This weekend, Mark and I are announcing Race # 2 in the Fyxation Fixed Gear Crit Series in Milwaukee. These races take place this Friday, Saturday and Sunday. We will be there for Friday to watch and hang out, and Saturday to announce, and we can't wait to bombard you with Wham!, schtick, and banter. But in the meantime, I wanted to share a few of my favorite Superweek/ToAD memories.
Otto Grunski, Super Week, 1999-ish.
I think it was 1999, anyway. Maybe it was 98. It definitely wasn't 2000. Or, was it? I'm going to go back and make it "1999-ish."
In any case, this was my very first criterium (and road) race. Mark and Sean's Patented Criterium Bicycle Race Gap Rating System wasn't even a sparkle in my eye. Until that point, I had been just a mountain biker and WORs racer. But according to the Natural Progression of Things, I got a road bike for "training." And as is also according to the Natural Progression of Things, I signed up for a criterium because I'd been riding a road bike lots.
It's always a good idea to make your first foray into something new more challenging than it should be, so it only made sense to sign up for Otto Grunski. Those of you who remember this particular version of the Otto Grunski will remember that the course featured three turns, and turn three was a doozy: about a 150-degree hairpin after a long straightaway. The course looked benign to the casual observer, but that turn always had everyone's full attention.
When my Cat. 4/5 compatriots and I toed the line that day, the sky was dark and ominous, and as we were getting our instructions from the official, the sky let out a streak of lighting and a ground-shaking thunderclap. All our heads turned upward and then back down to scan each other's faces. Then the rain came. A torrential downpour dropped bomblets of water from the heavens and I remember thinking there was no way we were going to race. But the show must go on, right?
We stood there at the start line for what seemed like an hour as the rain and thunder began to subside. I remember looking down at my tires - Michelin Pro 3's - which, like many modern racing tires had no tread. Given my zero criterium experience, the rain, and the hairpin turn, these certainly wouldn't have been my first choice of tire, but what did I know? I know that I was thinking, "I'm going to die," and wondering if I got struck by lightning would my carbon bike insulate me from electrocution?
With the rain still coming down, though with less vigor, we actually began the race. I had no idea what I was doing most of the time. I just concentrated on getting through turn three without running into anyone. You know, "holding my line," which is probably the most common/annoying piece of advice criterium riders will give to each other during a race. The other obstacle of note was the dip on the backside of the course. (Menasha's first mistery?). If you've raced this course, you remember the dip, and on this day it was full of about two inches of water. Not really a challenge, but also not something you normally see on a crit course. Though if I were a race promoter...
Anyway, with X number of laps to go (was it five? Eight? I can't remember.) I found myself off the front. I was surprised because I didn't attack - I probably didn't even know what "attacking" was - I just sort of rode normally and when I looked back there was a Sizeable gap. I though, now what do I do? Clearly the field was lolligagging, so I stopped thinking about my tires and holding my lines, and just rode hard. I remember the excitement of being in a solo breakaway. Getting out of the saddle to regain my momentum after each time through turn three. Putting my head down and pedalling as hard as I could on those long straightaways. Hearing my name on the PA as I passed through the Start/Finish. Seeing a group of friends cheering every time I passed through turn two. I remember wondering if I was going to win my first criterium in a solo breakaway.
Ha ha hahaha ha ahaaha ahahahahaahahaa!!! (Eye-rolling emoji.)
Of course not! I got caught with one to go, as is often part of the Natural Progression of Things. But even though I was gassed I managed to rally for 14th place. Which, while not all that impressive a finish, it was in the money back in the glorious days of Super Week and I took home $25. Think about that. 14th place, Cat. 4/5. $25! My race fee was covered, and I was hooked.
Tour of Holy Hill, Super Week, 2005
I should have saved this one for last because it is probably my favorite road race memory, period. But I've decided to go chronologically, and I'm sticking with that decision.
In 2005 I was living in Washington State and I was fresh off a collegiate racing season with the Western Washington University Cycling Team in which I'd finished 7th overall in the Northwest Collegiate Cycling Conference, and my team had qualified for Nationals for the first time in it's history. After racing in the Cascade Classic in Bend, OR, I decided to head home to visit my parents and do a few Super Week races. The crits I did were uneventful except for that two out of three of them ended in crashes, (I stayed upright, but they marred the finishes) and the Lake Shore race I did ended in mass confusion as the officials neutralized our race literally right before the finish so the Pro/1/2 field could pass us. I mean, as we were lining up to sprint, the official on the moto told us to shut it down so they could pass. They had more racing to do! We were finishing! No one knew what was going on. It was chaos.
I'm still bitter about that one. But I digress. (Smiling emoji.)
The Tour of Holy Hill, though: that was the race I was most excited about. I'd never done any of the road stages at Super Week in the past and I was looking forward to this one. It was hot as Hades and super windy. The field featured some pretty great riders, including Cole House and Matt Busche. I have known Cole since he was 10 years old; we raced on the same mountain bike team way back when, and racing with him in the previous days I knew to keep an eye on him. But I had no idea who Matt Busche was at the time. Maybe nobody really did? Except for his Advantage Endeavor team mates. Back then he was still just a college kid transitioning from running to cycling.
The race started fast with lots of attacking. By the start of the second lap, a break of five riders had formed that included me and Matt. Halfway through the second lap it was just me and Matt as we had whittled away the other riders one by one. Initially I was looking forward to riding the rest of the race in a two-up break, but by the end of the second lap it became clear that I was no match for my breakaway partner. Every one of those short, punchy hills on the course became a struggle to hold Matt's wheel, and by the end of the second lap, he had ridden away from me. But I wasn't going to give up. By the time it all fell apart we had already created Formidable gap and I figured if I just put my head down and powered through I had a good chance of finishing in second place, and I just might catch Matt.
Well, as you might have guessed, catching Matt was impossible for me, but I spent the rest of the race in No Man's Land and I actually loved every painful second of it. I eventually crossed the line in second place and Matt was there, waiting. In a lounge chair. Under an umbrella. Sipping a Corona. Doing a crossword...
Just kidding. Though I'm pretty sure he beat me by anywhere from four to fourteen minutes. They didn't keep time, just places, so that saved me the embarrassment of having everyone being able to see how severely he'd beaten me. We rode back to the parking lot together while the rest of the group finished racing for third, and chatted. He couldn't have been nicer, or more humble (as the fastest guys almost always are, I've noticed over the years) and he even apologized for not sticking with me in the break. I just laughed and told him I was sorry I couldn't keep up.
After the trip, I went back to Washington, so I had no idea that Matt would go on to dominate Wisconsin cycling and then become pro. It wasn't until he won the National Championship in 2011 and I saw his face in Velo News that I started to put the whole story together. Gosh, he looks familiar, I thought, and began to scour the internet for Super Week results. I found them from 2005 and sure enough, there it was: Tour of Holy Hill, 1st Place: Matt Busche; 2nd Place: Sean Brandenburg (still no time gaps. Yes!) No wonder he crushed me! He's a Super Human! Still, In my mind, I beat the rest of the mere mortals and at least one other Super Human that day.
Appleton, ToAD, 2010.
This was my second criterium after taking a few years off. And by "off," I mean, "off." I hadn't even swung a leg over a top tube for about three years. I was a little nervous, but very excited since the race was in my hometown, and I'd be racing with a couple friends, including Marky. The course was big and rectangular and went right down College Avenue in downtown Appleton, a street I'd ridden a bike down hundreds of times.
I'd watched a couple of the other races earlier in the day, and I was certain the race would end in a sprint. (A Cat. 3 crit? End in a sprint?? I know, I'm a regular Amazing Kreskin.) My plan was simple: be watchful at the front, then be the first man through the last corner and hope either Marky or another team mate could get on my wheel. It worked almost to perfection. There were several attacks throughout the race, and many Paltry Gaps formed, but this group of racers was attentive so none of them were a threat to become Sizeable, or worse. As we came around for the Bell Lap, I waited patiently as we rounded corners one and two, then I made my move.
I sprinted up the inside of the long, wide, backside straightaway and made it to the front in plenty of time to set up for the last two turns. The plan was working to perfection: Marky had grabbed onto my wheel as I raced past the pack. As I rounded turn three I saw a friend who was marshaling at corner four. He belted out a super-loud, super-long, "Yeeeaaaaahhhh Seeeaaann!" which actually made me laugh a little. I blasted through corner four, clicked up a couple gears and began sprinting. I knew I wouldn't make it to the line first because I'm not much of a sprinter, but I was certain I could hold onto a podium spot, and that I would see Marky come by me for the win.
He never did come by. What happened to him? After the race I learned that his chain had come off between corner three and four. He was Right There! But, that's bike racing, as they say. His mechanical didn't cause any crashes as we were single file and he simply widened out his turn to get out of the other racer's way. Such a Class Act. Two other riders did come past me as I faded but I was able to hold on to a podium spot.
Then there was that time during Super Week when I thought I road-rashed my...
Penis. There, I said it. Penis. I thought I road-rashed my penis. This was also back in 1999, and I know I said I was going to stick to chronological order but I've been debating this whole time whether or not I should mention this one. But hey, we're all friends here, right? And thinking about this story makes me laugh, and it's not often you can laugh about crashing.
I actually can't even remember which Super Week race this was, (Waukesha?) but it was after Otto Grunski, obviously, and maybe I was right to question the reliability of those Michelin Pro 3's. It was pretty early in the race and things were going swimmingly. I was getting the hang of racing crits, and riding and cornering in a big group. And then, just like that, I was on the ground. What the hell just happened?
As we were going through one of the turns, I was positioned on the outside of the pack. I remember looking down and seeing a double yellow line (don't worry, we had the whole road, since it was a crit.) These particular yellow lines seemed to be raised up off the asphalt by a millimeter or two and to be made of some type of vinyl-esque-ish paint. My front tire rolled over one of the yellow lines and washed right out from under me. It was as though centripetal force shot me right out of the pack as they rounded the corner. Afterward, the whole non-drive side of my front tire was yellow from the paint.
So there goes my front wheel, and with it the whole bike, right out from under me. As my bike shot out from under me, I basically hit the pavement still in the riding position, and kind of belly-flopped and began a painful slide. While I was skidding I felt Little Sean grinding on the asphalt along with my hip bones and palms and even before I stopped I began to push myself up off the pavement. When I came to a complete stop, I bolted the rest of the way up and reached into my shorts in a panic...
After a quick, but thorough examination, I was overcome with a great sense of relief as everything down there was still in tact. Both of my hip bones had some nice, deep road rash, and my palms were scraped up (a terribly annoying thing to have happen, and how I learned to always wear gloves when racing,) but most importantly, I did not road rash my penis. Nothing else really mattered at that point. I was happy. Bloody, but happy. No results or money to speak of on this day, but hey, I didn't road rash my penis either.
There are many types of victories...
So we'll see you this weekend, right?
Again, we'll be in Milwaukee Friday night to watch the races, and Saturday to announce the Fyxation Fixed Gear Crit. And we need a place to stay. Should I have mentioned that at the beginning?
Thanks for reading,
-Mark and Sean