I could see the Spin Arts rider to my right bobble, then start to tilt, then his bike was sliding out from underneath him, sliding down the road and to the left, sliding into my path and eventually beneath my front wheel, while I tried to manage my speed, while I constructed an exit strategy, trying to float my front wheel over the obstacle, with the hopes that the rest of my bike and body would follow unscathed, then trying to slow down without going down, then abandoning all options as the crashed rider’s bike wedged beneath my wheel and I started to pivot forward.
There was the moment when I realized I was going over, the moment when first my elbow hit the pavement hard, and then my knee, even harder; the moment I figured my front wheel would crumple; the moment when I realized the wheel would be ok; then the moment when I thought it was all over, and the moment I realized it wasn’t and the rest of me completed the flip, landing on my back or the back of my head, or perhaps in the other order, it was hard to tell, but the tail of the helmet caught the pavement and forced the helmet down and foward into my glasses so that they bit into my nose, splayed the nosepads, then came lose. Somewhere in there I felt a hard smack but couldn’t tell if it was my head on pavement or helmet on glasses, or perhaps one of the other riders who had followed and crashed in kind, sending his own shock waves that I absorbed as my own. My right pinky finger was already bleeding, the knuckle sliced clean and dripping dark, red blood onto the pavement and soaking into my glove. I surveyed the damage, waiting for the various body parts to report their damage, waiting for systems to come on-line so I could determine what next to do.
“How do you crash on a straightaway?” I asked of no one in particular.
Then somebody on the side of the road was yelling, “Free lap! Cut the course, take the free lap!”
It had rained all day. Heavy, torrential sheets of rain that promised another epic experience like Greenfield, just a few days earlier. The rain might have seemed like an undesired hassle. But each time the showers came, the heavier the rain, the happier I felt. Others may have felt deterred or frustrated by the weather, and knowing that made me feel better about my own chances.
In the late afternoon, as we were arriving in Beverly, the storms tapered and the skies even showed signs of clearing, a tease for the deluge that would certainly begin just as we were lining up to race. In Atomic Cafe, sipping iced coffee and some much needed caffeine, I checked the radar and it showed us in a clear patch, between two massive bands of thunderstorms that were expected to hit…right at start time.
The absence of rain at least made for easier warm up and logistics. Nonetheless I was soaked through. Despite the lack of rain, the heat that was building and the humidity that felt near 95% made it wet enough. Sure enough, as I rolled to the start, the sprinkles began. The upside to racing in the rain, for me, was that the pace would be slightly lower. On the line, the officials admonished us with danger signs of slick manhole covers and paint stripes.
The race began with a neutral lap which was really just an opportunity for everybody to crowd the front and stack up in the corners, then officially underway, the speed picked up, the riders stretched out and the it became a race of braking, navigating turns, watching for slick obstacles, accelerating back up to speed, and doing that 4 or 5 times a lap.
The rain nevery stopped but did not become any heavier, ensuring that the road surface would remain wet and treacherous. I felt sluggish, losing a lot of speed into the corners as the riders around my over-braked or took riskier lines, and working to make it back up. There were attacks but they were short-lived. There were riders slipping and some crashes, but nothing major and overall, it felt much calmer than Exeter despite the wet or perhaps because of it.
I thought back to the year before, where I had ridden an inspired ride, on attack, feeling unstoppable (for my age and circumstances, at least) and squeezing into the top-10, even after I had burned all my matches. This year would not be the same.
With 15 laps to go, I was spent. The air was too thick and I was struggling to breathe. My stomach felt bloated and couldn’t quite put down enough power to make my legs hurt. I was losing position and questioning the sanity of contesting a wet, dangerous sprint, and wondering how I was going to move up without risk.
Then, with 12 to go a line opened up, and I coasted into the top ten or 15, on familiar wheels of riders who had placed well all season, and suddenly my outlook changed. The pace was increasing, the field was stringing out and I knew it would be just a matter of holding my spot until the finish.
With maybe 9 or 10 to go, we cleared turn one with ever more speed. As I set up for the next turn, the Spin Arts rider to my right started to bobble. He fell. I went down, along with 5 or 6 other riders. We took the free lap. They sent as back in late, in my opinion, after most of the field had passed by the pit, so that we had to sprint from a standing start to in excess of 50 km per hour in the space of a few hundred meters, to try to close the gap to and catch on to the back of the peloton, to try to maintain speed through the treacherous corners, to try to catch back on, then navigate back to the front of the field, and hopefully, eventually contest the sprint.
My right knee was throbbing. My neck was already getting stiff. My eyes were unfocused. The blood was still dripping from my right finger. I chased for two more laps, to no avail. I rode another or lap or two on my own, in the no-man’s land between being dropped and getting lapped, then pulled off as the field came through with 3 laps to go.