Well, I got my upgrade to a Cat 4 on Tuesday, so I moved my registration from the 5s race to the 3/4s. This race was setup with 2 days of racing, with a road race and short TT on Saturday and a criterium on Sunday.
Since this was my first race outside of the relatively tame 5s races around here, I wasn't quite sure what the expect. My upgrade into the 4s put me into a 60 mile road race, instead of the 33 miler that I was originally going to do with the 5s. I hadn't even done a ride over 45 miles this year, let alone a race of that distance, and my longest ride of all time is 67 miles. I knew I'd be riding with some strong 3s and 4s, so I knew that it would be a rough indoctrination into these middling ranks of cycling.
The course for the road race was mostly flat, with a 1.6 mile climb of 6-7% about 16 miles into each of the 2 30 mile laps, and a different climb to the finish. On the first lap, I rode with the pack, taking it easy until we hit the hill. Nobody attacked explosively like I expected, but the climbers and stronger riders made their way to the front fairly quickly. As I was pacing myself up the climb, I found myself passing people and not killing myself, so I started looking for a group to stay with for the rest of the race. As I neared the top, I noticed a group forming that seemed to include quite a few stronger looking riders. I pushed harder and found that I had made the selection into the front group. The next 5 miles were painful as everyone worked together to ramp up the pace and increase our lead over the rest of the pack. Riders yelled at me as I learned the finer points of riding in a paceline at 30+ mph. I took everyone's "suggestions" and tried to improve and become a smoother rider. We were able to stay away for the rest of the race. As we hit the finishing climb, I realized that everyone in this group was hungry for points, and as a newbie I was unsure of how much I had left in my legs, so I sat up and let everyone else sprint. I ended up in 13th place and I was ecstatic.
There's not too much to say about the TT. It was on a short, slightly rolling course of 3.3 miles, so I knew it would be very fast. I wasn't as well equipped as many of the other riders, so I just went out and rode as fast as I could and tried to stay low. I ended up in 16th place with a time of 6:53. There were a few people that annihilated my time by over 30 seconds. After the first day I was in 16th place overall.
With my hopes mostly dashed for a top 10 GC, I set out in the crit on Sunday with the goal of winning something on one of the prime laps. I contested for the first prime on the 4th lap, but got beat out by a strong junior who was with our break the previous day. On the 7th lap I got caught between 2 bigger guys coming around a corner, got squeezed, and ended up going over the handlebars. Luckily nothing was broken, my legs still worked, and my bike was ok after a quick tweak of the handlebars, so I rode around to take a free lap. As I got back into the pack, my goal changed from "win something" to "finish without crashing again". There was another crash and a near miss during the rest of the race, both in front of me, but luckily I was able to get out of the way in time to miss them. I realize that I have a lot of work to do to get better at moving up and staying in the front part of the field, so I just stayed near the back and dealt with the accordion pacing. I didn't go all out for the finish, since I realized that a mid pack finish probably wouldn't move me up in the placings.
Overall, I felt like the whole race was an eye opening experience. I learned that I can hang with the faster riders in these groups, but I have a lot of work to do to improve my racing skills. Hopefully I'll do even better in my next race!