Sex or Bike Racing? It’s the eternal question. Among my race-obsessed friends, the preference is generally whichever they’ve had least recently. So, it being some 6.5 months since my last road race, it seems like a three-hour trip to Bethel would be a no-brainer. But given my history, you never really know, do you? In the end though, it’s all moot, as last Sunday presented me with only one of the two options that begin this paragraph. And so away I went.
The drive from Williamstown is pretty simple, the only tricky part being where and how to cross from US 7 to CT 8 (I chose US 44, which is far from the quickest). Arrived in Bethel about 1.5 hours before race start, drove around a bit due to poor directions (2 miles from the Interstate my @$$) and observed that Bethel and neighboring Danbury might have the highest number of stoplights-per-capita in the world. Finally found the race site, a .9 mile loop around what looks like a wooded industrial park. One “hill” (more a rise, big ring for sure), no corners, no bumps, pot holes, puddles or any of that. Definitely wasn’t going to be a race of attrition. They called it circuit race, but they dynamic was like that of a cornerless crit; fast, with lots of attacks and aggressive riding, in no way stymied by the inclusion of a free lap and two primes.
Registration was dog slow, mostly from people chattering instead of transacting. Fortunately the line wasn’t long, and the organizer at the desk forgiving, as I was five cents short for registration fees. Weather-wise, It was about 20 when I left, but was nearing 40 by the race start. I actually warmed up (yes, on a trainer and everything), which proved invaluable when organizers held a moment of silence for the unfortunate victim of a brain aneurysm, and let his team ride a neutral lap at the beginning. It was a moving and appropriate gesture, but for the record, if I die in the next few months, don’t do anything like this for me; instead, triple the number of primes, hot-spot sprints or 90-degree corners in whatever race is designated to commemorate me. And don’t start the race unless it’s raining.
Racing started at about 1.5 laps, after the honor-lap team gracefully reintegrated itself with the field. There might have been a lap between this and the first prime bell. I was right up near the front when they rang it, and soon enough, the field pulled back the first guy to take a flyer. But after that, it felt like there was a lot of sitting up. 3-4 or so riders broke clear with 300 to go, and I bridged up the final three about two pedal strokes after I wanted to be there. I saw Nate Ward of CRCA leap exactly where I had wanted to leap, but even if I had caught his wheel, he probably would have burned me down in the race to the line. Probably. I took second, but, y’know, horsehoes and hand grenades. After seeing what he won (a little baggie of electrolyte replacement products, I think), I felt less bad about it.
I sat up after this, but a post-prime counterattack whizzed by me, and with Nate up ahead a bit, I said why not? We caught up, and worked ok together, but the field was still on Hero mode (generally, your first 10 minutes in a TT or crit, you’re all adrenalined up, so you feel like superman) and pulled us back easily. After that, I spent a bit of time just keeping my position up, jockeying up at the front of the field. Physically, there were many things I noticed right away. 1) Suddenly, I suck at bike handling. Generally, I feel more stable on two wheels than on two feet, but all this going fast with people right next to me is something of a shock after six months off. Even ‘cross and the rollers can’t really replicate that “if this guy in front of me does something stupid, about 30 people are going down” sensation.
#2 Would be the reminder that though my quickness doesn’t go away during the off-season, my ability to sustain a sprint for more than a few pedal strokes does. Because that one little rise was so tiny, everyone was determined to get over it without slowing down. I think this is stupid, because it’s a hill, and duh, it takes more power to maintain a given speed on it, but few others seemed to share this viewpoint. So, having a nice little snap of the legs when I need it, I’d pop forward at the bottom of it, only to have those two little muscles right on top of the kneecaps turn to lactic goo after about fifteen pedal strokes. Now, this happening once or twice during the corse of a race, like for primes or the big attacks, is no big deal. Having your legs hurt is one of those things that happens in bike racing. But every time I hit the gas practically, they’d feel ok, then go to goo.
The effect of this over the course of an hour-long race is that this gooing gradually turned my legs into spaghetti, feeling as if a few days ago, someone had wailed all over them with a police baton or something. No big deal, though, as it’s pretty much impossible to get dropped on this course. I fought up at the front for as long as I could, but after twenty minutes, it was really starting to suck. The spaghetti legs didn’t help, and by halfway through the race, I had lost all interest in my cyclocomputer and HRM. Only pedaling, breathing, and occasionally steering were on my mind. I didn’t even drink really until I got that kidney hurting thing. At some point a break of six went off, and for the rest of the day, some dude in red and blue was trying to motivate the field to chase. Two guys in lime and navy seemed like they wanted to help, but only hammered at the front in fifteen-second bursts, then wilted.
I was more than a little relieved to see 5 laps to go. Between 4 and 3 to go, a group of 10 or so guys slipped off the front of the field, and suddenly I was right in the wind. I had no intention of chasing (it was – for certain – coming back) so I just soft-pedaled into the headwind at 17mph for a while; almost half a lap. People were strung out behind me, which, hurting like I was, I couldn’t believe. So I just sat up as people finally came around me to draw the group back together. I drifted all the way to the back of the field by two laps to go, and let me tell you, I was way back there. Unlike most crits, the tail end of the field was the place to be. Sure, you couldn’t see the front, but most of the accelerations were damped out by the mass of riders, and the non technical course. Since by this point I had no sprint legs left, I played a little game, waiting at the coda del gruppo until 2 laps to go. Then I saw how close the front I could get before the finish. Turns out pretty close, though I almost slammed into some dude who decided to stop pedaling entirely some 150 meters from the line.
Getting the race over with was a good thing. The HRM told the story – Avg HR of 169, max of 193, with an average speed of just under 24mph. And this in a race with no hills. That’s indicative of an engine being revved really hard without making a whole lot of horsepower. A couple of the bros chastised me for not staying behind to suffer through the P123 race as well, but I know when I’m cooked. The late nights and early mornings of the past week certainly are not conducive to doubling up on Sunday morning races, but hopefully the work I put in will finally land me a real job, and I can afford the liposuction and altitude tent that it’s gonna take to get me back in form by April.