I want to thank all of you that took the time to post a comment and for sharing your thoughts about Markus. The way our racing community has expressed its support and shared in this loss has been truly amazing and a great comfort. Time will heal, but we all in our own way will continue to bear the scar of this loss.
Ever since it was announced, I knew there was no other place I could be than at Francis J. Clark Industrial Park this past Sunday morning for a memorial service honoring Markus' memory. After a very tough week for so many of us, we needed to be together, to encourage each other, and to hopefully - somehow - start healing from what happened.
The rainy weather kept the number of racers down and the fields were smaller than usual, but nothing diminished the outpouring of support during the memorial. Well over a hundred racers milled about waiting to start the silent lap. When Markus' team, Pawling Cycle, decided to go to the site for a few moments of silence, everybody else decided to follow them, not quite sure what else to do. Once they came back, the owner of Pawling Cycle made some very moving remarks and then everybody went on the official lap. SDC, the series promoter, shared some thoughts as well, and then the rest of the day's racing continued.
It was cold and raw, so most folks were content to hang out in Panificio Navona, eating snacks & sipping coffee. Those that were watching the Cat4 race, though, got to witness something special. Brandon Freyer of Pawling Cycle won the race, pointing to the sky as he crossed the line.
Seeing the next race, then the race after that, was a strange experience. Things seemed to get back to normal a little bit - whatever that means. Each time the official made his announcements, the whistle blew and I heard the sound of cleats clipping in, it became just a little bit easier to imagine that we could in fact do this again. We could remember Markus and race as we know he loved to do.
My one race of the day was the Cat3/4 race and it was pretty mellow. I expected that the wet roads would keep speeds down, and I was totally ok with that. Being off the bike for almost two weeks, I didn't know what to expect fitness-wise, and I certainly wasn't planning on doing anything aggressive under the day's conditions. Seems others felt the same way and our race felt more like a fast group ride than an actual race. Things were spirited here and there, but once a break established up the road - taking all but one of the points with it - folks seemed content to just ride.
There were a few attacks and a couple of times somebody attempted to bridge to the break. After one of the primes I heard someone yell "yeah - he got it for Markus" and realized that Brandon was one of the guys in the break, and had won that prime.
Though things were subdued, we were still racing and with about 10 laps to go, I asked BJ whether he'd like to try to bridge - I'd see how far I could get him. I pulled him as far as I could, getting 1/3 of the way up the hill before he launched. He was out in no man's land for a good three laps, but the break was too strong for him to catch.
As the race wound down, I went back to see whether SDC wanted to do anything for the end. We thought all the points were up the road, so decided we'd just ride. I wanted to get one more hard effort in, though, so with about 5 laps to go, I took off. Friend Esteban came up to me a lap later and we started trading pulls - him doing much of the work and me fading fast. I'm not usually one to be in a break, or a chase group, much preferring to stay in the shelter of the pack til the end. But we held together until the start of the bell lap, when I came off going around corner one.
We'd gotten a pretty good gap on the field by that point, but I heard later that the break had almost lapped us. Unfortunately, the gap wasn't enough for me to hold off the pack, and I got swamped going up the hill toward the finish. The only good thing for my race was seeing teammate SDC - or rather hearing him - whoosh, whoosh, whooshing up the right side, winning the field sprint for 7th. Just outside the points. Esteban had come in 6th & I wished even more that I'd been able to hang on for just one more lap.
Despite how hard I'd made the final laps on myself, all the numbers on my Garmin said it was an easy race. But it was one of the toughest I've ever been in emotionally. I can only imagine that it was even tougher for others. Markus was never far from our minds, and I don't expect that he ever will be as long as we race here.
And that may be one of the best memorials to his memory there can be. Everybody wants to be remembered in some way, to have some validation that they mattered and were important to somebody. The thoughts and words shared Sunday morning certainly expressed what Markus meant to so many whose lives he touched. But whether we knew him personally or not, I know that every time we race the Bethel Spring Series, his memory will continue to live in our hearts.