How did my race go? Well, let me tell you. It was awesome! I know that makes it sound like I won, or at least made the podium, but that was not the case. Instead, I learned. And I understand that this learning thing is an ongoing process. There will continue to be barriers along the way that either my mind or my body will have to face to keep improving in this sport. But thanks to my teammates and many others, this weekend I learned a much needed lesson.
On Friday, I ran into Steve Heaton out on San Andreas Rd. Steve has been coaching me this off season. Mostly our work has revolved around changes in my fit and position on the bike. But, he has also taught me the meaning of the term “good form”. I have yet to achieve it, but at least I understand the nature of what it is. In addition, Steve has a sort of Toltec warrior side of him that whispers about finding balance in life and cycling, along with clear and specific advice on racing strategy. On Friday, I told him that I had been disappointed at the first CCCX race. I almost got dropped on the last lap, but managed to chase back onto the lead group. I just didn’t have anything left for the finishing sprint. It felt like a lot of my races last year. Steve was emphatic! He said there was no excuse for me to let myself get dropped at that late point in the race. His perspective was that I have to go into my races with a clear strategy that keeps me in the running, but conserving as much of my energy as possible until the finish or earlier if I choose it. I have heard this concept from many, many teammates and cyclists in general in my first three years of racing. I guess I wasn’t ready to hear it until now. I expect that is because until this weekend, my overall racing strategy has been formed as a response to my first few racing experiences. I actually heard some other guys in my race espouse that same strategy on the line before our start. That strategy is fairly common among newer racers. It is “don’t get dropped”.
Steve’s words managed to change my strategy, on the spot. My new strategy is “ride where I need to ride in the group to insure my best conservation of energy and my best chance to be there with energy at the end”. There are lots of factors that go into this new strategy, but more than anything else, it represents a change of attitude. I will still have races that I get dropped from the lead group, but I will no longer allow the fear of that to influence the way that I approach a race strategically. My preparation will be the chief determining factor that decides whether I can hang or not. The purpose of my strategy, from this point forward, will be to decide and learn how and when to play out my strengths in a given event.
As for Saturday’s race, I knew where the pressure points would be, and I kept towards the front for those. I learned that this CCCX course is a power course, and I am a power cyclist. It seems the true climbers (at least in my category) either can’t or won’t expend the energy to get away on the climbing sections. Perhaps that is because the guys with the bigger engines would be able to run them back down in the flatter sections. With the exception of the first couple of rollers on the back side of the course, I seemed to be able to power up the short rollers on this course as well as anyone else. On the last lap, I was in good position and had a good reserve of energy for the finishing stretch. I decided to implement the finishing strategy I had hoped to use in the first CCCX race on January 30th. Of the 4 rollers before the descent, the last 2 were particularly suited to me. On the next to last one, I jumped on the wheel of a guy going up on the left. When he blew, I went around and led the charge over towards the final roller before the descent. Still, I had misjudged my ability and the competition. As I powered up the final roller, I was swarmed by about 15 riders gunning for the descent. I stayed with them, but the scramble for positioning became sketchy in the descent. I somewhat lost my nerve for moving up until the uphill to the finish. By that time it was too late to make up much room. I finished 16th. Still, I know what I will do differently next time. I am excited about the prospects. I may not ever win a race, but now things are different. I have learned that I do not need to race out of a fear of losing. Rather, I have found the ability to race from the joy of competing. I owe thanks to many, and I continue to hope to be able to justify the confidence that so many of you have shown in me.