My first race, the Jefferson Cup.
I was the one with hairy legs. Maybe there were others, too. I wasn’t checking. It was supposed to rain. Heck, this thing had been postponed once on account of snow. In the meantime, my whole training plan and schedule had pretty much gone out the window. Racing in a cold rain just seemed like it would be par for the course.
So, by Saturday morning I was feeling pretty glum about the whole thing. It could’ve been worse. I’d slept well the night before, and the rain didn’t materialize. At least there’d be dry roads. Still, my mental dialogue was less than enthusiastic. You know the cartoons with the little angel and the little devil talking to the guy trying to make up his mind. It was like that, except all devil. ‘You idiot, you’re going to look like a fool. What were you thinking?!? Go home now. Tell them you woke up sick. Tell them your chain broke while you were warming up.’ And on and on. Even though I never did actually turn around, I couldn’t get myself psyched up for *****. Regardless, it’s something I’d wanted to do for a long time, and no matter how it turned out, at least I could say I tried.
I got there early to register and do a warm up. Pick up the one day license, pin the numbers, get the bike put together. This isn’t looking so bad after all. It’s not just a bunch of young Lance wannabes, and seniors who had set the hour record in a previous decade (mind you, they were there, too). There are plenty of regular goofballs, pretty much just like me. So I do an uneventful warm-up. HR is up a little, but that’s to be expected. Go over the plan… it’s simple. Stay near the front, so you can go if there’s a break, and you’re more likely to be in front of any crashes. Plus, my pack riding skills are not great. The thought of taking a sharp, off camber corner at speed shoulder to shoulder with a bunch of other riders gives me the willies. Being near the front, I might have more options on choosing my line.
The course is ~30 miles, 3 laps of a 10 mile loop with three corners. One of the corners is kind of off camber, and is followed by a short, steepish, climb that eventually eases over after maybe ½ a mile, then shoots back downhill. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out this is where *the* attack will occur.
The start is essentially a parade from the staging area to the starting line, where we are stopped to give the senior 50/60 and womens 1,2,3 group some time to get on up the road. While we’re there, a USCF official reminds us of some rules and generally makes a pr!ck of himself to various members of the group “Unfold that number. That can get you disqualified.” etc. etc. Dude! I understand you’ve got a job to do, but at least lose that Bruce Jenner ‘do! I’m near the front, a bike or two back, pretty much where I want to be.
We’re off! Cleats clicking in, the whir of tires and shifting. We wind it up to about 17 or 18 mph, and stay there. And for the next mile or two, same thing. Okay, I don’t know what to expect, but it wasn’t this. From somewhere in the pack “this is the tamest start to a Cat V race I’ve ever seen.” Hmm, so it’s not just me. And, nobody wants to go. Everyone is just waiting for someone else to open it up. It’s getting really hard to stay off the front, and I wind up doing a little time up there myself. We approach the turn where I sure the attack will occur. We shoot through the corner, and tamely sort ourselves out over the climb. Still riding easy tempo. Finally, 2/3rds of the way through the first lap, one rider launches, and gets maybe 150 feet. Nobody goes with him and finally, somebody else takes off after him. I go to, and so does everyone else. He didn’t get the partners he wanted, so he drops back into the pack. More easy tempo. End of lap 1. Average speed, 16mph.
Lap 2 starts the same way, but there’s lots more tension now. People are riding tighter, trying to stay near the front. Something’s gotta happen. We reach the corner with the climb, and a couple of guys uncork it. And everybody who can, goes. There are maybe 15 guys ahead of me, no idea what’s behind. I’m grinding for all I can, passing and being passed. A skinny guy goes by, I’m on his wheel thinking ‘dude, if you can get me over the steep part, I’ll repay on the backside.’ The hill levels off, and I start to get my legs back. I go around, shift onto the big ring and give chase. At this point I can see 3 guys off the front, a group of about 7, and me and a handful of other stragglers. We go hard and catch the group of 7. Looks like there are maybe 15 of us. From this point, it’s mostly a blur. Our group cannot hold a functional paceline together long enough to capitalize on any potential. It’s more of a pace-mob. We continue to lose ground to the three leaders. The motley pace-mob completes lap 2.
Lap 3, we get to *the* attack corner, and the hammer drops again. I find a wheel and hang on for dear life. Over the top, hit the big ring and GO. There is ground to make up, and if I don’t get it back here, I never will. My acceleration is slow, so everybody who still has anything left is on my wheel. It’s all right…I’m looking for friends right now. We catch the break, and settle back into our blundering pace-mob. The original three man break is long gone. Meanwhile, back in the pace-mob, I seize the opportunity to suck wheel and try to recover. A few minutes later, I look to my left and there’s a rider I don’t recognize. Kind of a short guy, I don’t know where he’s come from but I know he’s bridged up from way back somewhere. “Good job!” sez I. He goes by, and I see he is a she. She motors past our group, and on up the road. I’m guessing she has soloed off the front of the womens 1, 2, 3, and is lapping us. ‘Close your mouth, Bob. Your jaw might get caught in the spokes.’
And so it went, pretty much for the remainder of the race. With a couple of miles to go, 3 or 4 guys from one club launch and get away. The pace-mob can not gel to form a chase. Thus, we grind our way back to the finish, about a minute and a half behind the winning three man breakaway, and 5 or 6 seconds behind the more recent breakaway. We aren’t exactly burning up the road at this point, maybe 17 mph, and even at that speed have peeled a couple more guys. I move up closer to the front, just because the group has slowed and I can. Somebody starts around me and I utter words that have never passed Lance or Eddy’s lips; “dude, you can have it.” My legs are mush. 200 meters, I try to accelerate but there’s nothing there. About 5 guys pass in a slow motion sprint, and I hear “go Bob, he’s going to pass you!” I thought everyone had already passed. I can’t respond, but he doesn’t. It’s good for 12th place. Afterwards he came up, said “good ride, I wasn’t going to nip you at the end.” *****, he’d pulled my @ss out on one of the attack climbs!
It’s good for 12th out of about 42 riders, and waaayyyyy better than I expected to do.
It was a lot of fun, and I’ll probably do some more.
Later, I fire up the car, turn on the radio. “summer’s here and the time is right for fighting in the street, boy.” It ain’t quite summer, and a bike race is a pretty civilized fight, but in my endorphin-induced delirium, it sums up the moment pretty well.