19th Place.
All in all it was a great weekend for Team GearLink with 2 podiums, 6 top 10 finishes, 2 top 15 finishes, and 1 top 20 finish. NICE JOB GUYS!
Coming Wednesday: The Ocala Race Weekend Race Report. Stay tuned.
Bob Lecznar (Cat. 6 Extraordinaire)