All signs from the weather forecasts pointed to rain and cold. We had planned to ride to the race track as a group from the bike shop on the south end of town. “We”, being a handful of Bicycle Sport Shop club members. Because of the weather forecast, I decided to drive to the shop instead of making the 10-mile ride there. It had started to rain as I pulled into the parking lot and there were a few cars there already. It would turn out that these people may or may not have been going to the race track also, but they apparently decided to not ride there and left in their cars. Roll out time was at 9:00. It was getting close to that time and I was still in my car, waiting to see if anyone else showed up. Eventually, without a few minutes to spare, Todd and Daniel rolled up. I couldn’t let anyone think I was weaker than them, so I got out of the car and put my bike together.
A grand total of six of us rode to the driveway in a slight drizzle of rain. We took the newly constructed paved bike trail that took us from the east side, easily under route 183, to the driveway. The drizzly rain let up on the way there, but, not leading the way, I was subject to rooster tail splash-back from the riders in front of me. A good “warm”-up.
Once we arrived at the track, we had to check in at the registration tent. I’d pre-registered with a USA Cycling 1-day license, so I just had to pick up my bib number and sign a few pieces of paper.
The race clinic led by the Super Squadra guys started out with some introductions and no-brainer instructions. Instructions like dropping tire pressure because of the wet road conditions. I guess I might be more experienced than I give myself credit for.
They broke us up into groups: Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced. I went with Intermediate because I’m terrible at gauging my riding skill level; I guess I’m still not used to being physically adept. The intermediate group had a handful of people I’m used to riding with, so I made sure to ride with them through the exercises. The exercises were stupid simple and boring to me. They had us maneuver between cones to practice handling. Many of the people I don’t know, on bikes that, with admitted prejudice, indicated they were amateurs, had a hard time swerving between the cones. I, and the others I ride with, had no issue and took them at a decent speed. Intermediate may have been the wrong choice.
Moving on from the cone drill, we were instructed to do a rotating pace line around the back end of the track. I feel I’m very skilled at this due to my experience on the Nelo’s shop ride where we frequently do echelon formations down Jollyville Road. That’s apparently an advanced routine, even though it feels like second nature. Anyway, they had us take short pulls and peel off to the left side (we were going clock-wise around the track). Some inexperienced riders had a hard time peeling off, and ended up pulling for much longer than they should have. Cornering was another thing that just happens naturally for me. I don’t know why, but it feels second nature to identify lines around turns. I was told multiple times by Super Squadra people that my lines were perfect when I was pulling.
And that was the extent of the clinic. Boring as shit and things I already knew. After the clinic, they had us do a mock race around the course. It had been full on raining at this point for the duration of the clinic and it wasn’t letting up. At first, I went out with an effort to win, but then I eventually realized how stupid that was. I still had a real race to finish. There was no reason for me to set out to win this fake race. Instead, I tried to memorize as many of the course details as I could: how far after this puddle was a turn, how long was this climb, when do I need to start my way to the outside line. Memorizing a course gives me an upper hand during a race (or just a ride) since I can plan ahead.
The category 4/5 race wasn’t first. First was the juniors race, so I had to stand around soaking wet in the cold with others waiting for the race to start. A few of us eventually found the best seats in the house, right in front of a bus with its engine still running. That gave us a bit more heat and shield from the wind, but it was still cold.
The juniors race was over and it was time for us to make our way across the track to the starting line. There were 65 people in the pack and I chose a starting position of smack dab in the middle. In retrospect, I should have started on the outside (track right) more toward the front.
We started out at a relatively brisk pace. Around the first two corners was relaxing and then we hit the first major downhill segment where things just got nuts. The pace increased to 27-30 mph and didn’t let up until we were halfway around the track on the uphill section. Rain was in my face the whole time. I did a pretty terrible job at drafting, as evident by my video recording of the race. I spent way too much time in the wind, which eventually wore me out too soon. I stuck with the main group for about two laps and then fell back to where another group met up with me and I was able to grab on to them as they passed. I stuck with them until about 23 minutes into the half hour race. On about the second to last lap, for whatever reason, the guys in the front of this group decided to attack and pull away. I wasn’t ready for that, and didn’t have much left in me to jump and keep up, so I fell off on my own. My last two laps were essentially on my own. I kept pushing as hard as I could, though, because I knew I’d be yanked off the track if I fell back too much. I needed to finish. On my last lap, I could see the main peloton about a half lap ahead of me, which was surprising. I’d assumed they were closer to lapping me than that. I even ended up passing a couple of people who were dead in the water on that last lap.
I finished 49th, but I finished. Not too bad, all things considered. Terrible weather conditions and beginning of a season after a winter of pretty much no riding (or running).
After the race, I hung out to see the women’s race, which a couple friends of mine were racing in. There were maybe 10 of them total in that group, so it was pretty competitive. Eventually those of us watching the race found our way into the bus for shelter from the rain and cold. Standing around in soaking wet gear in 50F weather isn’t fun at all. I’m pretty sure I didn’t stop shivering at all after the race was done until I was on my way home.
We hung out in the bus for a while, just talking about things. Eventually one of the girls offered me a ride back to the shop in her car, which I graciously accepted. I brought a change of clothes, but I’d planned on riding back, so I didn’t change out of my riding gear. So as soon as I knew I wasn’t riding home, I changed into dry clothes. Soon I was on my way home, with a friend whose race was also her first ever. We felt very proud of ourselves and of each other.
And that’s the story of my first bike race.