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I feel like I've been to the dark side of the moon…
For as long as I can remember, I've had a very healthy aversion to crashing motorcycles. Most would say that's a good thing but I've also harbored the notion that it's held me back. Certainly, it's not helped me go as fast as I would like these past few weeks, but crashing yesterday opened the door a little for me. I had expected to be sore and bruised this morning but there's no sign of it. More than that, I'd expected to be scared getting back on the bike but I wasn't. Not a bit of it.
I'd run three 1:28 laps before coming off yesterday. And I'd watched the video and I am positive it was hitting a bump that took me. Tomas Casas told me it was there after I'd come off and you can just about see a wobble before I go down. All of this tells me I can go faster if I want to and come Sunday morning's practice I'm ready to. Or at least I think I am.
And I need to. After crashing, I had to go to medical so I missed professional Yorkshireman Harris' podium antics. I can only imagine what it was like (see artists impression below). He's probably confused by the attention and, like all Yorkshiremen, likely to be sprawled out after just a few mouthfuls of the champagne. I do hope not, and to be fair, he is one of the better ones, almost capable of communicating in complete sentences.
On paper we should be reasonably close: Rob is somewhat like me in that he's the wrong side of 40 and complaining that his leathers have shrunk (yeah, sure they have) but he is faster than me. Partly, this is due to the race schools and various track days he's done (before this series I had neither to my name) but mainly due to the fact he doesn't have to worry about crashing and ruining his good looks. He is claiming disadvantage from the knee but the only evidence for that is a sticking plaster that doesn't want to stay stuck and a limp that mysteriously disappears when he thinks i can't see him headed to the veggie burger stand.
But despite all his disadvantages, Harris is ahead of me both in lap times and points and he made that very clear yesterday as he repeatedly showed me his trophy. I played it cool, but I really could use the win, just to avoid seeing that whole thing again.
Sunday morning practice means new tires, so the first couple of laps are about scrubbing them off. Oh, and we only have ten minutes. That means I've got maybe four laps I can push it. I had thought turn two would be new underwear time, but I have to say, it was nothing of the sort. I could see the lines my pegs had drawn on the track as it slid off, but a wider line meant I knew I wasn't going to repeat them.
Four laps was never going to be enough, but on the plus side I'd crashed on Saturday. If I had crashed Sunday, it would be three more weeks before I rode the 250 again. I was lucky to be able to get straight back on.
Time to race. I don't think my trash talking has dented Harris' ego at all and while I had briefly comtemplated an accidental kick to the knee, I just can't bring myself to harm defenceless animals.
I'd gone out to the grid ready and with a plan. Starting along side Harris, I figured if I can get ahead of him I can make myself big and he's not going to be able to pass me again. It was also my plan yesterday, but I'd screwed up my start by almost jumping the gun and then a brief wheelie before hitting the rev limiter. I wasn't going to make the same mistake again. However, as we hit the grid, something was amiss. A late entrant, Leah McInnes, was at the back of the grid, but the numbers had changed and pushed Harris onto the second row of the grid. Something about it didn't seem right to me but when you're under starters orders, there's nothing you can do about it.
I did start better this time and was making up some ground, but a whole grid row is a lot to do. Besides, Leah on my inside showed the benefit of carrying 50lbs less and leaped ahead of me into the turn. Now I had to pass her just to get to Rob. That or hope she somehow screwed him up. Either way, it was a tall order and by the end of lap one, I realized the fight wasn't in me. I'd rather play it safe and go for the points. I was guaranteed a podium as long as I crossed the checkered flag and so I settled back and enjoyed a leisurely Sunday ride.
My only concern at this point was not to block the leaders, and as they passed me on lap nine, I made sure I held the line. Job done, I went back to daydreaming.
After the flag, I was disappointed in myself. I had come here to race but ultimately foresaken that. I guess there's no shame in going for the sure-fire points, but I now feel I should have tried a little harder. Maybe turn two screwed me up more than I wanted, but I think I was already contemplating the long drive home more than anything.
Before that, it was time for a podium and it was very heaven. For a split second, I almost believed that I wasn't just playing at this, that I'd actually accomplished something. I had set myself a goal of a podium before the end of the series and while I'd got this one by default, it was still meaningful to me.
Standing (nearly) on top of the box is a weird place to be and the inexperience showed. Trophies in hand, our brief speeches seemed to clear the crowds and by the time we doused each other with Champagne, it was pretty much just us but we didn't care. Even if the memory fades, I'm sure I'll never get that smell out of my leathers.
Back at the Honda truck, we're saying our goodbyes. Sadly, Harris won't be able to attend any of the rounds and I'm starting to think I might miss him just a little. I'm not sure why he won't be able to travel, though he mentioned something that might have been restraining order, but it's probably more that Costa Mazouris will be back on the CMG liveried machine next time, pretty much guaranteeing them the series.
As I leave Shubie, I reflect on crashing and lament not trying harder but points are points. Aside from that, it's been another amazing weekend that I feel truly privileged to be part of, but my thoughts are already turning to Tremblant.
P.S. Thanks to Harris (and Zac) for being such great company this weekend and all the very kind offers of hospitality put forward. You can read Robs clearly more biased accountÂ here