Race 2: Birmingham Hammerfest

Tim Speciale - March 19, 2020

This squad has more chemistry than it's ever had and that is only because of a shitty situation that we could not control. This will prove invaluable when we finally get a chance to race together.


Dave

My friend Dave played college basketball and continued to play at a high level in pickup games and rec leagues in Chicago years after college. Then his knee blew up pretty spectacularily.

[It happened on] April 24th 2016
Around 7pm
It was a Sunday
But I’m totally over it and don’t think about it much

– Dave

We stood in my garage late into the year of 2017. I don’t know specifically when other than it was cold. He had a brace on his knee and had either just or was just about to move to Colorado. We were looking at my time trial bike; I was explaining why it looked different. I started to tell him about the starting ramp of a time trial. Beep. beep. beep. beep. beep. RAMPAGE.

I had decided to step away after the 2016 season and spent the summer floundering in Boulder. I was roommates with one of my best friends that summer but I couldn’t tell you how I had spent it.

Dave didn’t play basketball after college for a scholarship and he certainly wasn’t being paid. No one even knew how he did except the friends he was there with and himself. He was playing because he loved it. But for the foreseeable future, and in many ways…forever, he could never play it again at the same level. I began to realize this as we stood in my garage talking about bike racing while he was standing in a full leg brace after his second surgery.

“Think I should race again?”, I asked.

“If you want to man, you should.” And with that, I was going to race again.

My 2nd Go At It

In the previous two years though, I have only been half there. I was racing because I didn’t know what else to do with myself. And I had a confusing dilemma in my head of trying to walk away from something I love for no apparent reason. Training wasn’t fun and as a result wasn’t consistent or good. I wasn’t good. Races became an anxious activity in which I was struggling with issues with my body physically and a desire to actually be there mentally. When both are real, it becomes hard to tell which is which.

At the end of last season, I again decided to step away. I felt like I was forcing racing and that began to feel like a waste of time. Then we got notice that the team would be racing USA Crits if we wanted. A goal, a purpose, a squad, a fucking reason. I was in.

But I knew I couldn’t do it for that alone. I had to love bike racing again. All of it. Especially the parts people don’t like. If I was going to do this, I was going to do it right. There’s no point in doing it wrong.

In the past several months I have rediscovered a discipline in desire that I haven’t had in a while. This year was going to be different then the previous few. Right?

I guess we’ll find out

All of this talk means nothing. The race will tell the truth and my first contest, while not something I have been focusing on enough to expect good results, went really poorly. I needed to validate my motivation, my input, and my intention.

“Preseason Race”

The Birmingham Hammerfest is USA Crits “preseason race”. The race is real, the results are real, but nothing counted towards USA Crits and a primary reason for teams to go is to get a bunch of media and exposure as the actual season turned on a few weeks later.

For me the race counted. It was going to be a check-in on my ego and my actual fitness and whether or not all this shit I’ve been spewing for the past few months means anything. The race may not count, but it became important to me. I was eager to get a few days off from the real world, and a chance to start to try and bond and gel with the new squad.

The Squad

Matt Eberly, Matt DeAngelis, Ben LaForce and myself represented the returning Primal cat 1’s. Axel Voitik (a former teammate of mine), Cyrus Pearo (a former teammate of Primal Audi Denver) and Wyatt Gaulke are new cat 1 riders to the team in 2020. Lastly, Émile Goguely (new to the team) and George Jordan (returning and recently upgraded) were our two Cat 2’s who were able to make the trip.

A word on Chemistry

On one hand our team is very large – 13 strong. On another, our USA Crits squad is small – only 7. For both of theses reasons its important that we find time to ride and train together. We need to build and learn each other’s strengths, weaknesses and tendencies. There is also something a little harder to explain and even harder to acquire: Chemistry.

I don’t know how to explain what it is, you just know it when you have it. It is something that only builds with exposure, time, and openness with each other. It is one of the only things that enables the sort of selfless riding and training required for a team to succeed at this level of racing.

I have to know that when I’m pouring everything I have into a situation that may sacrifice an individual results for the greater good of the team that the rest of my teammates have the exact same mindset. For the majority of us that don’t have super-human talent, a team-first mentality is the only way we can see any success when racing the best crit racers in the country. That mentality only exists when the chemistry of the team is right.

A few attempts were made in the winter to bring the squad together but frankly it proved difficult. Many of us have 9-5 jobs, wives and kids, and limited schedules to drive all over the Front Range to meet up and ride. Some of us went to Birmingham having never even ridden together yet let alone developed any sort of individual chemistry and certainly no squad chemistry.

The Virus

As you read this today it might seem absurd that we would fly to Birmingham for a bike race. This only speaks to the velocity in which things have changed in the past 10 days. While the steady buzz of COVID-19 has been beating globally, the week leading to the race started with only 12 reported cases of the virus in Colorado. The night before we left it was reported that March Madness would be played with no fans. As we sat in the sandwich shop in Birmingham Thursday, only an hour or so after getting off the plane, the NBA, NHL, MLB, all NCAA Events, Formula 1, NASCAR, several international bicycle races and countless other events and organizations had completely halted their seasons or events.

The idea that our race in Birmingham was in jeopardy was a very real concern suddenly. As we sat in the Publix parking lot trying to plan out our next moves, USA Crits tweeted an ominous message:

At this point most of us had accepted that the race was going to be cancelled and our new concern was what that meant for our host housing. All of us had flights but they were not until late on Sunday night. What were we going to do until then? Would we have a place to stay? Would we be able to get back to Denver easily? Would a family allow a random group of strangers from out of town to stay with them in the midst of a spreading and deadly virus?

Racing is cancelled

Within three hours of landing in Alabama, the entire reason we were there as no longer relevant. In many ways, racing bikes was no longer relevant although, I’ll reiterate, as you read this today the context of the country has changed since the March 12th tweet below.

And with that our weekend changed
Once we established we had a place to stay, we found a public lot to park the van and went out for a quick ride

Recognize what you can control. Control it.

The entire premise of me doing one more season and actually giving it a real effort is a bit narcissistic. Two years ago my season was railroaded because I broke my collarbone skiing. In 2013 my season was railroaded because I learned I needed back surgery. In 2014 I missed the 2nd half of the season from a broken elbow. The idea that I would have control over an entire season is laughable. The idea that we can control much of anything is misguided.

A bunch of dudes stuck in Alabama

The race was cancelled. The weather was nice. We had flights out in 4 days. We had a place to stay. These are the facts that we had little control over. We decided to ride. We decided to use the weekend as an opportunity to get to know each other and use the next 4 days, now obligation free, as a training camp of sorts.

The Weekend

I’ve written and rewritten this post 3 times now. The details of the weekend don’t really matter at this point but here is a brief summary.

Thursday

David and Merna graciously kept their home open to us on Thursday “as long as we needed”. We rode Thursday night and had dinner with our awesome hosts.

Amy (only woman….second row) coordinated host housing throughout her neighborhood and hosted us for a meal Friday night. Most of us after dinner with Amy and her husband Lee, and our hosts David and Merna

Friday

Mostly hungover, we got out a little late in the afternoon. We rode in a daylong drizzle. But the temperatures were relatively high and most of us enjoyed it. Frankly, the dreariness and constant spitting from the sky seemed apropos.

The back-roads of Alabama give off their own version of serenity. Rolling hills and creek-side properties litter rural roads.

All but two of us did 80 miles, Axel and I bailed at 50 and took in the local scenery

After bowing out of another 40 miles of rain, Axel and spent 2 hours checking out Bass Pro Shop

Saturday

Saturday was by far the peak. The weather was incredible and although there was a wide range of fitness on the 90 mile ride, we all managed to get in an incredible day of work and bonding. Topped off with one of the longest smoothest and fastest pace lines I’ve had the opportunity to do since I raced with Enzo’s.

Sunday

Some rode more than others, we took a few laps around the lake our beautiful host house sits on. And we made our way home.

Back to a very different version of the real world

When you work a regular job and don’t truly live the life of a pro cyclist, there is a strange ebb and flow to race weekend. Leaving your real life behind to go play bike racer is stressful. Did I get everything done? Is work in a place where I can really shut off for a couple days? Is the weather going to be good? Am I fit?

Then you live this other life for a day or two. Everything is about racing. Every meal (healthy or otherwise) is judged by where in the race weekend we’re at (and what type of race it is). One weekend you may be having an intellectual conversation with a gracious host in urban California, and the next in rural Arkansas. The race happens and anywhere from 1,000 to 10,000 people line the streets and cheer you on. Fans putting you on a pedestal you do not deserve.

Come Monday, you’re standing in a daily stand-up talking about code reviews and conversion rates. You’re thinking of what type of dinner your wife and you can both agree on. You’re tired as hell from the thrashing you put yourself through the prior two days. It feels a bit like slamming into a concrete wall at 60mph.

This one was different

Two days before I left, my company made an announcement that, starting Thursday, we would be implementing a mandatory once a week work from home policy for the next 4 weeks to help tests and optimize a situation in which we were forced to work from home 100% as a company. The day before I left they decided it would be that Thursday and Friday. By the time I landed home at 12pm on Sunday, my company moved to a 100% employee work from home policy for the foreseeable future. My wife’s company also moved to 100% remote. In my line of work, and my current company, working from home isn’t unique. An entire capable workforce working from home though? That is new.

The coming months for the world are going to be very different than what we thought they would be even just a couple of weeks ago. In the last 10 days every major sporting event has been cancelled. Every race in America has been canceled or postponed through at least the spring.

I am beginning to see things that remind me of the weeks and months after 9/11. People seem nicer and more willing to help out. Politicians are actually passing laws together in response to what’s happening. People, to various degrees (though sometimes not at all) or taking communal steps to go to battle against this thing.

A group of dudes flew down to Alabama (and one drove…god bless you Cyrus, you beautiful beast) to race a bike race. The race and entire weekend was cancelled. Months of work seemed useless as races all over the country were cancelled. We cannot control so much in this world, but we can control our own actions. We took that weekend and made it what we needed it to be. We wanted to race. What we got instead was some of the best bonding and gelling I’ve been a part of in a long time. We realized that showing each other who was the stronger and more fit is less productive than lifting each other up and riding as a team.

I have no idea when this virus will end. I have no idea when I’m going to be racing again. I don’t know what the next few months look like personally or globally. I don’t know a lot of things. But I do know a few. I know that my fitness is sky high right now. I know I’m not racing anytime soon. I know in the meantime I’m going to do everything I can to stay healthy and useful to my community. I know that I’m going to stay in constant contact with the people I love. I know that I’m going to continue to enjoy my bike, because that was the actual goal of the season. I know that I’m going to keep getting stronger. I know that if we keep controlling the things we actually can and not letting the things we can’t cloud our motivations, I know that when the dust settles we will all be stronger for it. And Audi Primal Denver will be ready to race.


The Characters

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