St. Patrick’s Day Crit
by Mike Tettleton (Rokform/Rock N’ Road)
I stood on the podium last Sunday after crossing the line 3rd in the Pro/1-3 race at the Saint Patrick’s Day Criterium at Hughes Park. It wasn’t the top step of the podium, but all the same it was a victory for me. Getting there was a long, hard journey that began back on August 2nd, when I was sitting at the side of a trail in Big Bear, trying to regain my bearings after lawn-darting into the earth head- and shoulder-first. My left shoulder sagged several inches lower than where it would normally be, pointed out to me by my brother, Jim, before he went off to get help.
X-rays at the ER confirmed that I had done quite a number on my collarbone. It had shattered into five pieces. Surgery was nearly two weeks afterward and went well, but some of the smaller bone fragments could not be screwed back into place, so they were replaced with bone graft. Think cadaver bone putty. Due to the severity of the break, as well as the need to be sure the bone graft stayed in place, riding, even on the trainer, was out of the question.
There was no shortage of others’ personal anecdotes of how they had been back on the bike after a week or two post surgery, which made me all the more anxious to get back on the bike myself, but I wasn’t about to go against my doctor’s orders. Six long, agonizing weeks went by until I was cleared to use the trainer. Bittersweet, as the trainer is just above waterboarding at the bottom of the fun-o-meter, but I was able to be active again. I tried to begin a regimented training program, but the agony of the trainer, coupled with the depression that had set in, prevented that. When I say depression, I wasn’t crying into a tub of Breyer’s watching Dr. Phil or anything. Rather, the fire burning to get back had reduced to a small flame, replaced with lethargy and indifference, and the trainer did little to re-kindle it. Racing seemed distant and uncertain, and my tan lines had faded.
During my downtime, an opportunity for a job within the industry had come up, which I jumped on. But that added to the uncertainty, being that it was a full time gig. Halloween rolled around–the day of my final checkup–and I was cleared to ride. My first rides back were in the dirt, right where I had left off. I was riding to have fun. The term “training” at the time was a four-letter word since my fitness was nil.
November, December, and January flew by with no structured training in sight, but the season was upon us. I felt unprepared, but I pinned a number on anyways. The racing was hard, but I began to find my legs with each race that passed. It got to a point where I was feeling good at the end of the races, but I just couldn’t get into a good position and I was sprinting from too far back to get a result. I wasn’t sure if that was actually the case, or it was just another excuse that belongs in a “Sh#t Cyclists Say” video on YouTube.
Fast forward to Hughes Park: it’s a flat, wide-open circuit with 4 right-hand turns. It’s great for spectators, as they can see virtually the entire course from one spot. With no buildings for shelter, the wind can definitely be a factor. The headwind on the backstretch was slight, which translated into a slight tailwind on the finishing stretch.
The race itself took the dynamic of many other recent races here in SoCal: fast from the start. A flurry of attacks in the opening laps established a sizable break with most teams represented. Given its size, however, the break began to attack itself, shedding riders who came back to the field, forcing their teams to chase. The field never seemed content with the composition of riders up the road. It was either chasing the break, or riders were attacking in an attempt to bridge. Our team was attentive, with Mike Herdman and Evan Stade managing to be in the main breakaways of the day while Aram Dellalian and I covered moves.
With 5 laps to go, a two-man break was still out and CashCall amassed at the front to bring it back. I found myself near the front in a decent position, though I knew it would be difficult to maintain it with no teammates. Coming through the finishing straight with two laps to go, Mike and Evan found me to help keep me near the front. CashCall had cut the break’s lead in half. Coming through on the bell lap, the group was all back together. With two turns to go, Mike brought me up the inside of the group, and just before the last corner, I made my move. With a little bad luck, I got pinched by two riders on the inside of the corner, and had to hit the brakes. I was first out of the corner, where I restarted my sprint. Halfway down the stretch, Jose Aguirre (SC Velo MRI U23) came around on the left, and just before the finish, Justin Williams (Cashcall), unleashed his sprint on the right to take home the W. Like I said earlier, third is still a victory for me. It was a long road to get here, but it feels great to be back mixing it up in the races again.
Thanks for reading.