Monday, March 17, 2008

My First Road Race

This past weekend I tried my first road race, a Kenosha crit. With some complex and unreasonable reasoning, I decided to do the men’s Cat 4 race instead of the women’s race. Some reasons were legitimate, like wanting to work with a larger pack and have a lot of teammates present. Other reasons, like wanting to sleep in (9:00 vs. a 1:30 start time), were maybe a little less so. Regardless of reasoning, I had committed myself to doing my first road race as a Cat 4 man. As the day approached, I was doubting my decision and my ability to hang with the pack.

In the week leading up to the race I practiced using brifters. I had never used them before, so I rode a few times to get used the modern wonders. Luckily, the bike I borrowed (Cale’s cyclocross bike, tricked out for road racing) was a great fit, so I didn’t have to contend with anything else. Soon enough, Sunday morning dawned. We made good time to Kenosha and I warmed up with a few of the guys in an empty parking lot while we waited to take a warm up lap on the course. After the race ahead of us finished, we rolled around the course a few times before lining up.

I got myself in about the middle of the line up by some other Pegasus riders and looked around: no other women. They had all possessed the strength to wake up early on a day off. I went over my notes: don’t hesitate to jump with the pack or you will be left. Don’t let up, and stay with the pack as long as you can. Michelle and some of the other spectators yelled some encouraging comments, while teammates teased me about my less-than-aero choice of big ol’ cycling boots. I took comfort in the fact that, no matter how I did, I would have warmer toes than most of the field by the end.

Before I had time to get nervous, we were off. I clipped in quickly and followed the rider in front of me to the first corner. I made sure to stay up with the pack and tried to get a feel of the race. Would it be a fast race? How long could I hang on? Would there be a slow pace with bursts of speed from riders trying to break from the pack? There were so many unknowns, but I stuck to what I knew: no hesitating, and try to stay in the middle of the pack so as not to get dropped if I fell back a little. Survival tactics more than race tactics.

Soon enough I figured out where my trouble spots would be and where I could make up lost ground. I stayed sharp and watched the pack around corners- sometimes they surged, which was one of my favorite parts. Flowing around a turn, leaning over and pedaling with strong strokes, pushing to accelerate out of the corners was definitely a highlight, and I was pleased to find I could keep up without really killing it. Another good spot was the downhill after the first turn. I would shift down and make up a little ground if I needed to, and more than once I tucked myself into the pack a little better in this stretch.

One of my least favorite areas was after the second turn. There were manholes covered with plywood on this stretch that I wanted to avoid. One of them got broken and uncovered, and I was usually on the outside, riding right past or over them. It wasn’t too bad, but I concentrated more on keep an eye on them than the pack, which is what I needed to stay sharp on. As for other stink areas, the rise on the last stretch, of course, wasn’t really near to my heart either.

To my surprise and delight, I managed to keep hanging on to the pack. Twenty minutes or so into the race, I fell back for about a third of a lap. I was getting tired and the pack, which had surged, was slowly getting away. I knew I had to go after them, little as I wanted to expend the energy. If I didn’t catch them, I’d be expending a lot more riding alone. I went into a corner and kicked it up one more gear, really pushing to catch them. In a stroke of luck, the pack slowed a bit and I was able to get in again and look just as cool as ever, skirt flowing as I passed our spectators (all for you, guys!).

I was hanging in, and wondering how I was pulling it off. A little work, a little luck, but certainly I couldn’t keep it up. When the officials called out the third to last lap, I was sure I would be left in the dust. Thankfully, this only happened in the last half of the last lap. The pack surged and honestly, I was tired. As tempting as it was to try to beat those who had laughed at my boots (your day will come!), I had achieved what I had wanted to achieve, and I was also wary of a crash in the sprint to the finish. I had survived the road race and was not going to push my luck, being as I don’t have insurance at this point. Both good excuses for not kicking it in, right?

I had a good time doing the race, but I don’t know if I’m so much the road racing type. I do want to try a few more races with the women, but after that I think my curiosity might be satisfied.

As a last note, I want to thank one of my coworkers, Craig, for giving me a rear wheel to use. I would have been hard pressed to find one otherwise, and I really appreciated it. This isn’t the first time he’s bailed me out, either. So many times I get help from people, on the team or not, and I’m really grateful for it.