The cyclist's own accounting of his passion for road racing should not be missed and his blog is replete with writing about cycling in general and some very specific races. I am not a cyclist. I am an observer of his preoccupation as I am an observer of all things human. But I know about cycling and races and the equipment and the garb. I know what 53:11 means and I know the ins-and-outs of embrocations because I pay attention. If it's important to him, it's important to me.
A year ago this weekend he raced at Boulevard for the first time. He did not possess the confidence he has earned over last race season. Conditions there were miserable the entire weekend and he sent an e-mail from his BlackBerry at the starting line. "*#&!, it's snowing and sticking to the ground." 380 miles away, I was his support team. I could see the gun would go off in three minutes. I knew how deeply he'd had to reach within himself to even be on that starting line. I had to reach deeply within myself to take a hard stance with him, likely the only time I've ever done it. I e-mailed back:"You know what to do!" He rode that race and during it he had his epiphany that formed his training program over the past year: he doesn't lose races on the climbs, he loses them on the descents partly due to his fear of the fast downhills. He was 59 years old, riding in a group of age 45+ riders in a field where people were dropping like flies. The rain and snow rained and snowed. Riders weren't properly dressed for it and had to pull out. He finished 14th in his category. He was the last cyclist to complete the race. The photo is him at Boulevard in 2009. It must have been early in the race, because there is daylight. When he finished, it was almost completely dark.
Fast forward to the 2010 event. Last year, rain was pretty much guaranteed, with the mostly likely precipitation predicted for the time he'd be on the race course. Ditto today. 30% chance at 11:00 a.m., 80% chance at 1:00 p.m. when he goes off and throughout the afternoon. Last year the radar showed a massive wall of water aimed at San Diego County. Check! Same thing today. There are mudslide warnings, with a chance the crumbling, ancient race course road will be mud slicked. A few minutes ago he e-mailed from the start: "Pouring." I sent back my hard line statement. "You know what to do." Earlier this morning, in one e-mail he told me, "I feel compelled to go do this whatever the conditions are now." I like observing a mad dog.
So for those who like the minutiae: On his skin he's applied a double layer of Mad Alchemy's medium embrocation for some protection against the rain and cold. There is nothing medium about this stuff - it is hell for hot. He's wearing 3 underlayers beneath last year's Paramount Racing Club kit and knee warmers. He has put on his red Assos jacket and topped it off with his rain jacket. On his head he wears the cycling cap I gave him as a Solstice gift and his helmet. When he mounts up, he'll be in the saddle on his favored Cervelo R3 upon which he has put rain tires.
Phone call from the starting line, 29 minutes to go: He's all checked in and has given my phone number in the event of emergency. He holds the phone up to the roof of the car so I can hear the pounding rain. It sounds like rocks hitting the roof! His fellow cyclist, John Rubcic, has just gone by on a motorcycle (he's doing rider support this race). Rubcic is soaked to the skin and reports that the road has running streams of water throughout. In some places the water is deep enough to have come up through the cattle guards. The Badger is watching a rider out the window. The man sits in the saddle in cycling shorts, a jersey and arm warmers - nothing against the rain and nothing on his legs. Incredibly, given his lack of attention to weatherproofing himself, he's got shoe covers on. I guess he values the shoes. "So are you going, Badger?" He says he'll start the race and weigh it lap by lap. "Can I do anything for you?" He asks me to check the hour-by-hour weather and the radar. Serendipity! When the gun goes off, there is 100% chance of thunderstorms. However, by 2:00, there's only a 75% chance of light rain and by 3:00 and 4:00 it says "cloudy". The radar shows the storm is breaking up somewhat. If he can get through the first hour or two without mishap or hypothermia . . . my computer says 1:01 p.m. He's off!
Now I pace or work distractedly for 4 or 4 1/2 hours or maybe 5. When he dismounts, he'll have to wipe down the bike and put it in the car, wipe down himself and put himself in the car, and then the phone call will come. I already have some interview questions sketched out. I'll update this post as soon as I can and we'll have it in his words when he finally busts out of Boulevard.
At the (at least) halfway point: 3:00 p.m. No phone call announcing emergency. No phone call from him to say he has had to pull the plug. The radar looks significantly better, although the hour-by-hour says it's still raining. Two hours into it. Up to two hours left to complete it. The speed will certainly have been affected by bad road conditions. No way to guess how much it has slowed the pace.
He's had to pull the plug - 3:40 p.m.: He is not hurt, nor is the bike. He made two laps - 45 miles. The wind and rain were so remarkable he barely had his wits about him to speak of it. More details on his blog or here when he gets warm and dry.
In my ears right now: The Rolling Stones. Start Me Up. Good starting line music. Good music to which to pace quickly (and dance just a little).
Something that charmed me: He called on me to help get his story and experience out. I found I knew how to tell about a cycling race. I like both of those things.