Today was my first crash in a bike race! I’ve crashed before, but always on my own, because of black ice or failure to pay attention to the road. This evening I got the thing over that I was dreading — my first real bicycle race crash. And I’m fine — I’ve got a nasty-looking bump on my knee, some bruises on my hip, a few red marks on my elbow and calves, a sore ankle, and that’s the worst of it. Except for my bike, which has a broken front wheel. It now has a curve in it it didn’t have before. Fortunately Hobgoblin has some extra front wheels, so I’ll be able to ride again before I get a new wheel of my own.
I’ve done two races in the last three days, and neither race went particularly well. Sunday Hobgoblin and I drove up to Hartford to ride in the criterium there; it was a beautiful day, in the 70s and sunny, and I’d just come off a week of easy riding and should have been well rested, but I just couldn’t quite get into the spirit of racing. I’m not entirely sure what the problem was, but I think part of it is that I ate too much before the race — always a potential problem for me because I’m more afraid of eating too little than too much — and my stomach felt heavy the whole race. I also don’t think I warmed up enough, but it could also be that I simply wasn’t into racing that day and so didn’t have the energy to put into a proper warm-up.
At any rate, the race started off fast but manageable, and I hung on and felt okay for a while. My heart rate was high, but I remember that happening on this course last year; it’s a fast course, mostly flat, which means the pack keeps a fast pace the entire time, with no chance for a break. I was okay until the 14th lap (out of 20 laps total), when I fell back a bit — I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but I might have grabbed the wrong wheel and started following someone who couldn’t hold on. So there was a gap between me and the field, and I started chasing. I chased the field for a lap but couldn’t quite catch on again, and finally I realized it wasn’t going to happen. I rode the last 5 laps on my own — pretty unusual for me, because I hate riding all on my own in a race.
That was a disappointment because I finished the race last year and thought I could finish it again. But it just wasn’t my day, for whatever reason.
The race tonight, though, was another story. I got in a good 40-minute warm-up and worked hard enough to feel my energy levels pick up — something that never happened on Sunday. When the race began I could feel that I was going to do pretty well; I had no trouble climbing the hill, my heart rate stayed at a good level (in the upper 160s and 170s on the hill), and I had a lot of energy.
There was one ominous moment, however, when a particularly unstable rider (I’d noticed him as potential trouble in earlier races) crashed seemingly out of nowhere, all on his own. He may have been bumped and I missed it, but it looked like he just fell over, for no reason. No one else went down, but the warning was there. Everything was fine after that until the very last lap. I was feeling great, getting ready to make a big effort to stay with the pack as they sped up the hill, when I saw some wobbling in front of me, heard some yelling, and then the next thing I knew I was heading straight toward two bicycles lying on their sides on the road. I skidded forward a little ways, but landing on the bicycles meant I didn’t end up with as much road rash as I would have gotten otherwise. I discovered I was lying on someone’s leg, so I jumped up immediately. I’m not sure how many others went down, but it was 6 or 7, and it quickly became clear that the unstable rider, the one who crashed all on his own earlier, was the cause. I stood for a moment watching him lying there on the road, feeling anger — he should have learned his lesson after the first crash and his stupidity caused a lot of pain and will cost everyone involved lots of money in bike repairs — but also pity — I would never want to be a cause of a crash and I feel badly for anyone who has to deal with the guilt.
People slowly got up and assessed the damage; someone helped me figure out what was wrong with my bike and someone else drove up in a van to transport injured people and bikes back to the start line. People were complaining about the sloppy rider and he, the poor kid, was apologizing profusely, offering to buy me a new wheel and offering to replace everyone else’s broken parts. He kept apologizing, even well after we’d recovered from the crash. Mostly people ignored him, probably because, like me, they didn’t know what to say. Crashing is a part of racing, and everyone out there takes the risk that they might injure themselves or their bike, so I would never take anyone up on the offer to pay for bike repairs, but I do hope that rider learns how to ride a bit better.
So — now that I’ve crashed I can stop worrying about when the first time will be. I imagine I’ll be a little sore tomorrow, but I’m planning on doing a long ride on Thursday, and I’m pretty sure I’ll be just fine by then.