Saturday was my third bike race of the season and it went reasonably well.
But let me begin by reporting (briefly) on the first two races.
Race One was a road race on a flat course. There were something like a hundred and ten guys in my category, Masters 2 (for 40-49 year-olds). I got thirty-third or so. There was a break-away of six, I think. Thirty seconds back was the main group, including me. Going into the final turn, which was really two quick turns, I was about sixtieth. Then I made my move, the same move I’d been making for a few laps. I took the inside line over some bumpy asphalt and accelerated up the overpass, passing quite a few guys, then turned through the final half of the final corner and started to push hard to hold the advantage that I’d gained, which I more or less did.
After the race, I kept telling myself that I had more in the tank and I regretted not trying to get to the front sooner. I told A., my teammate, that we should have chased down the breakaway, but he said we wouldn’t have caught them. I think it was worth a try, though. I mean, I was happy with thirty-third because I hadn’t been dropped in my first M2 race (last year I raced M3, because I’m getting younger every year), but maybe it’s worth tiring yourself out, chasing after the breakaway. You risk getting so tired that you later get dropped, but what have you given up? A thirty-third? It’s probably better (I mean more fun) to die out there in the wind.
Race Two was a gravel grinder, known as the Rasputitsa, in Vermont. It’s a hilly course consisting of gravel, mud, snow and a lap of a cyclocross course. Last year I got something like one-fifty out of five hundred. This year I got eighty-second out of seven-hundred. So, improvement.
Gravel races are pretty different from road races. All categories start together in a gravel race. In fact, you don’t even know who’s in your class. Because of the variety of riders and I think, too, because of the gravel surface, which forces you to watch your line, the race is less about sticking with one peloton. Riders are spread out for miles, each one racing the clock as much as one another. From time-to-time you work together and draft, but often you are passing or being passed by stronger or weaker riders. Because “getting dropped” is not fatal the way it is in road racing, pacing (budgeting your energy) is important. In road racing, in contrast, you would never let the peloton get away from you in order to save your own energy for later in the race, because once the peloton is gone, you will never see them again. The peloton is a rowboat with forty rowers, while you are a lone canoeist.
Anyhow, race two was good, and fun. I went with a neighbour who is getting into racing so I had some company, which was nice.
Finally, to Race Three, a road race, by far the hilliest road race I’ve done. There wasn’t quite as much climbing as the Rasputitsa, but it was close. Also, the Rasputitsa had long climbs; Race Three, which was northwest of Quebec, had numerous medium-length climbs. It was also the longest road race I’ve done: a hundred and eight kilometers. I’m not too confident in my climbing abilities, so I really had no idea how I would do. My mission was just to hang on. In endurance events, I’m usually pretty good at pacing myself. Road racing goes against my nature. There is no pacing. If you have to kill yourself on the first hill to stay with the peloton, do it, because once you’re dropped, you’re a solo canoeist. Your race becomes a ride.
The first climb was a few meters after the start line and I had to work hard to stay with the group. Riders slid past me and soon I was last place and hanging on for my life. Once over the top of the climb everyone eased up and I latched back on and recovered. Five kilometers up the road we hit the next climb and the process was repeated. I almost got dropped but not quite. And on it went.
Sometimes I looked back, hoping to find someone who was slower than me, but I never did. Was no one else suffering more than me? Why wasn’t anyone getting dropped? (I compassionately wondered.) Eventually, I was too tired to turn my head, and too disappointed by what I didn’t see, so I stopped looking and only hoped.
One of my teammates, A., dropped out because of a problem with his brakes. He didn’t like the idea of going downhill at seventy kilometers an hour with shuddering brakes. My other teammate was up ahead, jostling in the middle of the peloton. After the third lap (of five) I lost sight of him. Had he joined a breakaway? On the way to the race we had debated about who was the better climber. I said he was better, and he said I was better. I guess I was right.
Or was I? The lead car was still with us. Wouldn’t it have followed a breakaway? Maybe there was no breakaway, in which case, where was my teammate K.? Had he been dropped? How had I missed it? I would have had to pass him, but I hadn’t noticed, even though, I was still at the back of the pack.
I was pretty sure a few people had been dropped, but I wasn’t sure. Was the group smaller now? Sometimes I thought it was. Other times it seemed like there were still a lot of us. How many riders had started? A. said that there were fifty on the sign-in sheet but that others were showing up without having pre-registered. How many were there now on lap four? I tried to count. One, two, never mind. I put my head down and pedaled.
My legs were going. I wasn’t out of breath or energy (I had been eating throughout the race). But the muscles just above my knee were spent. At the beginning of lap four, at the first hill, I had been dropped, along with a few other guys. But we’d caught back on. At the fifth and final lap, though, the first climb was too much for my legs. I had to shift down. Looking at the road as I fought the pedals I saw wheels move past me quickly. In a matter of seconds I was alone with one other rider and the peloton was cruising away. We were like two men who had been thrown overboard.
We worked together to chase. He said they would slow down, but they didn’t, not enough, and we eventually eased up. Now, finally, it was a matter of pacing. We would at least get to the finish and place ahead of the guys (how many?) who had been dropped earlier and had abandoned.
I was surprised to see two guys coming up behind us. Apparently, they had been dropped too. We had been dropped at the top half of the hill and they had been dropped at the bottom. But they’d caught us. Now four of us worked together. Soon we caught a fifth guy. He had held on one more climb than us, but then he had been dropped, and now he was moving like a weary canoeist. He swerved onto the back of our paceline and we all pushed toward the finish line, which we crossed, ten kilometers later, as a group, the second group, five minutes after the peloton.
Final result: something like thirty-eight out of something like sixty. There were only one or two other finishers after us. All the other guys who had been dropped abandoned (including my teammate K., who pulled out after lap three).
Next weekend (that is, in three days) there is another tough race, longer (120km) and with much more climbing, and I’m still feeling tired from Race Three, so I’m not sure how it’s going to go, but there’s only one way to find out. At least the sun is supposed to be shining. That’ll be a first for this season.