Saturday, July 31, 2010

Chicagoland Inline Marathon

Skating – Still a gentleman’s sport.

There’s been a lot of talk recently about Contador’s choice to not wait on Andy Schleck, who dropped a chain during this years’ TDF. I get both sides of the discussion. I get the whole “unwritten rule, show some respect, nobody wants to win on somebody else’s bad luck” argument. I also get the other side of it where Contador had to worry about his other rivals, and that it was ultimately Schleck’s fault. If he would have had a chain catcher like some of the other guys, he wouldn’t have had the mechanical issue.

Anyway, the situation has caused people to say that cycling is no longer a gentleman’s sport. While I don’t have further comments on that, I do have to say that speed skating, at least at the Chicagoland inline marathon, demonstrated that it still very much is. In fact, there were 3 distinct situations in the race where this was proven.

The race started off very fast. It was reminiscent of a Duluth race start. Justin Stelly was the one setting the pace I believe. Alex had a poor start. I don’t think he had his head in the game. He’s been skating really well lately so it’s not like he didn’t have the ability. It just kind of happened that he got stuck in the wrong spot at a very fast time and was bounced off the back of the main field early.

Roger Schneider, Olympic athlete and inline marathon world record holder, was moving up on the right side of the field in a narrow part of the course and caught skates with Olivier Jean (part of the Canadian gold medal Olympic short track team) and Olivier went down hard.

I’m sure Olivier is a really nice guy (and I was cheering for him at the Olympics), but for whatever reason, a few of us didn’t want to see him win. I guess it was just a form of nationalism. I’d rather see an American athlete win. We could have went on the attack when he hit the ground, but instead we steadied the pace and Olivier caught back on so we could try to beat him the right way, which I believe is the right thing to do.

Later on that first lap Olivier, Justin Stelly, and Marisio Garcia all missed a turn near the start finish line. Justin and Marisio were the top 2 overall in the stage race. Again, the rest of the field could have taken off and made the 3 work very hard to catch, but everyone knew it wasn’t right so the pack stood up.

This was pretty important to my race because it was the lull that helped Alex catch up. He’s not a quitter. He’ll go all out until he gets back on no matter how far back he gets. Before Alex was there, I couldn’t take a pull. If I did I’d basically be pulling the field away from Alex, and it was my job at this race to make sure Alex finished high enough up so that he could get 4th overall while I stayed in 3rd.

On the second lap the 3rd sign of sportsmanship came when Justin Stelly’s front wheel came loose. He was trying to tighten it with his thumb and other skaters would help hold him up and push him so that gaps didn’t open up. After a few miles he was able to get a wrench handed up and all the other favorites didn’t attack while he tightened his wheel on the go. For the 3rd time in one race I was really impressed at how polite people were skating.

That’s not to say the whole race was just boring, group hug. Sergio had a couple hard attacks. Justin spent the majority of the race up front holding the pace high. On the last two laps Olivier kept trying to get away but it wasn’t sticking.

I really would have liked to help a breakaway stick, but the “perfect” group never formed. Like I said before, I needed to get Alex to finish ahead of a few certain people. That meant if Alex wasn’t in the break then I wasn’t working. The other factor was that almost every move consisted of the fastest guys in the race that I was most worried about in the sprint. Even if one of the breaks would have stuck, the end result would have probably been the same.

In the second to last corner I got in a bad spot. I was in 6th place. I wanted to be about 3rd at that point, but an attack on the downhill messed up my plan. My next thought was to come from the back and start the sprint early and hope that it was a big enough surprise that I could hold most of the guys off. Unfortunately, the sprint started even earlier than I had planned on going. I was expecting about 200m to go. It started with over 500m to go coming out of the final turn. There was a gap in front of the guy I was following. I tried to go around him on the outside of a right hand bend but I didn’t have the speed to close the gap in front of us. I was able to pass him and so was Alex, which allowed us to keep our 3rd and 4th overall spots for the tour, but it was only good for a 5th and 6th in the marathon. We were reeling in Roger Schneider, but that gap was just too much to close. Justin ended up taking the win, which is awesome for the US. The top 4 spots were all taken by different countries (US, Colombia, Canada, Switzerland).

I’m really hoping that a similar group shows up to St Paul next weekend. It’s just a half marathon so I expect to pace to be fast. Outdoor nationals starts right afterwards, so I suspect a lot of the top US skaters won’t be there. I guess that means the pressure is really on the shoulders of Alex and I.

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