On Sunday, March 14th, at Mason Lake, the Old Town Racing Team was Willie Hamilton. Tom Potter, a rival from Olympia Orthopedic, was the speck of light. Potter, as we painfully discovered, is a time trial specialist. At the first kilometer, he jumped out of the pack and began what would become a 30 mile time trial. Folly certainly. Solo breaks are a joke. I certainly paid him no mind. He'll be back. His team foolishly sat at the front. They are wasting their time, I thought. Maybe I can get Internet reception back here.
My party abruptly ended when I rolled up to Tom Hackleman, a seasoned Masters' racer who has a mental Rolodex of racers. "That's Tom Potter up there. If anyone can stay away for the race, it's Potter."
Really? The entire race? I rode to the front to check it out. Sure enough, Potter had his entire team up there ready to pounce on anything that twitched. Normally, I would not have cared. At least, not that much. If Potter can stay away, then good for him. I will sit and wait for the end. Today, however, we had a team mate, Steve Matson who could win. Steve had won the race last week. We were not going to derail our chances at the first kilometer. I slipped past the guards and into dark. I heard the sirens behind me and gun fire. A quick glance back and the spotlights were already streaking out toward me. The night erupted with the boom, boom of FLAK. Wait,. No, that is my heart.
Instantly, what was a once a leisurely pack of middle aged men, immediately became a long strand of men and machines, streaming in the wind. The darn wind! We rolled through the front side, over the rollers that started to feel more like mountains. I never noticed that Mason Lake was so hilly until I was at the front chasing a speck of light.
I am red/green color blind. It is hard for me to see specks of red against fields of green. Not that day! Against the background of green trees that line the Mason Lake course, I could see Potter's red jersey. The speck of light! The cape to a bull. I am going to kill that damn rabbit! On and on.
Just when my heart felt as if it would burst out of my chest, team mate, Choi Halladay, took over. Choi is an amazing athlete. Technically, a Cat 5 racer, he raced in his youth and now has calves the size of small cantaloupes. I was never so happy to see cantaloupe!
We streaked through the first lap and just as the lights started to dim, Tom Hackleman came up to offer relief. Hackleman had raced the day before at Sequim, but one certainly could not tell. He powered through the first corner and assaulted the wind.
Though, truthfully, through a massive effort, we had made no progress against Potter. But, neither had Potter gained. Tens of thousands of calories were expended by 50 men chasing one. After more than fifteen miles, it was a stand off.
The disadvantage of a small team is there are only so many guys to share the work. Eventually, your team runs a little low. Potter's team mates did a superb job of covering breaks. Take note of the banner photo of bikeracinglawyer.com. That is a photo taken by the wife of a Starbucks racer. In fact, she also took the photo of Potter in this blog post. In the bikeracinglawyer.com photo, you can see our effort at the front. Tom and I are at the front and shredding the pack. But, I completely eclipse a Potter team mate and two others are right on my wheel. As soon as I or anyone else for that matter slacken the pace, they sit back and relax, disrupting our effort.
However, there is a certain truism in bike racing. In one of the few books about bike racing, The Rider, author Time Krabbe put it this way. "I have an aversion to the expression ' allowed to escape.', because it usually comes from people who have no notion of the tremendous power needed for the 'being allowed to,' but its a fact: no rider could ever escape and stay away from an unwilling peloton in the final kilometers of a flat race."
Those words were written in 1978 but might have well have described Mason Lake #2 in 2010. Into the second (of three) laps, just as Old Town began to deflate, Steve Matson shot solo out of the pack. Pow! It was beautiful. He wanted it. It was inspiring. I thought of Phil Ligget. With his British accent saying "He has shown what a great champion he is! He wants it today and when you want it, you have to show the peloton just who the boss is." OK. That is a little overstated but Steve is a great competitor and showed that he was willing to put it all out and not just rely on others. The pack surged to catch up to Steve and the gap to Potter closed a bit. Hope. The slightest glimmer.
On the third and final lap, Matt Swanson, Larry Baker, Choi, then me, then Choi took suicidal leaps to the front, making incremental progress. Matt Swanson is a big and powerful racer. He stormed to the front. Previously complacent racers who were more spectators than competitors, literally cheered. One jumped on his wheel. Finally, we had help. Men shot off the front. The wind howled. Potter became bigger. I could see more than just the red of his jersey. I could almost read the lettering of his sponsors. Dropped racers from the Cat 5 race in front of us, clogged our lane. The wind had picked up just a bit. When you are in lactate pain, chip seal might as well be a prostate exam.
Suddenly, Potter was back! Back with us. Friends again. "No rider could ever escape and stay away from an unwilling peloton in the final kilometers of a flat race." So true.
IBut Potter made us suffer. It is funny the things you think of during a race. I love Harry Potter movies. In the story, an particularly evil wizard, Lucius Malfoy, plays antagonist to Harry Potter. Malfoy, an arrogant and narrow person, scorns Harry Potter whenever he can and shows his loathing of Harry Potter even in the way he says his name, sneering, particularly spitting the name "Potter!"
The image of Lucius Malfoy and word "Potter" flashed into my mind. I giggled at that. "Potter!"
In the end, our team mate took second in a hectic sprint finish. Fatigued from the effort to chase down "Potter!", Steve leapt to the finish line only to have a better rested Potter team mate come around in the final meters. The rabbit, in a sense, had won. I have to admire the tactics.