Thursday, August 13, 2009

Salem Witches Cup Race Report 2009

2009 Salem Witches Cup Cat. 4/5


This was the 30th anniversary of the Salem Witches Cup race. I remember reading about this race in the 1980’s in Winning Magazine when Team 7-Eleven raced there. The race was defunct for a long time but was resurrected a couple of years ago, so I made it a point to get there this year for old time’s sake. Notwithstanding what happened there, I’m glad I made it.

I got an early start from my office so I’d have time for a good warm up on the rollers, but a claw foot tub fell off a truck on 93 and traffic was backed up almost all the way from Boston to 128. By the time I pulled into Salem I was minutes from the number pickup cutoff, after which all remaining numbers were to be released to standbys. I parked the car and hauled myself at terminal flip flop speed to the registration tent. I made it just in time, and there was more than one disappointed standby waiting there.

By the time I had the number it was 20 minutes to race time. The only warm up I’d be getting today was the race back to my car to get kitted and numbered. Thankfully I did not flip while intending to flop, and it actually made for a pretty decent warm up.

I managed to get in about 2 laps around the course before the riders started lining up for the start. We had a maximum field of 75 riders and most of them were on the line by the time I got there.

We were scheduled to race for 45 minutes today around the Salem Green, which is a scenic and historic park in the center of town. The park is lined by brick row houses on the outside and wrought iron fences on the inside. The loop was .75 miles in length and somewhat triangular. Turns 1 and 4 were 90 degree angles; turn 2 was very gradual and sweeping and turn 3 was the tip of the triangle. I suspected from my review of the course map that turn 3 would produce the most accelerations and my suspicion later proved correct.

Personally, turns 1 and 4 ended up being more problematic.The problem with turn 1 was the manhole cover. It was before the apex so it was not a safety concern; it was just that for some reason I kept hitting it square on lap after lap. My aging anatomy was in full rebellion after 40 or so of these “kerplunks”. Then, just after turn 1 there was 10 seconds or so of full blown headwind which I found to be extremely draining.The problem with turn 4 was the crash, but I haven’t got to that yet.

We started fast and the field strung out. I expected massive pain for the first 10 minutes, but I have been racing a lot lately and I came through it ok. I kept an eye on Michael Brier and tried to do what he was doing, which was staying up front. After 20 minutes or so I began noticing more of the racers watching from the side of the road. Of the 75 starters, 31 ended up as DNF’s.

We congealed into a smaller and tighter group and I kept finding new and interesting ways of hitting the manhole cover.The prime bell was rung on several occasions and although the prospect of some new Tifosi sunglasses or a floor pump was tempting, I thought better of it. I spent most of the race fine tuning my entry and exit from turn 3 as I felt it would ultimately be the decisive area of the course. For the first 20 minutes or so I was getting swarmed on the approach to this turn. By the last 10 minutes I pretty much had it nailed down to the point where I was able to block the swarm and pick my line through the turn. I figured I'd at least be in the hunt come finish time. The legs felt good and I was on my game from a technical standpoint.

The lap card said 2 to go and there was no detectible change in the pace. I nailed turn 3 and was in good shape entering turn 4. In the apex of turn 4 two riders just ahead and inside touched wheels and one of them went down. I was in no danger and my reflexes told me to accelerate. This is when my ride got a little bit strange.

The rider who didn’t go down slowed up and pulled to the outside. I was still outside of him, just behind. He was clear of the crash by now, hadn’t lost much speed and I could not figure out what he was doing. With 35 riders in tow he could not possibly be stopping. That was in fact what he was doing and I was now getting squeezed into the curb. I hit the brakes hard and skidded. I broadsided the curb and heard my rims and spokes crunching against granite. I slowed to a stop just before touching the guy’s bike. Just before falling over I unclipped and put a foot down. He was alright, I was alright and the pack was gone.

I had a few words for the guy about pulling off the course in this manner before my sense of sportsmanship kicked in and I asked him if he wanted to try to chase back on. As I uttered the question I realized how ridiculous it was to think we could catch the pack.We both took off in a sprint.

I looked back after 15 seconds to see if he was there and saw one of the strangest things I’ve witnessed in a race. He was about 40 yards back riding up the middle of the road and he was crashing. His hands were out and he was in mid air. As I turned around and looked up the road I heard the unmistakable sound of metal on pavement. I saw race officials sprinting toward the two crashed riders and someone yelled if I was alright.

Meantime, all of this happened within view of the announcer’s platform and the crowd at the finish line. I crouched my aging body into the drops and put my head down as I passed the platform. I heard the announcer say my name and he was definitely playing up the drama. I finished out the lap and never caught the pack. Of the 75 starters, 44 finished and I came in 44th. The officials were kind enough to list me as "same time".

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