It was windy.
It was wet.
Yet, I was excited all day at the prospect of racing Fitchburg. Despite the rain. Or perhaps because of it. That excitement alone should have been a warning. I’ve raced Fitchburg in the rain before. I’ve even crashed racing Fitchburg in the rain — attacked for a mid-race prime, soloed into the third corner carrying way too much speed, slid out and was back up and riding again before the field caught me.
This year would be a different story.
Easily, it was one of the hardest races I’ve done in the past 10 years.
Maybe it’s the lingering lack of form following my post-marathon illness. Maybe the change in position on the bike. Maybe the weather. Despite all my motivation and acclimation, my leg muscles have never liked bike racing in the rain. Or maybe it was a cold, wet warm-up followed by sitting on the start line for 20 minutes while the matinee riders were called up one by one.
The race went from the gun with a break immediately forming.
I was soaked through by the second turn. Despite the speed, I was holding wheels and moving up when the pace momentarily dropped. I was already in the hurt tunnel, worsened by the spray of kick-up from the wheels of the riders in front of me that glazed my glasses and filled my mouth with dirt. My exposed arms quickly turned numb and the muscles in my quads were already getting tight from the cold. It felt more like a cold water swim than a bike race.
I had no plan for survival.
And I was leaving it all on the road.
A pattern quickly emerged. Flat out up the false flat through the start-finish line. On some laps, we were hitting 30 mph up the grade. Then a momentary slowing as we hit the horseshoe at the top of the course, a chance to breath the deep for the plunge ahead. Then the backstretch, where we set off the speed trap and the flashing sign advising us to “slow down”. We didn’t. The third turn, squeezing hard on the brakes and watching the road stripes, then accelerating out of the final turn, onto the finish stretch to begin it all over again.
To make things worse, I had a full bladder and no chance in hell to sweat it out. I was trying to channel my old teammate, Andrew, the master of pissing off the bike in criteriums, but no luck. It was even too fast for me relax enough to piss my pants. It wouldn’t have been the first time I’d done so at Fitchburg.
Fifteen laps in, I was coming undone. It wasn’t a slow decline where I couldn’t hold the pace and was getting dropped. It was the sudden realization that my legs were about to seized up and I wasn’t even half-way. And no signs of reprieve from the race. It was the hypothermia that was creeping into my bones.
So I gave up from the middle of the pack.
I pulled off and sat up at the top of the finishing stretch. I rolled off the course, into a parking lot, followed by a race official who confirmed, “DNF?” I made him repeat the question because it seemed pretty obvious to me. Maybe he thought I’d had a mechanical? I guess I did…just the problem was with the engine. And it was beyond repair.
I was chilled through by the time I got to the car to change and pack up. I was driving home before the race was even half way. The heat in the car was on full-force, and the seat heaters, too. And still it took 45 minutes for me to feel warm again.
I was in the danger zone in the race. I really had no business being there. Not with the training I’ve done up to this point. Not in these conditions.
But I enjoyed every miserable minute of it.
And I would do it again.