I thought you might like to hear about my race today. I got up before the birds and had a light meal. I was the designated carpool driver, so I took the already loaded Tahoe to my first pickup spot in Rio Del Mar at 5 am. I was disappointed to find that my first teammate, Rob was dropping out because his wife was sick. Oh well, on to the next stop. Denny's in Santa Cruz. Once there I picked up my teammate Matt, and we headed off to Brisbane. Matt strikes me as a strong rider from our team workouts, but like me, he is a cat 5. We talked about a variety of things on the way to the race, but our pre designed strategy from the coach seemed like it was going to be a bust. I had hoped to have two teammates in the race, all helping each other, but with one of our members dropping out, I had reservations about my ability to hang with the group on the climb. I told Matt that he should ride his own race and leave me to fend for myself.
Once we got to the event site, we changed and rode a couple of times around the circuit while waiting for registration to open. Once registered we got our numbers pinned on and commented on how cold it was. We continued to ride the circuit to warm up, and I suspected that the climb was going to make things tough for me. Race time was approaching quickly and we returned to the car to shed everything we didn't need. On returning to the starting area, we found these race organizers to be very punctual, and guys were already lining up in the gate. Ours was the first race of the day, and I think it went off right on time. The race was scheduled for 50 minutes and the plan was to post the number of laps remaining about halfway through the race ( once our lap time had been determined). The stated rules were that going off course was grounds for disqualification, along with falling behind more that 1/2 lap on the peleton. For me, this was cause for concern. As we approached 2 minutes til start, a race official came along and told me I had my number on wrong and needed to realign it. A guy next to me was trying to help, but I recognized that I wasn't going to get the job done in time. I told the race official not to worry, "I wasn't planning to win", and he let me go off with the bunch.
The circuit began at the top of a hill and began with a gently sweeping downhill to the right. The group took off at a brisk pace and I had no problem staying in the peleton. The road continued to sweep to the right and down, but eventually came to a fairly sharp left turn. Our first time through 3 or 4 guys went down here. I really couldn't figure out why they went down, except they seemed to not know how to turn their bikes. Matt warned me of a couple of other guys in the group with the same problem, who had yet to go down. The road continued straight on and down to a very sharp right hand turn, ominously banked by hay bales. None of the group went down here, but the inability of many of these cat 5 riders to turn a sharp corner was again evident. The group slowed and streched out and I found that as we turned up the hill, I was one of the 15 or so who got dropped. I began a very hard chase, but soon realized that even if I got back on, I would have expended too much of my energy doing it to stay there. The road was heading steadily upward and I resigned myself to settling into a pace that I could maintain. There were a variety of riders around me coming to the same conclusion, and for now we continued on as individuals whose egos were bruised but not broken. I was somewhat apprehensive to see that both of the guys that Matt had warned me of earlier were in this group with me. As we got bake to the end of the first lap, I realized that none of this group was any stronger than I, and that our only hope to work ourselves back into the race was to work together as a team. I tried to take the lead in this, but there were only a couple of guys willing to work together. The rest were still riding as individuals and attacking us. The three of us who were working together, chased down all of the attacks and continued on for several laps. At one point I tried to give one of these individuals some guidance on how to approach the corners. He thanked me and ask if it showed that this was his first race. I laughed and told him that it was probably all of our first race. Somehow, I think this dejected him and he dropped out soon thereafter.
As we continued to circle the circuit, we overtook a number of riders and found others on the side of the road who had dropped out. Our group picked up a few stronger riders and continued to work sporadically as a team to get back in the race. I was concerned that we were falling too far behind, but we didn't get waved off the track. As we entered the bell lap, I knew that there would be some attacks. I decided to sit back and wait as long as I could for the important one. First, a big guy took off on the downhill, but I wasn't worried about him because he couldn't corner and he couldn't climb. I just let the rest of our group pull me back onto him. A couple of more moves amounted to nothing by the time we were halfway up the final climb. But then two of the stronger riders that we had picked up from the late drops made a move. I told the one guy I had been working with most closely that we needed to chase that one down. He took off with me on his wheel and we ran them down. My boy had burned his matches though in getting us up to them, and as I looked around, I saw that there were still a number of guys hanging with us. I could see the shadow of one dude on my wheel and decided to wait for him to make his move before making mine. In one way, that was the right thing to do, but it probably cost me a place at the finish. As the guy came around me on my left, a kid came around him to his left. I went right away, but the kid had a good sprint and too much of a head start for me to catch him by the line. Pissed me off. I would have nailed him, but I failed to mark him and actually don't even know how long he had been riding with our group. My mistake on that one, but I did have plenty of juice to take second in our group's sprint. It felt like I hadn't finished last, and I knew I hadn't crashed. So, in at least those two ways, I had exceeded my expectations for this race.
I found Matt and was told that he had been feeling pretty good as second wheel on the next to last lap. Unfortunately, he was dropped shortly thereafter, but continued to ride strong enough to finish 18th out of 63 registered entrants. I think they had about 8 no shows and a number of riders who were disqualified for falling too far behind. Of the 45 finishers, I placed 30th, and was actually quite pleased to do so.
My review of my strengths and weaknesses in this race leads me to several conclusions. The first is that training under Mark's direction will help me to continue to improve my strength and fitness. I continue to be impressed with his professionalism and the comaraderie that he has fostered among the team, although I expect he may at times wonder why Ed has saddled him with this fat guy. This leads me to my second conclusion, which is that I believe that if I continue with this training and additionally continue to adjust my body composition ( lose weight), that I will be able to hang with and begin to deal out some punishment in at least this level of race. I also think I have to focus on my group riding skills, so that I can become more comfortable being in the middle of a pack as well as learning how to move through a group. My descending and cornering skills were better than most of the riders I was faced with today, but I was possibly dropped earlier than I should have been because I am not comfortable enough in the group. I also think that my strength and fitness were equal to the group. I was never really pushed by the guys I ended up riding with, and I think it is only my power to weight ratio that kept me from being able to keep up with the leaders.
All in all, it was a fun day. I learned a lot by racing and by watching the later race with 8 of the team members in it.