With the much appreciated encouragement of many teammates, I signed on for my first road race ever at Parkside. Racing seems pretty easy to jump into for some people, but for me, I was worried about being pushed around in the pack, having a "squirelly" dude take me out, crashing a bike I like and being bloodied for work on Monday. I think I used this excuse with Bob more times than I have fingers. But a second worry about racing is that I didn't want to fail - to have the pack ride away from me, to get shoved out of the group and into the gutter, to feel like an idiot.
So with those thoughts running through my head, I took in the volumes of commentary throughout the forum. Everyone had a rough plan - some planned to break away with 5-8 laps to go, there was talk about trying to form a leadout train for Ansgar (who didn't need one at all, it turns out), others wanted to test "camp sore" bodies, etc. I had no idea what I wanted to accomplish, other than to finish with my new XXX kit still in one piece.
And so the day began, with a well timed and appropriate warm-up, following the schedule outlined by Eve, Ellen and others. That was a huge help, thank you! I felt good, until I rolled up to the start line, about 3 wheels back, kinda in the middle left of the pack. I looked around, and saw our whole team on the far right, right up on the line, all together. Crap, I was blowing it already.
So the horn goes, I clip in (on the second attempt), tried not to run over the 12 year old right in front of me, and not get run over by the 45 year old behind me. Somehow, I made it through the first turn without going down. Then up the hill, and the pace wasn't killing me, then down the backstretch the pack lined out a little and there was more room - maybe I'd be OK.
We go around once, and past the screaming crowd (thank you Stewart, Ellen, Lindy) and up the hill again. People are starting to sit up already, the pack is bunching and I'm getting pushed inside, inside with space getting tighter and tighter. So I decide to see if anyone will jump if I make a break in the second lap. I come by, no one says a thing, and no one comes with me. I know I can't go solo for the next 45 minutes, but to get no reaction at all? I guess they all know something I don't, but I did learn how much effort it takes to get away.
So I settle in, look for friendly faces and work to keep close enough to the front to avoid crashes. I have a couple nice conversations with Mark, Mike, Luke, Ansgar. That's fun. I watch teammates riding clean, straight lines, and making breaks off the front. We're clearly the strongest team in the race, and we're nice guys too - cool.
But then I realize, after 30 minutes of riding, that I've been sitting in the wind on the inside while everyone else is sheltered nicely in the pack. Oops, that's gonna hurt later.
I try to get on a wheel, but the further I got into the pack, the further back I got pushed when guys would come by the outside. I hear Rick can stay in the draft and in the same position in the pack - I gotta ask him how, cuz the wind is tiring, but so is the accordion at the back.
As the race progresses, I think about the things I've read in the forum:
George - take care of your front wheel, if you overlap, you will crash and it'll be your fault.
Ellen - if your bars are ahead of the person next to you, they'll go down in contact, not you.
So I worked to keep on the wheel ahead of me, and fill gaps moving forward. That seemed to work well, and was made better if I moved confidently and decisively.
And with two laps to go, I decided to move up to see if I couldn't position myself for the scrum at the end. I got there on turn 2 with a lap and a half to go, by dodging a couple indecisive folks and aggressively filling a gap to the inside. I'd like to think I could make a cleaner move forward next time, but I protected my wheel and was decisive, which kept me upright in this case.
So here comes the finishing turn, I'm on the inside, 3rd wheel and I realize that the two wheels ahead of me are duds. They fizzle like the 30 cent firecrackers I bought at Mars Cheese Castle.
So it's me, in the wind coming out of the turn with the whole straightaway ahead. I give it what I've got, but I'm far too early to hold through the line. Mr. Lot Polish Airlines comes by on the left, Ansgar on the right, and I don't have the juice to push back when those big guys converge. I tap the brakes to be stay safe and upright. Thankfully, not many others have juice either and I am able to sit up and cross the line in 4th.
What I learned:
1. Protecting my line, my safety and my wheel is my responsibility and is easier if I'm decisive. I'm sure I'll crash at some point, but I'm not nearly as afraid of it now.
2. Find the strong guys before the finish, not after.
3. Have a clear goal, even if it's to practice moving up, or back, or keeping HR low by staying in the pack. Try stuff to learn, but learn from what you try.
4. Racing with XXX is a really fun social activity and we've got a great group of teammates.