Race #2: Han Solo

As I mentioned earlier, today brought career race #2 for Monsieur Forte, a.k.a. Sweet P, a.k.a. the Ruke-dizzler. (For those of you who still – quite validly – don’t know who I’m talking about: me.)

It was a lot like race #1 in distance and terrain: 48 km (eight laps of a 6 km loop) with a few rolling hills.

Shannon – the person with whom I share choreographed handshakes (and also my spouse) – insisted on coming despite being violently ill. (Aside: none of this would be happening without her; she is the greatest and most supportive partner a Monsieur could ask for. Aside over.)

As we drove out to Langley in relative silence (Shannon was preoccupied perfecting her I’m-not-about-to-vomit impression), I pondered last week’s race. In case you missed it, I crashed on lap 1.

When I showed up last week, I felt like an outsider. Everyone seemed to know where to go and what to do before the race.

I did not.

I wasn’t sure I should be there. Sure, I can ride a bike. But I wasn’t sure if I could race one. The crash-tacular result didn’t help matters, and I came into this week even more skeptical.

Thankfully my nerves abated shortly after the race started. It was a smaller field this week – only 15 or 20 strong – and a couple of my foes were about 25 years my senior. I think that helped. 

The race started slowly. Everyone was content to feel out the course – and each other – for the first lap. I let myself get stuck near the back again, but I took extra precautions heading into every turn.

On lap 2, I jumped to the front and took a decent pull. I was cold, and I didn’t want to be accused of being a wheel suck if I won. (Aside: Yeesh, there are a lot of terms to learn. Aside over.)

Nothing much happened on the first few laps, though, other than the pace picking up a bit.

Then, on lap four, someone made a move.

Heading into the largest of the (still pretty small) hills, I was sitting third. Part way up the hill, someone rocketed past both me and the two leaders. And he didn’t ease off at the apex.

This was it! The real racing had begun!

The two previous leaders picked up their cadence to start the chase. I followed suit. I looked behind me and saw that the rest of the peloton was doing the same. It took another roller or two, but the efficiency of the pack reeled in the one-man break.

When we did, I was still feeling pretty fresh – actually, I was finally feeling warm – so I said to myself, “Oh why not try to counter-attack?” (I’d read about it in a book once; how hard could it be?)

So I geared up – literally and figuratively – got into the drops, and sneakily picked up my speed. (As I’ve said before, I’m not a sprinter. My moves are generally going to be seated.)

I don’t know if everyone was tired from chasing the earlier break or if they were content to let the new guy go, realizing there was half a race left to reel him back in. Either way, I opened up a 20 meter gap.

I felt good, but not great. I considered easing off and saving my energy for closer to the finish.

But then I kept going.

That's me, keeping going
That’s me, keeping going.

The 20 meter gap became 30, then 40, then I stopped looking for a while. I got my body as aero as I could (something like this but, y’know, less good) and pretended I was doing laps of Stanley Park.

The next time I turned around, I had about 15 seconds on the bunch.

So I kept on pushing.

After about a lap and a half on my own, my legs and lungs were politely asking that we break for tea.

Request denied. On y vas!

When I started the second-last lap, my lead was about 30-40 seconds, I inexpertly judged.

I was pretty sure that, if I could stay away on the penultimate lap, I would be able to gut out the last one.

My power was really starting to go now, and I found myself in the small ring at the top of every hill. Yet my frequent shoulder checks didn’t yield any unwanted surprises and I started the last lap with an even bigger lead. (I suppose that’s the advantage of racing in Cat 4.)

As I started the final lap, Shannon was at the line, heroically pulling off the arduous cheering/not-puking combo. I looked down at my water bottles and realized I had more liquid than I needed.

I’ve seen Tour de France riders toss their bidons when they get close to the finish line in order to shed excess weight; so I went full-Wiggins and tossed my heavier bottle to Shannon (which she has photographic evidence of).

MeBidon
Bottle be gone!

I was still worried that I’d get caught if I eased off at all, so I wasn’t as careful as I probably should have been on the slick roads. But disaster kindly lay dormant this week, and Monsieur Forte crossed the line a minute ahead of second-place.

In other words, I won. (Hooray!)

This is why I made sure my thumbs were still there this morning.
This is why I made sure my thumbs were still attached this morning.
Huzzah!
The post-race smileathon went on for a while.

I soft-pedaled to the end of the road, then U-turned and headed back to the line. As I passed the other riders doing the same, I tried to act like I’d done this before.

One of the older gents gave me a nod and said, “Nice racing.”

That should make next week’s drive a little less anxious.

Epilogue: I think, by rights, I won some prize money (in the neighbourhood of $25-30!). But I also think I forfeited my purse by not going to the podium ceremony. (Shannon and I had to run to Costco!)

It’s probably for the best, though. I don’t want to lose my amateur status.

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Let’s Try This Again

It’s race day, sports fans!

Sascha - bikehelmet
Helmet on? Check. Thumb attached? Check. Shirt inside out? Check.

Another 50 km road race in the Fraser Valley is on tap.

The weather is 8°C and rainy again.

There’s no time trial this week, which is probably a blessing.

The course is more winding than last week (uh oh!) but also looks to have more rolling hills. Well, I don’t know if you can call those “hills”. But it’s less pancakey. (Ooh, that reminds me, I need to eat breakfast!)

Stay tuned!

Race #1: Braking Bad

I set two goals for my first ever bike race: (1) stay upright and (2) don’t embarrass myself.

I accomplished neither. (Sorry to ruin the suspense.)

 

Me in happier times (i.e. BEFORE the race).
Me in happier times (i.e. BEFORE the race).

Eight kilometers into the 50-km road race (comprised of five laps of a fairly flat 10 km loop), I found myself at the back of the peloton approaching the first of two small climbs.

It was raining and cold, and the roads were mighty slick. All 25 or 30 riders were still bunched together, so I wasn’t panicking about being at the back. But the pace was pretty tame and I thought I might as well put some work in on the hill, if only to warm myself up.

About 250 meters later, I was at the front of the bunch and feeling strong.

I kept pedaling pretty hard for about 15 seconds then looked back and noticed a bit of a gap between me and the peloton.

“Huh,” I thought. “Now what?”

Recognizing we were only 1/5 of the way into the race, I eased off on the mini-descent.

I eased off so much, in fact, that everyone whizzed by me – seemingly in one breath – and I ended up where I had been at the bottom of the hill: last.

As we approached the final turn of the first lap, the strung-out peloton collapsed like a slinky. The pace at the very back, in particular, slowed to a crawl, as it’s wont to do with inexperienced riders.

Except I didn’t recognize just how much the people in front of me were slowing down and, wanting to keep a bit of speed up for the second climb (which was right after the final turn), I didn’t brake soon or hard enough.

“F***,” I exclaimed, hopelessly trying to alert the guy in front of me that he was about to get an assfull of my face.

And down I went.

I scrambled to my feet, desperately trying to clip back in as fast as possible.

This is where the bulk of the embarrassment comes in.

On a course that’s running multiple races at the same time, I now know that the first thing I should have done was look behind me. The second thing I should have done was get the eff out of the way of the Cat 1 riders roaring into the turn.

“Jesus. Look out,” yelled the first one as I swerved across the road, struggling with my gears.

Luckily, there were only three of them immediately behind me and they all managed to avoid my pong-esque maneuvering.

I got my feet back in the pedals and my bike in the proper gear and looked up the road to survey the damage. I could see the back of my race just cresting the top of the second hill, about 500 meters away.

“No problem,” I thought. “It’ll take some work, but I can get back on.”

That notion lasted for all of about three seconds.

That’s how long it took me to realize my rear tire was flat.

I limped to the start/finish line at the top of the hill and, having already failed at my “don’t embarrass yourself goal,” said to the man at the official’s tent, “This is my first race. I have a flat. What do I do now?”

“Go get warm,” he replied.

Thus ended my first race.

Did I mention my wife and my mom were there?

Epilogue: With the enthusiasm only a true beginner can muster, I also registered for the 14 km time trial later in the day. Due to the weather/temperature (a windy and rainy 6° C by the time the TT rolled around), about 2/3 of the entrants didn’t start. Since I’d eaten about nine pancakes that morning – and then biked 1/5 of the distance I thought I was going to – I was eager to get back on the road. So I put on my rain gear and got myself to the start line with the other die-hards.

I was discouraged to see that I was the only one without a TT bike. But I suppose that makes sense when the weather has eliminated the fair-weather soloists.

The time trial was a simple out and back that started and finished at the top of the aforementioned final climb. The “out” was into a headwind, and my speedometer was getting so low that I questioned all of my abilities as a cyclist. But the tailwind on the way back convinced me I was the next Tony Martin.

In the end, I came second out of six in my group, about 30 seconds behind the winner. Average speed: 37.3 km/h. After the debacle that was my morning, I’ll take it! (Here are the results: http://www.canadiancyclist.com/dailynews.php?id=29168.)

Ready to receive … er, I mean, start the TT.

 

The 29-Year-Old Rookie

My bike racing career begins tomorrow, age 29! (It doesn’t bode well for my longevity in the sport that I’ll be eligible for the “Masters” category next year, does it?)

I got my UCI race licence in the mail recently, which made everything feel pretty official:

UCILicenceBlurred
Whoa whoa whoa, UCI. I’m still 29!

UCILicencePicture

Tomorrow’s race is a 50-ish kilometer road race in Aldergrove, BC, with a bunch of other Cat 4s* of varying abilities. (It doesn’t bode well for my chances that I don’t know the exact distance, does it?) The field should be about 30-50 racers, some of whom will be part of teams/clubs, some of whom will be lone wolves (like yours truly).

The parcours is pretty darn flat, which isn’t great for me. If there’s one thing I’m comparatively good at – compared to other Cat 4s, anyway – it’s climbing. Marcel Kittel, I am not.

The flat course also favours teams who know how to work together in pace lines, as each member of the team can spend most of the race sheltered from the wind, occasionally taking a turn at the front of the line and bearing the brunt of the elements.

As long as the peloton is big enough and doesn’t fragment too badly, my lack of teammates shouldn’t be a big deal (I hope; did I mention I’m new at this?). I should be able to find shelter for most of the race among the various teams, and it’s not like I would be able to blast to the line from a lead-out train, even if I had one.

My main goal for tomorrow is to stay upright and not embarrass myself. (There is a lot of unwritten etiquette in road racing; I’m sure to commit a faux pas or deux.)

That said, if I’m in the lead group near the finish, you can bet I’ll be doing my best Donovan Bailey impression in the last 100 metres.

Results to follow.

*The UCI categorizes racers based on performance. In Canada, Category 4 seems to be lowest category (in the US, there’s a Cat 5); Category 1 is the highest.

In order to move up categories, racers have to perform well against competitors in their current category. Here is how it works in the States.

An Origin Story

When my wife, Shannon, and I got engaged, I bought her a ring; she bought me a bike.

It was an old, dark blue Motobecane touring bike with matching blue foam on the handlebars and a triple crank set.

Here, I won’t make you use your dormant imagination:

Motobecane

I hadn’t been on a bike in about 15 or 20 years, but Shannon loved cycling and thought I would, too.

As usual, she was right.

Even though I was terrible to start – both in terms of muscular endurance and sheer ability to stay upright – I realized early on that cycling was something I would love if I got better.

So I stuck with it.

I biked to work. I biked around the local park. I tried biking up some modest hills. Eventually, I braved the 15 km journey to my parents’ house. (It seemed dauntingly long at the time.)

It took me a while to really get comfortable on two wheels, but I did get there in time.

Then I got myself a proper road bike and retired old Bluey. That’s when I really went off the deep end.

I started attacking the local mountains with vigor, streaming the Tour before work, and basically orienting my entire life around cycling. I haven’t regretted it for a second.

Now, five years since first straddling my engagement bike, I’m set to start my racing career! That’s right, I said “career”. (I might be taking this a bit too seriously.)

I’ll let you know how it goes …