Aachen All Over
Although I recognised one or two riders there were a lot of unknown quantities in this afternoon's field. The circuit is very tight too and I'm sure a lot of the spectators were here hoping for a few spills on Aachen's cobbles. There is one good thing riding for Apollinaris, we usually get to start near the front as they line us up alphabetically.
“This is gonna be fast and furious.” I mentioned to Roni beside me.
“There's not many girls.” She noted.
It was true, whilst there aren't generally a lot today Roni was virtually alone.
“Just the two of us.” She went on.
Before I could say anything the starter was calling us to the line.
A good start would be essential so the pair of us leant against each other and clipped ourselves in, at least we'd get away cleanly.
“Drei, zwei, eines go!”
The starting pistol sounded and amidst a clatter of pedals, cleats and cusses we were on our way. The circuit starts outside of the Rathaus before descending down to the Dom. Then we started the climb across Münster Platz before tackling the narrow cobbled lane back up to the Marktplatz, not long but fast and furious.
It was every man or girl for themselves as we plummeted down behind the Rathaus; we seemed to reach the chicane into the Münster Platz in mere seconds. At least being at the front I could pick my own line, then across the square and onto the cobbles. Flippin' things! I found the left hand gutter and stood up on the pedals to keep the momentum going. It seemed like eternity before we broke back into the Marktplatz to complete the first lap.
Don't runaway with the idea that I was alone at the front, not by any definition, in fact I was just one of about a dozen frontrunners. I only hope Roni is safe behind us. No time to think too hard just now, we started the descent for the second time in barely three minutes, this time I had to concede the lead to a big Belgian lad. At least all my companions seemed pretty competent so apart from a bit more use of the brakes I felt fairly secure in their company.
We were soon clattering our way upwards again, this really is gonna be a race of attrition. I reckon another two laps before something snaps and things settle down a bit; I just hope I can hang on in here. The crowds were quite vocal and enthusiastic, this is pretty cool, hard but cool.
My guess was pretty accurate, on our fourth ascent the pace was noticeably slower, for which I was grateful. The back markers were only just clearing the square as we entered it and a quick check around me revealed a reduced group of about seven or eight, all looking as smashed as I felt after the super fast start.
I took the opportunity to get a sip of energy drink before leading our group back down the hill. I tried to slow my breathing, to relax a bit but all too soon we were back on the cobbled ascent and my heart was back to trying to exit my chest. The tail enders were mere meters ahead at the top and lapped before we headed downhill again.
Ahead of us we could see more riders singly or in small groups gamely tackling the circuit, oblivious to our impending arrival from behind. Our more relaxed pace meant we didn't gain quite so quickly on the descent but I guess it was inevitable we'd gain on the climb. I guess we were on about lap ten; I was sitting in a fourth place on the descent confidently following a wheel.
I flipped my wheel to the right only to find myself hard on the barriers with no place to go. Oh sugar! The next thing I knew was the sensation of flying before a softer than expected landing. It all happened so quickly that I had no idea what really resulted in my unexpected aerial display. A quick body check revealed no apparent breakages and in the ensuing confusion I dragged my steed out of the tangled mess filling the width of the circuit. A quick look, nothing seemed too out of shape and I clambered on and set off again.
Starting from dead at the bottom of the cobbles meant I needed the low gears and despite several attempts it was clear that something was amiss. Not only that but my back wheel was rubbing the brake something chronic, I reached back and opened the brake, which helped some. I had no idea where I was in the race so I just dragged myself to the top where Dad had my spare wheels.
Now there's a thing unique to crits where you can take a lap out for mechanical trouble and I signalled to do that.
“Whoa, what happened?” Dad asked catching me as I stopped.
“Crash at the bottom corner, back wheel's knacked and the gears are playing up.”
Like the pro he's become Dad quickly swapped the wheel and with a bit of brute force had the gears closer to the right alignment than they started.
“You okay kiddo?”
“Bit sore.” I mentioned as I climbed back on board to await my restart. Yeah I'm gonna have some luvverly bruises tomorrow.
Dad wiped my face and I took a few deep breaths.
“Go now.” The official directed.
Dad gave me a push start and I got my legs going again as the big Belgian from earlier came past. I sprinted onto his wheel and looked around to see who else was here. Erm, no one apparently. My companions ripped shorts and bloodied leg was testament to his inclusion in the tumble and we descended with a lot more caution than earlier on.
Crash corner was clear of wreckage and bodies and we swung onto the cobbles with a bit more confidence. My gears were still not right but I had enough range to get me up the hill providing I kept to the smoother surface of the gutter. By now there were bikes all around the circuit, I hadn't seen Roni since the start so I guess she's still out here somewhere.
The pair of us took turns at the front for the next seven or eight laps then as we crossed the line the bell was sounded and I spotted Roni. One to go but I had no idea what place in the race we were riding for. Well I was going to finish in front of my companion, that decided I had a plan.
I took off like a blue arsed fly, which took him by surprise; throwing caution to the wind once more I churned my big gear down the hill. Left, right, careful, left and I was on Roni's wheel.
“Block for me.” I gasped as I took her.
To look back is to lose so I flicked down a sprocket and mentally crossed my fingers as I joined the cobbles for the last time. Come on Drew, you can do it. The first signs of red haze started to cloud my vision then I was at the top, my mind blank to anything other than getting to the line. I was vaguely aware of Dad shouting encouragement and a lot of cheering then I was over the line and done.
I found myself starting another descent but now I was freewheeling, sheesh so much effort and I bet I've not made the top ten after that crash. I was on my way back up the cobbles before Roni came back up to me.
“Way to go Drew!”
“Well it was good training.”
“Training, schmaning.” She giggled.
“You don't know do you?”
“Know what?” I dropped into the 42 ring.
“You won dumkopf.”
“Get off, I must've been at least tenth.”
“Well why were they declaring you the winner when I got to the finish?”
“And thanks for passing me, you saved me racing another lap.”
I goldfished for a moment before returning my efforts to climbing up to the Rathaus again.
“Ersten platz, Drew Bond, Team Jüngere Apollinaris.”
I winced as I climbed onto the podium, that really is gonna bruise.
The crowd were enthusiastic in their appreciation and I gave a cheesy grin as I received my rewards. My bloodied companion took second and another Belgian lad grabbed third. Despite me lapping her, Roni was awarded first girl, which brought a grin to her face.
“Ouch!” I winced as I pulled my skinsuit off, dunno ‘bout hurt later, it hurts just a bit right now. Wrapping a towel round me I sat back on the bench.
The facilities were a little unusual, well different; the organisers had rented some mobile changing rooms, complete with showers, which were located in a service yard behind the Galleria. The showers were all individual cubicles and that's where I was now.
“You okay Drew?” Roni enquired from a couple of doors down.
“A bit bruised, oh bum my skinsuits ripped.”
“You'll feel better after a shower.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
The hot water was nice, certainly my aches eased somewhat and I luxuriated under the stream for way too long.
“Just checking you were okay, you've been in there like half an hour.” Roni advised.
“Just getting dressed, ow!”
“You sure you're okay?”
“Er not really but its, um a bit embarrassing.”
“Your trousers are split?”
“Don't be daft, no I um have a big bruise on my hip and my jeans are too tight there, it's a bit er painful to say the least.”
“Hang on, I've got an idea.” Roni advised.
She returned a couple of minutes later.
“Here,” a garment came over the door, “put that on it should be more comfortable.”
I shook out the vaguely warm bundle.
“It's a dress.”
“Roni!” I moaned.
“It'll be more comfortable than your jeans.”
“Its not like you never wear dresses is it?”
How can you argue with that logic? I've seen Roni in this particular dress at least once before and if I'm not mistaken she was wearing it a few minutes ago. At least it's not too revealing.
“I guess.” I sighed in resignation.
I took off my t-shirt and slipped the dress over my head and pulled it into place. Well I was dressed and my hip wasn't being constricted, I'm sure I'll live. I soon had my trainers on and I pulled my Apollinaris trackie top on, I might be wearing a dress but I am not enjoying it.
“There you are.” Roni greeted me, “looks better on you than me.”
I gathered my kit up and followed Ron outside.
“Your Dad is taking us home, Mums doing dinner for everyone.”
I was a bit surprised, Mettmann is hardly on the way home, in fact it's like a two-hour diversion even if we don't stop. Still, it gets me out of cooking tonight.
“There you are, we thought you'd drowned.” Dad noted.
“Nice skirt.” Bernie mentioned.
“It's a dress.” Roni corrected.
“My side hurts.” I supplied as way of explanation, “and my jeans were pressing on the bruises.”
“I never said anything.” Dad told us.
“You look very nice Drew, that colour suits you.” Frau Grönberg put in, “Roni has one just like it.”
“It is mine mum.” Roni advised her mother, “Drew's just borrowing it.”
It was a bit embarrassing walking through the car park back to the Saab, I was getting a few strange looks, looks I'm not sure I wanted pointing at me.
“See I told you it was a girl.”
“Now I really am depressed Jo, she just left me on that last lap.”
“I wouldn't mind a bit of that even if she did thrash us today.”
“You'll need to get in the queue, she's probably got half of Germany lusting over her.”
“And Belgique now too.”
to be continued....
Maddy Bell 12.07.09 © 2009