Frankenmuth Road Race: The Hunt rather than the Hunted
The Frankenmuth road race . . . pure chaos. Despite a flat 15 mile loop with only several turns and a narrow downtown finish, my race plan flipped upside down. I rested all week from the previous week’s vegetable gardening, getting on the bike for a total of 50 minutes two days before the race. My legs didn’t feel snappy but that has been the case all year; really bad legs the few days before an event and then all sorts of power when I need to use them. It’s a welcome change from the past two years where I was sore during training and sore while racing. It’s all part of finding the balance between stress and rest—ultimately the hardest part of racing.
Needless to say, all of this equates to the leg strength I needed and fully used on Saturday during the double-lap road race. My plan going into the race was to warm-up in the first 10 miles by doing some work at the front early on, and then attempt to form a break. Something every racer wants to say they were part of and something extremely difficult to get at Frankenmuth. One advantage for a break this time would have been the lack of any headwind, but it also played in favor by letting lots of racers sit on without doing much work. Regardless, I had intentions on forming a break. I also had little interest coming into the sprint finish with a group at the end knowing the danger of the first turn into town. For safety, it seemed that either the case of surviving an early break and entering town alone or being caught and shot out the back and entering town alone were two great options.
5 miles in and I hit the deck--first ever during a road event. The crashed started only 3 or 4 back from the front, and sitting in about 6th wheel caused it all to unfold in front of me. I had already started a move to the outside lane, so when three riders went down across the road I had little choice but to turn left directly into a bike frame, avoiding several bodies. Without time to think, I hit the fetal position (a natural response after years of racing) and I quickly skidded across the pavement on my right shoulder. I suffered only a bruised shoulder, some minor skin scraps and a blasted left palm (which would likely be missing had Eric not gave me gloves two minutes before we started).
As I write this the day after, my upper shoulder and back is much more racked than I realized during the race, but I’m better than the rest. In the same crash, one individual snapped his Altamira right off at the seat stays. I know firsthand because I picked up his mangled swing arm off my rear tire. I picked up my bike, repositioned my stem and handlebars, checked the frame joints and saw nothing. Even today I can’t find a scuff on the seat, frame, or anything. It looks like the damage is blood stains on my brand new white bar tape (which is only bad ass anyways) and a flat tire (which didn’t occur until hours later).
My buddy also crashed in the same incident, bloodying his hand. We slapped on his chain and I asked a few times if he was alright. It’s a necessary too evil because with all the adrenaline I’ll literally bike to the finish line with a broken wrist, femur, back vertebrae, neck, etc. I just don’t feel it. All was good though, so we took off.
The breakaway. Well I told my buddy we had our breakaway, but we formed it on the wrong side of the group (Amazingly, it’s easier to form it behind the group anyways). Rather than a lap up, we were racing the lap from behind. It made for a good pursuit, which we took up. Remnants of the group were passed over the next 15 miles. When we entered town again, some 10 miles later, we were 34 seconds back. By the time we reached the spot where we originally crashed, we had caught back on.
After, I rested for a few minutes in the back, but grew anxious. I can’t explain how difficult it was to advance without crossing the middle line of the road (an official violation). It took the next 20 minutes of constantly going up the road side near the ditch to get in the front 10. As I arrived, a dig went off the front and I joined up as the whole group knew only a few miles existed before we entered town. As the pace increased, myself, another gentleman and a Michigan Tech jersey took the front. I knew it was sort of pointless, but after crashing it at least kept me safe. Before we could reach the last turn on to the final sprint, a slight downhill caused 10 or so guys to come together in a short swell. The speed increase and decrease wreaked havoc causing my buddy and four others to go completely down. I took to the left of the road where I spotted Eric. It almost seems before I could decide where I wanted to go, another three guys went down on the left. I went back right and Eric took to the sidewalk--the only safe place in Frankenmuth. At that point, I sat up. In my mind turning the tight corner and sprinting downtown for 12th or 14th or just rolling in at 20th made no difference to me. I was concerned about my buddy and felt no reason to injure myself. I’ve seriously now rethought any idea of using road races as training stimulus. The risk of injury is so high, and many of the riders don’t seem to appreciate that. We were all racing for medals; it’s crazy.
To confirm the risk, after the race I finally found my buddy who was bloodied on all of his appendages. He was sitting on a bench near registration with a broken collarbone waiting for a ride to the hospital. I found out later that night that he will likely have to undergo surgery and be off the bike for 8 weeks. This is all because some guy came in and clipped his bars. My new interest in triathlons and duathlons has made me realize that triathletes may have assessed this risk, and developed a perfect discipline where riding next to other racers is a violation. Of course, I may just be acting way too dam old.