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The deer hunted

April 30, 2008

I must have been a merciless deer hunter in my past lifetime because my "deer karma" is outrageous. I'll explain what I mean later. Anyway, the past two weekends I raced collegiate races in Pittsburgh for the Steel City Showdown and in State College where we put on our home Nittany Classic race. The night before the road race in Pittsburgh, they were calling for a big snowstorm. Luckily, there was only a dusting of the white powdery anti-racing material and off to Pittsburgh we went. At the start of the road race, the officials decided to shorten it by one nine-mile lap because another phantom snowstorm was supposed to blow in during the race. But that snowstorm only turned out to be a few flurries.

Pittsburgh is the racing scene where I first started racing. So the punchy climbs and twisty roads felt very familiar to me. A few miles into the first lap, a Dartmouth racer and I went away over one of the climbs. We established a good lead on the first lap. By the second lap, my Penn State teammate Sean Melcher bridged up to us with another racer. We maintained our lead until the next lap when another teammate of mine, Clayton Barrows bridged up with another guy. By this time the break was established with six guys, three of which were my two Penn State teammates and myself.

The field was completely broken up after about three laps and the winner of the race was going to come from the break we were in. On the last lap Burrows and I attacked a total of six or seven times to try to escape. Neither of us got away. On the last hill before the finish a guy from Army attacked and the Dartmouth guy and myself got on his wheel. Right away a gap opened up between us three and the rest of the break that looked about 30 to 45 seconds. As we approached the line, I was getting ready to unwind my sprint when all of the sudden Barrows came out of nowhere and surprised us all by blowing by us on the right side. By this time the sprint had already started. Barrows crossed the line first by a hair followed by the Dartmouth guy and myself taking third.

The following day was a criterium in downtown Pittsburgh. The criterium basically went over a long bridge, turned around, then went across another bridge. It was the most unique criterium course I have ever seen. Unfortunately, I was racing an old wheel that day that wasn't functioning properly. The freewheel would skip every time I put too much pressure on it on the chain. It caused me to lose my balance several times and clip out of my pedals. After nearly crashing a few times because of it, I decided pull out of the race for safety reasons. I hate not finishing races, but I would rather not put everyone in danger or risk a pointless crash in the early season. The Penn State team did very well that weekend. It was a good warm up for the following weekend at our very own Nittany Classic.

Here is where the deer thing comes back into play. The Nittany Classic is a race weekend that Penn State puts on for the Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference. Our Weekend featured a Saturday road race with three 21 mile laps and almost 2000 feet of climbing per lap. Then had an Individual Time trial on Sunday morning and a criterium in the afternoon.

So we start our road race on Saturday. Right from the gun my teammate Chris Ruhl and a racer from The University of Vermont attacked and established a lead. I was back in the peloton that had dwindled down to about 20 people halfway through the second lap. The course was very challenging. We just made it up the 5 mile climb and we were doing a pretty good speed on top of the ridge. All of a sudden three deer jumped out of the woods and ran right across the road in front of us. I was sitting second wheel and I had to use my brakes. Luckily, no misfortune happened and everyone was safe.

But the incident made my heart drop in my chest. I immediately had a flashback to a year and a half ago when I actually did hit a deer on my bike. My deer collision is notorious in my circle of friends and I never hear the end of it. But to make a long story short, I was going upwards of 40 mph down a descent when a deer decided it wanted to conduct a physics experiment and see what happens when a cyclist hits a furry object at 40 mph. I hit the deer, flew like superman for a few seconds, got in a fight with the asphalt, helplessly waited until the momentum of my tumbling body achieved equilibrium through the resistance of the road, then I opened my eyes and wondered what the hell had just happened.

I must say that the deer got it much worse than I did. I'm not a veterinarian, but by the looks of it, it was pretty obvious that the deer had a broken back and probably wouldn't survive. Myself, I got a broken wrist, a few big bruises on my back, some road rash, and one damn good story to tell my grand kids. Just for clarification, I don't actually have grand kids, but you know what I mean. So with those three deer in our road race almost causing some trouble, I must apologize to everyone in the race for bringing my bad deer karma. Suicide Bambi must still have some beef with me.

The two-man breakaway started to get caught on the last climb of the race. I saw my teammate, Chris, who was in the breakaway the whole race, and he was about to get caught. So I decided to attack. I accelerated up the climb and put a big gap on the remainder of the field. I was all alone with just the UVM guy up the road. After I had been hovering off of the front of the group with about a one minute plus lead for about 10 minutes, I looked back and saw a chaser attempting to bridge up to me. He caught up to me on the last downhill section and had enough energy to sprint past me so that I couldn't get on his wheel. I had been in the red for quite some time and couldn't accelerate enough to get on his wheel. He went on to keep seven seconds on me and won the road race. Before the finish I had caught the guy who was off the front all day and held the rest of the field off to the line. I ended up getting second place.

The next day was the individual time trial in the morning and the criterium in the afternoon. That morning I had a decent ride and got third in the time trial. However, The criterium that afternoon was the showcase event. Coincidentally Illinois Senator and Presidential Candidate Barack Obama was speaking at the Penn State campus just two blocks from the race course. So the downtown area was pretty busy. Our criterium course had six corners and a very narrow section. The one-kilometer course was around all of the fraternities as well. So we had a decent "Greek" fan section with some very inebriated members.

I attacked about a third of the way into the race. I was off the front by myself for a lap before a guy from Princeton bridged up to me. We worked together and got a big lead. The fraternities offered me a few beers as we raced around the course, but I figured the Gatorade in my water bottle was better nourishment. We started seeing the tail end of the peloton as we were coming close to lapping the field. That is when both let off the gas a little bit because we didn't want to lap the field. With two laps to go, the Princeton guy attacked me after my pull. I had a feeling he was going to do that, so I made sure I didn't pull to hard. Once he attacked I was able to respond and get on his wheel till the finish where I sprinted around him.

If I can offer any advice for saluting if you win a race, it is to make sure there isn't uneven asphalt at the finish line. When I charged across the line, it was only reaction to put my hands in the air and solute. However, I threw my hands up to solute and did a Jimmy shimmy-shake as the uneven road knocked my front wheel out of balance. Nobody knew this white boy could dance.

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American Jim Camut is entering his second year in the newly-minted Johan Bruyneel Cycling Academy. Formerly known as the Cycling Center, the Belgium-based program turns out sophisticated, smart and strong bike racers. Australia UK USA