Posted by: Travis | January 7, 2009

Race Wrap up – 1/4/2008 (First Race!)

I did my first race of the year on Sunday, January 4 (my second race ever) and boy was it crazy.

A bike race production group called Velo Promo puts on a 5 week series of Sunday morning races right across the Bay from us in Fremont starting in January called the Early Bird Crits. Things start off with a short clinic where the people there for the race split up into groups of 10-15 and learn or work on bike racing skills for an hour or so. After that, we race!

In short, a criterium (or crit) is a distinctly American style of bike race that takes place on a short (usually less than 3 miles) course with lots of challenging corners where many laps are completed. Races last anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes. Since these races are short compared to road races, which can last anywhere from 2 to 6 hours, speeds are normally high and racing tends to be aggressive. Crits require the ability to maintain high speeds for relatively short periods of time, the ability to take corners at high speed and the ability to make quick bursts of explosive speed rather than the endurance and climbing ability of a road race.If you haven’t noticed, a crit is much better suited to my body type.

Rachel and i showed up to the event (hosted in a business district so that closing the roads on Sunday morning wouldn’t be an issue) about 45 minutes before the clinic was supposed to start. It was a around 50 degrees, which sucked because i don’t ride particularly well in the cold. The clinic focused on riding in a rotating double paceline. I had done it before so i didn’t benefit a whole lot from the clinic, but some people from my group were in way over their heads. Next week is cornering, which i need to work on, so hopefully that clinic will be more helpful.

After our clinic the ladies got their race on while the guys had 45 minutes to rest. Rachel and i sat and watched the women, but in retrospect, i should have hopped on the stationary trainer to keep my legs warm. After the ladies, the guys lined up to race.

One of the really neat things about this race is that they get experienced bike racers to come and mentor those just starting out. About 10 of them wear bright orange traffic cop vests and ride along side the race coaching people through the race, telling people when they do things wrong and when they do them right.

At the gun the speed immediately shot up to 27mph. Starting with cold legs was a huge mistake as it was quite a shock to the system. I spent the first 2 or 3 laps in the middle of the pack trying to stay out of the wind as much as possible. As we were coming around the last corner on lap 3 i see two guys in front of me bump each other, then a bike flying up in the air upside-down as they both went down. There’s a very distinct sound and feel to a bike race as tires lock up and slide, others blow out, brittle carbon bike frames make a muffled thud and break as they hit the ground, and victims of the crash yell out as the hurtle to the ground at 30 miles per hour. There’s even a smell to it where burning rubber abruptly meets the crisp northern California air. Somehow, even though the crash happened right in front of me, i didn’t go down. I can’t remember if there was a bunny hop involved or if i was able to dodge to the left, but somehow i stayed upright.

Since i was behind the crash, the few of us that were unable to rejoin the race were given a free lap because we lost contact with the group. When they came back around 4 minutes later, the 10 of us spun up to speed and then jumped right back into the group. The peloton was noticeably nervous after the crash. I myself was questioning if i really wanted to be doing this after passing the victims of the crash on the side of the road nursing their wounds each and every lap. From then on i decided to stay on either side of the group and give myself an out in case anything else happened rather than staying in the middle of the pack where the draft is the best.

2 laps later there was another crash. Exact same spot on the course, exact same problem: two guys fighting for position, and again it happened right in front of me. Somehow i was able to avoid going down again. This crash wasn’t quite as dramatic and not as many people went down.

Three laps left in the race. I’m behind a guy who obviously hasn’t been riding very long. He doesn’t have a smooth pedal stroke which makes him hard to draft and he’s awful at keeping a constant speed, always speeding up and slowing down. He also doesn’t hold his line very well. I’m feeling pretty strong so i decide to expend a little bit of energy and get in front of the guy, which puts me pretty close to the front of the group. As i’m making my way up to the front, a few other guys are too so i hop on the last one’s wheel. The pace jumps pretty quickly and next thing i know we’ve left the group behind. After half a lap i realize that there’s no way i can sustain this pace so i sit up and drop back to the rest of the group. A bunch of people from the group make their way up to the break away, but i can’t go, i’ve burned all my matches.

There’s maybe 10 or 12 of us left in this group with two laps left. Another guy and i trade pulls for the last 2 laps. Going into the last lap i’m sure that i’ve got nothing left in the tank and its time to sit up quit. The mentor riding next to me has a different idea. I start to pull off and sit up and he starts yelling at me to dig deep. I tell him i’ve got nothing less and he responds by telling me that bike racing is about learning how to suffer and i’ve got a lot more left in the tank than i think. If it weren’t for him i totally would have quit, but instead i sat on the front and pushed myself further and further into the red. My body has never hurt like this on the bike before. I’m at the end of 45 minutes of holding 26mph on the bike. We go into the last corner and our mentor is yelling at us “Go hard to the line, boys! Hard to the line!” The guy i’ve been trading pulls with tries to come around me for the finish but i refuse to let him, i am not losing the sprint to a guy that i’ve been dragging around the course the last half mile. I shift to a harder gear and crank it as hard as i can, digging deeper than i ever have before. To call it a sprint is being pretty generous, but i finished first in my group, maybe 15th or 20th in the race. Not bad for my first race. When i’m out training by myself i can usually get my heart rate up to about 180 bpm, but after crossing the finish line i was at 192. At the end i really thought i was going to pass out or puke. But boy, was it fun.

Next week i’ll definitely bring the stationary trainer and keep my legs warm between the clinic and the race. Goal for next week: DON’T CRASH, improve cornering ability in the clinic, finish top 10 or with the first group in the race, and most of all, have fun.

Thanks for reading.

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