Articles

Remembering the Sudden Stops

 

By Loren Hettinger, Schwab Cycles Racing Team

March 2019

Long road races were the rage in Colorado during the early years of 2000—mostly on eastern-plains' roads. The mantra of these was “Long Live Long Road Races,” which included the Deer Trail and Hugo races. This latter race was daunting at 80 miles, using a simple square of 20 miles on a side. Many of the Colorado (and a few from adjoining states) road racers relished these longer races though; a chance to ride for hours in a paceline (one could hope) on traffic-restricted roads—well, at least a shoulder and part of a lane. One would imagine that courses in the eastern plains would be relatively flat, but rolling hills characterized these courses, and a headwind in at least one direction was guaranteed. My category (the oldest Masters) generally was the last group to start, as the organizers rightly figured that we would therefore not hinder the other faster groups.

The usual at Hugo was for the racers to congregate around the town park; pulling bikes and wheels out of vehicles, some setting up wind trainers, while others, including those on my team (Schwab Cycles) casually riding the town streets as a warm-up. We didn’t need much, as there was a neutral start for a few miles out to the race course from the staging area, and with 80 miles on tap, we figured there would be plenty of time to rev the engine and loosen the legs. Several of the guys on my team in a younger category suggested we meet after to grab a burger or whatever. Seemed like a good idea.

After a few circuits on the town streets and before the staging, I returned to my car, threw off a vest, and then placed a second large water bottle of something flavorful (lime if I remember correctly) into the spare cage—the temperature was quickly warming. My category, including a few of my team, congregated on the staging area road. We waited a few minutes, one foot on the ground, as the other younger categories were lead out in a neutral start to where the race would start for real.

Finally, we were given the nod and about 20 of us headed out, following a leading motorcycle. We ramped it up a little as the speed of the motorcycle increased on the actual race-course road. However, after a few miles, our paceline reverie was interrupted by someone in a pickup who paralleled our short peleton with incessant honking. All of us were seasoned veterans of occasional harassment while cycling and responded with our well-practiced profane shouts along with a few single-digit gestures. Finally, the lead motorcycle and then the peleton stopped, as it became evident we had been led out onto the course in the wrong direction, being on an eventual collision trajectory with the fast Pro-1-2 category. Thus, we meekly and awkwardly turned around to head back to the real start line and in the same direction as all the classifications.

The group mostly stayed together for the first 20 miles, but there was some shedding after the first turn and several rolling hills until by the half-way mark there were only five of us together, sharing the work at the front. The organizers had located a volunteer feed zone after the second turn; maybe at 45 or 50 miles. Slowing for a hand-up, I grabbed a large bottle, which mercifully contained ice water. Later, some of the guys complained that by the time they came by, the supplies had been decimated (this with an accusing, narrowed-eye undercurrent that those before them, including us, had taken more than their share).

By the last turn and into the last 20 miles, I was ready to be done, especially as we entered an approximate 10-mile section of fresh chip-seal. One of the guys sarcastically mentioned, “They’ve thought of everything!” I was thinking how feasible it might be to apply chamois cream to my crotch while riding. The small group continued working together, although not always equally sharing the work. Finally, the group was whittled down to three. I wasn’t sure when this had happened, as I had been completely immersed in wheel sucking--and now thinking about the sprinting palmarès of the other two. About 300 meters from the line, in my usual sneaky fashion, I took a flyer. While concentrating on how far the finish line now seemed, I noticed a person on the side of the road who loudly hollered, “Hey, they’re coming!” An official, who had been reclining in a lawn chair near the finish line—my suspicion . . . he’d been sleeping--reluctantly got to his feet. He was the only one left: no adulating crowds, no family members, no previously finished racers. My ambition to sprint away from my companions was easily neutralized, as by now I had more than incinerated all my so-called “matches.”

We waited near the line for the rest of the group, which had been shattered into widely spaced twos or threes by the course. Finally, after several more of my team finished, we headed into town. Riding in a relaxed, conversational pace was a relief from what I had experienced during the four-plus hours earlier (applying a hefty gob of chamois cream to a particular hot spot supplemented this ambiance). Upon reaching the town park, someone commented, “Hey, where’d everyone go?” Except for our vehicles at the park and a few locals at the main-street café, the town was deserted. Other racers long ago had packed-up bikes and wheels, changed into “civvies,” and grabbed a burger or whatever. One thing though, as Ed Greivel, one of my teammates, mentioned, us old guys, with the additional 5 to 6 wrong-way miles, had finally done the longest race of any category—just took us a while.