J. P. Partland – How I Got Here 2001
How I got here
Ireland. Milk Ras. Where else would I be in late May?
At home. Doing the usual New York-Metro regional races I’ve done countless times, Prospect Park, a race or two in central Jersey, maybe a new race, in preparation for my ninth or tenth Tour of Somerville.
And I would have been at home, unless this happened. I’m not exactly sure what “this” is.
Around Mid-April, I saw a posting on a newsgroup looking for riders to compete in this event. I saw it, thought about it, and let it slide. I figured several hundred racers had already seen the posting and responded. It was too late. I didn’t write.
That afternoon, the poster, Chris Harnish wrote me. He of the post to the world. Apparently, John Verheul put my name to Chris. Verheul, a friend from my days on Liberty Corner, somehow manages to have a major presence on the newsgroup, hold a full-time job, and race very well at the regional level. Harnish asked if I was interested. I had never heard of the guy before.
Ever since I turned down a chance to be Montgomery-Bell’s mechanic at the 1995 Fitchburg-Longsjo stage race, I have leapt at every travel opportunity that has been thrown at me. Back then, Mike Fraysse, who helped usher me into the bike racing world, called to ask me if I wanted to wrench for this first-year pro team (which became the US Postal Service Racing Team the following year). I demurred, saying I had passed on racing and that was my interest. He pointed to the unique opportunity. I was strong, and turned him down. Being a mechanic might sound dumb, but the work element would have been offset by the experience of being part of a pro racing team that could dominate a race. Strategy meetings, sitting by the radio in the race caravan, small talk with the big guns. Maybe even a jersey or two. In the intervening time, I was asked if I wanted to go on a press trip to Thailand. Missed the first trip, got the second. Last year, I was asked if I wanted to be team director for a squad racing in Venezuela. Was all set to go, but the plane tickets fell through.
Of course I was interested. The Irish Tourist Board graciously provided a ticket, so I could race and write and pass on the magic of the Emerald Isle. The ticket didn’t come through until the day before the flight, but I didn’t mind the stress.
I still didn’t understand how a team could have lost members and how there could have been a need to post a want ad on the web. Well, one of the team members, Isiah Adams, a former teammate from my CBS/CRCA days, had to pass because of his impending baby. I learned about the baby last week after the race at Harriman State Park in New York. Isiah, a Brooklyn-born Irishman, has been doing the race since the early 90’s. Whenever I asked him about how he arranged it, I was left more in a cloud than when I began. I’d ask, how did you get on a team? response, “I showed up and worked something out.” Where did you stay? “They have places set up by the race.” Did you finish? “Man, it was so hard. But you got to keep on going.” I think he has finished most of the races he started. But I’m not sure.
I saw Isiah again. I decided not to focus on the unanswerables, but on practical knowledge. Don’t ride in the gutter. Don’t take on wind. If you get dropped on a climb, catch your breath and try to stay in the caravan. If you get dropped on a flat, look back for groups behind. Don’t slaughter yourself one day because you might get blown out the next. Buy bottled water.
After leaving Isiah, I still wasn’t sure of his connection to Harnish or what else would go on. I had seen the website, www.fbdmilkras.com, and was sure it was the real deal. I had been in contact with the race director and his webmaster. But the specifics of getting from the airport, starting the race, and what would happen between the stages was all vague. It seemed that all I had to do was get to Dublin. There, I’d be picked up, and all would be set.
Easy, no? I wasn’t stressed. This stress thing is a strange one for cyclists. Energy-sapping mental work has always seemed wrong. Especially when bike riding is such a stress release. I believe that stress can be a factor, and I think I have suffered from it, but the travel stuff seemed like small potatoes in the scheme of my life. I already had a new apartment, a day job that was becoming a drag, and a freelance life that ebbs and flows. Bike riding is a pleasant constant. The move into the new place did take alot out of me, but that stress largely disappeared the day after we moved in.
I assume that stress is supposed to be part of the cyclist lifestyle. Travel, different cities, states, countries, time zone changes, unfamiliar roads, unfamiliar racers, unknown obstacles. Sure, I love my evening glass of chocolate milk, but I am constantly surprised when bike racers become slaves to routine in order to improve their racing.
At least I didn’t pull an all-nighter before I left. Letting go of work for a few days or a week can leave me in a state of heightened productivity and focus for the days leading up to the trip. I usually cut my sleep to the minimum–two to three hours–so I can polish that final paragraph, send off that final pitch, add those names to the rolodex, clear off the desk, streamline my files, transcribe my notes, and maybe pack. If I have time, there’s always leg shaving, face shaving, and polishing the bike.
I was mondo productivo from Monday (when I wasn’t sure I was going) until I hopped in the car to take me to the airport. Squeezed in a few last calls, but it wasn’t like the all-nighters I’ve done. I have learned that hitting the plane blown might aid in plane sleep but it hurts down the road.
As I was getting a lift from the airport Friday morn, the driver, route director Tony Campbell asked who of my friends had been here before. Isiah. “Oh, Isiah, I’ll miss that guy.” I asked Campbell how Isiah got into the race. “He’d show up on race day with his bike and a bag over his shoulder. When we saw food, we told him to go eat it.”
Friday afternoon, I rode with Chris Harnish. Even though I think I’ve raced against everybody on the East Coast, his face was new. I asked him about the team. He was on another squad last year, and it injected reason into his training. It was a great experience and a goal to work for. As he was worried that his team wouldn’t ask him to go again, he got in contact with the race director over the fall to see about bringing a team over. In January, it was arranged. In April, everyone pretty much dropped out of going, save Harnisch. He wrote all over the place, but was having trouble getting responses. Thus the broadcast message to the plugged in cycling community in the US. Sounds like it took a while even then.
And here I am. After years of saying that international stage racing is what racing should be about, I get to find out. This isn’t like doing races at home. Every day but the last is a point to point event. And I’m pretty sure the route changes every year. This is in stark contrast to most of the racing I do, which is on circuits that barely change from year to year, against racers that I’ve raced against countless times.
One of the last times I did a race in completely new circumstances was outside of Cleveland, Ohio almost four years ago this week. I was in Cleveland for a wedding on a Saturday. On Sunday, I drove a few miles to the race. I had never seen the course, and only knew one of the racers. I was aggressive early, made the break and overworked it fearing that the field would catch us. What my competitors knew was that the course was hard enough that there probably wasn’t much of a field left and those who were left probably wouldn’t be threats anyway. I blew my wad about halfway through and faded the rest of the way. The one rider who missed the break, but came back to figure in the finale was the only guy I knew at the race. Joe Papp was that guy, and he’s now my teammate for the week.
Maybe I did write Harnish. Doesn’t matter now. It’s my ride. And a long way to come for a bike race when I can get blown out by Quebec’s Tour de Beauce on my own continent.
I better sit in.