I think that might officially make me a better bike racer than Nacer Bouhanni.
Specifically, I learned two lessons at the 2013 BuDu Racing Ravensdale Road Race:
1) It is exponentially easier to stay attached to a bike race when you’re in the front half of the group.
2) There’s always a reason to finish.
So This Is What The Front Looks Like…
The route is a 9 mile tri-corner, climb/descent loop, with roughly 80m elevation change per lap for 4 laps. It’s a lumpy course, in the most Sherwin-esque way possible. The climb isn’t steep, roughly 2-4% at max, but there’s also not a flat section on the day.
I came into it prepared to dry-heave.
I wasn’t going to get dropped short of having to pull over and empty the contents of my stomach. I was prepared to hurt, prepared to shatter myself just to stay within sight of the race.
It was with that mindset that I took the start line on the left side, ready to stick to the inside of the left hand rollout. I got up on the pedals, got a good start, and found myself within the top 15 positions in the neutralized group.
Being up front, seemingly, is living a life of luxury. In a 35-50 rider race, the back-end is constantly braking and accelerating due to the compression of trying to fit in one lane + variable size/condition shoulder of public roads. The front, by comparison, is steady. Just keep an eye on the wheel in front, and beside, and find the tempo.
Of course, this life of luxury isn’t cheap, as my heart rate climbed into the 190s once we turned to the shorter, relatively steeper pitches on the climb.
As we passed the start/finish line, placed halfway up, the group finally came to the conclusion that we weren’t neutralized anymore and the breakaway riders took off. Knowing what I know now, I should have buried myself to try to join them. They didn’t get far up the road before the final, uphill, right turn, but had I been there, it would have saved me from getting dropped.
Maybe that’s a third lesson: Always go with the break.
Another Individual Effort
I entered the uphill right corner on the left, outside half, of the group.
I exited the uphill right corner off the back with 2 other guys.
Bike racing, like life, is what happens when you’re not paying attention. In this case, that’s when you don’t get out of the saddle and stomp on it around the outside of a corner that everyone else is taking tight and fast.
At least this time I can chalk it up to a “tactical error” and not being “woefully under-conditioned.”
We chased hard as the course tilted downward. The fastest speed I recorded for the day was in the next 1km as I and 2 others tried in vain to catch the back of the group. Coincidentally, it was also when 3 dogs bolted out from an un-gated driveway and took offense to us being near their property.
I took one last hard pull, saw the race getting away, felt the legs starting to go, and slipped back.
I wasn’t ready to vomit, but I also didn’t have anything else to give. Even my two partners slowly went up the road, then broke apart near the middle of lap 2.
Once you’ve fallen off the back, everyone just rides their own tempo. I chalk it up to the generally impersonal nature of people here, of which bike riders are specifically bad. If we aren’t wearing the same jersey, its rare that we’ll even say one word to each other.
In this case, the grupetto was 6 of us, within eyesight of each other for the first 2.5 laps, playing a game of chicken as to who would be the last person to DNF.
Starting lap 4, I had no idea if I was that guy or not. As I crossed the line, I was just glad I wasn’t going to get lapped. I hadn’t seen anyone at all on lap 3. I was also starting to wonder why I wasn’t already back having a burger and a beer somewhere.
By that point, only 9mi left, there’s no point in stopping. Especially when the entire back half of the course is downhill. At least that was the rationale which finally shut up my urge to DNF. I may or may not have invoked Jens-isms to an attempt to keep my legs moving.
It holds true, even when the Cat 1/2/3 Women’s Race passes you (next race, 3min behind our start), and the ref reprimands you for “maybe” trying to get a little draft from their follow car. I plead effort-based temporary ignorance to that.
Once I made it to the final corner, I and my two cramping calves were just ready to do the last half-climb and call it a day.
Always Ride Through The Line
I hadn’t seen anyone for a lap and a half.
Apparently, I should have turned around sooner.
Somehow, I wasn’t DFL, which I found out as I was passed at 1.5km to go. I still have no idea how, or where, he came from, but one of my fellow ass-draggers rolled around me coming up the hill.
I don’t really know what the etiquette would be in higher categories, but I felt I had worked too hard, alone, to just let him roll by.
I stuck to his wheel up the last pitch, and waited for the 200m sign. At roughly 300m to go, I came around and made the effort to just ride him off my wheel. It wasn’t a sprint, nor even a sprunt, just a flailing attempt to not lose.
I don’t know if it was that sheer awesome display of defiance, or if he just didn’t care, but it stuck.
Second race: first non-DFL. It’s not much, but it is something.
I rode back in with the DFL from the Women’s 1/2/3 and we shared muscle cramping stories.
Lesson 4: That’s racing.