Team Cycle World Attack Performance Yoshimura Suzuki’s season finale at Barber Motorsports Park didn’t end as well as it began. But, as with life, nothing comes without hurdles, and bridging the distance between ourselves and America’s fastest men on two wheels was never going to be easy.
To back up a bit, what better way to start off the weekend than with a mini-adventure? I set off Tuesday from the Atlanta airport on my trusty Specialized 29’er bound for Georgia’s Silver Comet Trail, an old-rail-line-turned-cycling-trail that runs all the way to the Alabama border. A late start limited me to just 75 miles on the now-paved line. That left a big day in the saddle for Day 2. Just how big I didn’t know. In the Bostrom handbook, planning an adventure defeats the purpose.
Next morning riding across the state line, I was greeted by a heavy downpour. The beautiful mountains and vast cotton fields looked as if they were covered with fresh snow. What a treasure! Eventually, the morning rain turned into afternoon heat, and the gorgeous, shaded 125-mile-long trail became a shoulderless highway in direct sunlight with triple-digit temperatures. The suffering did not end until I reached my destination: Birmingham. All told, the trip was 185 miles and just shy of a 10,000-calorie burn. After that, I was anxious to get back onto something with a throttle.
On Friday, we struggled to stay inside the top 10. The team was doing a fantastic job, but I’d been off the bike for a month, so my riding was not spot-on. Plus, the GSX-R was behaving very much like a bull with it nuts tied together. Saturday-morning qualifying was exponentially better than the day before. The new engine Yoshimura gave us Friday night was more potent than ever, Richard Stanboli and the Attack Performance crew found a way to settle down the bike, and Team Cycle World was only narrowly edged off the front row in the closing minutes of the timed session.
With the top-10 riders having qualified within the same second, a good launch was going to be critical. Honing in on the starting light, I botched the starting procedure and launched 5 seconds too early, releasing the clutch as the light came on rather than when it went out.
I was so angry to have let down the team and myself after all the momentum we had created for ourselves. Using the AMA’s brilliant new self-regulation rule, I fell back to 11th so I could continue without having to serve a stop-and-go penalty. Downside being, it was now impossible to latch onto the back of the leaders and try to match their pace, which was slightly faster than mine. Advancing though the field, I kept calm by reminding myself what a joy it was to ride around the beautiful Barber circuit.
Despite the heat and physical exertion, it was easy to remain focused in the closing laps because I was cutting into the advantage fourth-place Blake Young held over me. But it was also necessary to stay alert because Brett McCormick had done a nice job of attaching himself to my backside. After witnessing his overly aggressive moves in the past few races, I was certain that if I gave him a shot, he would surely try to capitalize with a last-lap move.
As I began the final lap of the race, I thought that staying steady would ensure a fifth-place finish and give the team a great boost for Sunday’s season finale. My pace was indeed steady through the lap, and I knew from listening that I had maintained a small advantage over McCormick and his Jordan Suzuki. With the checkers nearly in sight, I was surprised to be struck from behind by what felt like a meteor hit. In what he later called a “squirrelly move,” McCormick crashed into me in a desperate overtaking attempt. He was able to remount and finish the race relatively unscathed.
Because I’d been hit in the head by his bike, I wasn’t all there. As I walked off the racing surface, each step became more and more difficult. The charley horse in my leg was getting intense. Looking down to investigate, I was shocked to see blood covering my leathers, boots and even the grass. It looked like a Quenton Tarantino film! I fearfully began to wonder if my femoral artery had been severed. I collapsed, and a corner staffer ran to my aid and applied pressure to slow the bleeding. After what seemed like hours, an ambulance arrived and took me to the infield medical center, where I received immediate attention by its knowledgeable and helpful staff.
After I was transferred to Trinity Medical Center in Birmingham, a blond female doctor arrived to take inventory on what procedures would be necessary that evening in surgery. Still dingy, I was having movie flashbacks again. This time, it was Days of Thunder, as my young, attractive surgeon began probing my leg and explaining what her strategy would be to repair the damage. I was thinking, “Is this for real? The bike must have hit me in the head harder than I thought!”
I narrowly escaped disaster; the laceration missed my femoral artery by two centimeters. The most critical part of the surgery was to sterilize the wound and stitch it together in a way that would promote good blood flow, thus giving the skin flap the best possible chance to take. Dr. Martin’s thorough approach demanded 2 hours and 50 minutes of operating time and 102 stitches.
When Dr. Martin arrived the following morning for a check-up, she told me that she was very proud of her work and the rest was on me to not foul it up. Of course, I immediately asked if racing that same day was out of the question. My doctors in California later confirmed Dr. Martin’s great attention to detail. I am so grateful to her and the very professional Trinity Medical Center staff.
My trip home Monday was made as easy as possible because Scott Tedro of Sho-Air upgraded my ticket to First Class. Since then, Scott has been waiting on me 24/7 as I try to follow doctor’s orders and stay off my feet. The first five days are critical for the large skin flap that was torn away from my muscle to take. To have this stage of recovery go wrong can lead to a skin-graft nightmare, as well as many additional months of recovery.
I am so excited to see and be involved in the return of the once-great AMA SuperBike series. It was apparent to me at Barber that the sport’s dedicated fans are returning to the undeniable draw of the great racing action that our domestic championship is capable of providing. In the near future, I expect to hear European fans once again declaring that the AMA series is the most exciting that the world has to offer.
That said, time is short to prepare for the 2011 season, and I am looking forward to returning to two wheels ASAP. The Southern California cyclocross season has already begun and should provide a great opportunity to compete and rebuild my strength.
As I sit here on the couch, I hear the immortal words of Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now: “Every minute I stay in this room, I get weaker. And every minute Charlie squats in the bush, he gets stronger.”
See ya on two.