Monday, 30 March 2009

My thoughts on bike racing

After returning home yesterday from my first weekend ever of bike racing I had lots of thoughts etc about how it went. There was the first race on Saturday morning followed by a second on Sunday so Denise and I just stayed out near the race sites so we didn't have to drive all the way back into Vancouver twice. 

Race 1:

Saturday morning, while driving to Langley from Vancouver, looked OK. I say OK as in Scotland that can mean one of two things ... either its going be a grey and cold day, or it's going to be a grey, cold and rainy day. It eventuated in the latter, the rain starting to spit just as we were unpacking the car near the start/finish line... 

We signed up, Denise with the B Group and myself with the C Group. 
(B Group - Cat 3) (C Group - Cat 4/5)

With much advice in hand (stay near the front ... don't lose the wheel in front of you ... don't mess up in the corner while 3 deep) I headed out with my group...INTO AN IMMEDIATE SPRINT. Yes the main thing that got me about racing this weekend was the start/stop mentality throughout the groups. We'd blast along at 50kph then cruise at 25kph for a bit, then repeat. Corners got me too. If you were in any position out of the top 5 you'd be caught up in the ripple effect of breaking going into the corner causing a mad dash out of the other side, literally having to push 100% to catch back up. 

Still off I headed into the rain. 

Naturally I was last from the start. I somehow got caught at the back before the race had even begun and there I was stuck. The yellow line rule was in play meaning I couldn't storm up the outside in the other lane ... I was stuck at the back ... in the rain. 

While you're stuck at the back in the rain many things start to go through your head...
"What am I doing here?"
"Can I feel my legs anymore?"
"Who is the greatest sportsman of all time?"

... ok maybe not the latter but the two before for sure. You see in my little triathlete mind being at the back only meant one thing ... I was LAST. In turn that only meant one thing too ... I was LOSING. I had not yet grasped the fact that in general a bike race really only happens in the last 10% of the race. The rest of the time is spent going through a series of speed increases and decreases to hopefully drop as many people as possible ... oh and the occasional mad dash of a breakaway followed by the running down of that breakaway by the peleton. All good fun. 
... if you knew all that. 

For me I was stuck at the back in last place, cold, wet and miserable. And I had not yet grasped the fact that you had to sprint out of the corners ... so 35km in I got dropped (from last place) coming out of a corner. At this point I had to literally sprint for about 500m in order to catch back up, it is very demoralizing to see 50 people slowly pull away into the rain in front of you. But I caught back up. 

At around about 50km I had had enough. The back was no fun, the spray, mud and looking at people's asses all day had finally taken their toll and I was ready for some proper cycling. I proceed to pull out (not past the yellow line) and rode past the group, into a head wind, up into the top 5. Now I felt better, legs were firing a bit quicker, cadence was up, plus I was no longer in last ... which can only be a good thing. 

Two laps to go so I pushed it from the front. Lots of people it seemed were now feeling perkier too so I had some company up there pushing the pace. A breakaway seemed fun at one point but then I decided against it ... my sunglasses were too steamed up to see the corners properly so I needed a wheel in front of me for guidance. Check Spelling

1km to go and the boys (and girls) were getting antsy. I was up in 3rd ready for the ensuing craziness of a sprint finish in the rain. Twitching, swerving, sprinting and of course crashing followed but luckily I avoided all disaster and crossed the line in 7th .... a cold triathlete. 

Race 2:

Day two rolled around and it looked like a better day. In Scotland terms a Great day. There were clouds but it looked to me as if the sun might creep through ... and it did, turning into a beautiful morning by the time 1030 came around. Today I was to be riding with Jeremy (Speed Theory) and his friends from the Atomic race team. I was very excited to have friends around me to work with and even just to speak to! 90 minutes is a long time to be stuck at the back alone!

Off we went into the first of 6 laps. Lap 1 was carnage. Jeremy got caught up in the first crash of the race and another Atomic rider who was right beside me flatted almost immediately. Two team mates down in the first 2km. 

Lap two was much better. Atomic rider Mike stormed past me (I was riding in about 10th place) as we approached the start of lap two and shouted "you up for it?". At the speed he went past I presumed this to mean "Breakaway?" so I stormed up on his wheel and ramped up the effort. 

Attempt 1 lasted about 30 seconds before we were reeled back in. 

However now I was at the very front of the group (around 60 in our group today) so I continued to push the pace from the front (~50kph) with the other top 5 riders for the rest of the lap. Laps three and four contained two more breakaway attempts in which we were chased back down almost immediately. No one was working once the group was formed, a few times we got 50m or so but the second the group took shape no one wanted to take their turn ... patience mike patience. 

The end of lap five. 

Approaching the end of the lap you reached a big downhill followed by an equally big uphill. At the end of lap five I found myself once more at the front. Down the big hill I go ... up the other side I go. 

A small line of riders came up my left hand side but as we reached the top of the hill they fell back a bit so it was just me in the front followed by 60 guys in a line behind (a line for a bit then just a big mass of cyclists). 

I push the pace a tiny bit. The line of guys beside me creep further back. 
I push the pace a wee bit more. No line of guys beside me. 
I take a sneaky peak down at the ground and there is no shadow of a wheel behind mine. I have a gap. No idea how big yet but at least 5m. 
I push the pace more, working calmly up through my gears. I go down onto my drop bars starting to really push. They've let me get a gap and they don't know I'm working hard yet!
Off I go riding hard into the final lap. 50m gap in hand. 

Two guys bridge up to my breakaway shouting at me to go with them. I ride hard on their wheels until it's my turn to push. I push past them hard, when I look around to see where they are I realize I've broken away from them too. Pushing hard down on the pedals now I start to realize the peleton is catching, but people still fire up to try and break with me. Each time I push it and no one works with me. So the peleton finally catch up but I stay at the front and push it solo for a few more km. 

When I finally pull off, spent, the group rides past, patting me on the back as they ride through for the work I put in. Was a great feeling :) 

I didn't contest the sprint finish not wanting to risk a crash but in my mind I had won and it was a great feeling. 

I love racing and I felt like I had raced, pushing my limits a bit and working my triathlete butt off in the process. While riding back to the car two riders went past and asked me if my break had stuck. Before I knew what they had said they were gone but I was smiling at the thought of me making a breakaway stick in a bike race :)

Maybe next time!

Until then,

Train hard.



Vincent said...

Hey congrats on your first weekend of racing. Impressive stuff.

I remember my first bike race, and that sprint off the starting line was a huge surprise to me as well

Nick Gottfried said...

Awesome post. As I was reading it, I was visualizing the race happening. Never raced before myself but am a huge fan of cycling. 09 TdF is gonna be a douzy.