The good news is that I made it to work on time after traveling over one hundred miles (one way) for a bike race of forty two miles. Am I tired? Absolutely. Was it worth it? Absolutely.
Saturday was the first road race of the season. Everyone I spoke with felt pretty pumped, although most people second-guessed their readiness since it was the first road race of the calender year here in SoCal. Mixed feelings about this response aside, I felt ready to go. I made the long drive out there and caught up with some teammates on the way to the race at a friend’s mom’s house to rest for a few hours before the event. They shared some advice and I got to stretch and massage some muscles. I haven’t been paying as much attention as I should be to stretching and rolling out sore spots before and after rides. After a good 20-30 minutes using multiple types of tools I had found multiple knots in my legs and felt a good burn from finally making an effort to alleviate said knots. When it came time to start, I had spoke with a few teammates before the race, and it would appear that we had a solid four teammates in our race (that’s a new record for me!)
Our race pace was very tame and less desirable. The roads could use a good makeover on our course. The finish started off with a beginner grade (intermediate if you factor in the road conditions) descent followed by a slight uphill finish causing a lot of momentum to the finish line. I used this controlled pace as an opportunity to further my experience in advancing within the peleton. Since there was a rule in place where riders were not able to jump the double-yellow line on our one-way road, things bunched up from time to time (in particular, once the course flattened out, the one hill, and the above mentioned setup to the finish.) Confidence has been building and technique has been growing alongside it. I am making advances in tighter niches than I normally would, and not being scolded by other racers for making these advances. I can hold my lines pretty well, and have make a bigger effort to hold these lines (the imaginary, predictably consistent direction one holds when riding elbow to elbow with others whether it’d be a race or not) on descents and while cornering. I can now advance while pedaling through the turns (since everyone thinks it’s a good idea to blast out of every corner in a time-trialing effort.)
We had more than a handful (two handful’s) of crashes both going up and downhill. While one might question how someone crashes downhill, I cannot say that I haven’t done that myself; with no one near me. Not all crashes were avoided by all our teammates, but the majority of us (myself included) managed to keep things safe given the circumstances. There was one breakaway attempt that opened up to a 1 minute gap from the group. Although I was moving my way up in hopes to maybe see future breaks and consider sticking with them, I was in the wrong place at the wrong time to run with this one. When speaking to the rider who opened up the gap after the race, he told me that the two others that latched on to time didn’t have enough gas in the tank to keep things going. So when it came time for him to take another effort in the front of the break, the other two followed the acceleration, but had little to contribute. I know this rider and have ridden with him outside the race setting on multiple occasions. I know he is strong, and with the right riders to contribute, they could have stayed away since the peleton waited until the final lap to finally catch them.
During the final climb on the last lap I managed to avoid a few more crashes and make my way towards the front of the race. I had made the decision to move up and try my luck at a field sprint since I was able to hang with all the accelerations the group started and haven’t spent any time at the tip of the spear. Since our course before the finish was downhill and filled with less-desirable roads, things got exciting really fast. I made it to the top ten riders and found a wheel of a strong rider who went for the finally effort to power through the downhill before the sprint finish. Everyone else latched on behind us and as soon as he slowed down in the slightest bit, everyone else came speeding by us. With the road conditions, and speeds we were approaching, I began to feel overwhelmed. This (like last year) was one of the first times I had successfully made it to compete in a field sprint. I had the feeling that I was in an Indiana Jones movie and I was trying to escape some ancient ruin that was falling in on itself. I thought I had calm enough nerves to maneuver through other riders at high speeds, but when it comes time for the final sprint, that feeling is elevated to another level. As nervous as I began to feel, I was at one of my happiest moments throughout the race. I can remember just feeling so stoked that I had traveled so far, been riding so well, and not feeling out of shape for the race (however if you saw me at the race you would have thought something was wrong with me with how stone-faced I appeared to look. My response is that one needs to put on that image and show that body language to get a point across that you know what you’re doing and other riders will respect and withdraw to you if they feel that they are not on the same skill level as you are.)
There was a small gap that opened up on the downhill to which my teammate took the opportunity to ride through and eventually won the race. It was when other riders started to wind up their sprints and bunch up with others that I began to get boxed in and had no real place to advance anymore for one final sprint. There were about two more crashes within the final 200 meters of the race (I know I am mixing my units and I apologize for it,) and I took a humble 13th when all was said and done.
Compared to last year’s race, I’m just glad I came out unscathed. The one teammate that did crash suffered the same fate I did last year and took a header into the cones before the finish. Another teammate was bumped multiple times throughout the entire race, including near the sprint finish. He managed to swing 4th place as well as the rag-doll award for the day, and a little more respect and comfort in my book.
I don’t think I am racing next weekend since the races are earlier in the day, and I wont be able to cover that ground in my car right after work as I did Saturday morning. Until the next race it’s back on the bike. But first it’s back to bed.