I think I now know why I was so nervous before the race last night. Sure, part of it was due to the fact that I hadn’t participated in racing for several weeks. However, memories of the technical aspects of the BMW course played a role as well. My nervousness was not unfounded.
In the parking lot I struck up a conversation with one of my teammates about his new Felt bicycle. “It is aluminum,” he informed me. “Well, that is the bike you would want for out here!” I replied as a joke. “That is why I have it,” he said — and I didn’t detect any humor in his voice.
The ladies were out racing the course and I connected with some other teammates to ride around the skid pad circle as we waited for the full course to open. This pad is where drivers will work on their drifting skills in the myriad of BMW’s parked around the track. The funny thing is you can get down right dizzy going around and around the circle on your bike.
Taking a break from the merry-go-round, I rode up an interior road to an area near the start line. There I found David Curran watching the current race. “So, what course do they have us doing tonight,” I asked. “Everything,” he replied. “We’re going all the way around the lower area and then through the chicane,” he paused for a second. “I think there will be a kitchen sink out there somewhere as well.”
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This meant we would be starting going left to right. There is a slight grade and a very shallow turn to the right. At that point you have to set up for a tighter turn to the left that then straightens for about 20 meters before you dive down into the lower portion of the course. So far things are not so technical. However, that then brings you into a very tight left turn that immediately leads to another only slightly less tight turn to the left.
These are technical only in the sense that you must know the limits of how far you can lean. More than once I have seen riders — and have myself — clipped the ground with a pedal. The problem is that the turn is not so tight that you can’t pedal, but it is tight enough that if you don’t watch it you will find your rear wheel lifting off the ground. Other than that the tarmac is smooth and you can maintain quite a bit of speed.
My first two times through this section I was embarrassed. The speed of my entry made me lose my nerve and I didn’t trust my bike. I found myself washing wide in the turn. I’m sure the riders around me weren’t too happy with me. However, by the third lap, I just made up my mind to trust my tires. I weighted my right leg and pushed down on my left bar. The tires stuck and before long I was taking the turn as tight as anyone and riding on that edge that allowed me to turn as sharply as I could while still pedaling to avoid a gap forming.
After these two turns the course straightens for a bit. At the end of this straight section is the climb back onto the main test track. As you crest the rise the course narrows. More than once racers would bunch up in this section. It was a combination of the grade and the bottleneck that caused it. Thankfully, even though a couple of riders ended up taking to the dirt and a few words were spoken here or there, there were no “instances” in this spot.
Once back on the main track the group had a small straight section to get set up for the next technical section. This is the ONE. It is the tightest chicane of the course. Off of the short straight you take a 90 degree left turn. Almost immediately you have to bring your weight over the bike to go into an even tighter right hand turn.
The last time I raced on this course, it was in this section I ended up riding over a guy and off the tarmac. I don’t know if it is because sometimes riders don’t get their weight correctly proportioned after the shift from left turn to right or what, but it is in this spot where you will find bikes coming out from beneath their owners. This race was no exception.
I had struggled in the first part of the race getting back used to race speed. I also was trying to get comfortable with the turns. It was starting to come together and I determined I would start working my way back toward the front. Unfortunately, I wasn’t there at this point. I was in the last third of the pack.
As we entered this chicane I was comfortably on the wheel of the teammate with the aluminum Felt. I say comfortably because I trust these guys and their bike handling skills. I’m the least experienced of all of them. I always feel good about my safety around them.
So I was shocked as I watched my teammate lose traction with his rear wheel. All of a sudden everything went into slow motion. I immediately ceased pedaling and started to feather my brakes. He was unable to right the bike and I watched him slam into the ground. All the while I was trying to decide what to do.
My fear was that if I swerved to go around him I would go into the line of the riders behind me and cause a pile up. I could also continue into his bike with the hope that I could ride over his wheel — and not flip over it! Thankfully (for me), both he and his bike slid forward on the track and not across it. This allowed me enough time to brake and get out of my pedals. I got my feet on the ground just as my rear wheel was lifting due to my heavy breaking.
In the heat of the battle, I moved around the wreck, got back in my pedals, and then started to chase back on. “What am I doing?” I berated myself. The groans of my teammate had finally registered in my brain. I couldn’t just leave him there in the middle of the road! I went back to help him.
At this moment, I do not know the extent of his injuries. All I’ll say is that I hurt for him. His right shoulder was chewed up pretty badly. I hope that the pain isn’t more than skin deep.
I slowly rolled off and waited for the field to catch me. It gave me the chance to see my teammate Thomas continue his solo break (which was the winning one). Then the field came by and I worked my way back into the rear of it. I had not requested a free lap, so I wasn’t sure if I was considered to be a lapped rider or not. I figured it didn’t really matter because I wasn’t in contention for anything anyway. Our team was just trying to control so Thomas could stay away.
Back to the course… after the section where the first accident happened there is a fast left hand turn out of the chicane. It really isn’t that bad of a spot except that the cars cut the inside corner here and wash sand up on the track. I made it a point to take the middle of this turn to avoid the sand.
Once through that section you are pretty much home free as the course goes straight for a bit into two very fast, slightly banked, and shallow left turns as the main track follows the contour of the skid pad located within this area — think your classic two turns on an oval track. Coming out of those the course straightens a bit as you head to the finish.
My plan was to make it through the chicane and then turn up the wick through those final turns. You can easily move from the back to the front at that point. The turn is wide and most riders go inside. If you pedal fast you can come around their right. The only sketchy spot is you have to make sure you can slot back in once you come out of the turn since many riders then shift to the right to line up for the finish. I’ve gotten some good finishes in the past this way.
It wasn’t to be. As we entered the sandy section I began to prep to accelerate with the move I was sure would come once the field got on the straight. Suddenly, I found myself braking once again as I heard the sound of bikes going down and saw riders continuing straight off the course instead of making the left turn. I avoided a rider coming across my front wheel and went as wide as could to avoid braking too hard and having someone crash into the back of me.
Had I been two riders up I would have been right in the middle of it. I looked down and saw a 10 to 12 foot scrape on the ground where someone’s rear derailleur had slid across the pavement. As I moved away from the scene I saw riders disentangling themselves and checking their wounds. I slowly rode the final distance to come across the line 20th. Of course, I could care less about the placement — I was just glad I had survived!