Monday, August 31, 2009

Big Creek Road Race report

I wasn't supposed to be racing my bike on a beautiful Saturday morning in October. Oh wait, it was actually August, but I'm sure I can be forgiven for thinking it was a beautiful fall morning with the brilliant sun shining down and the long sleeve temperatures hugging us in their embrace. I was supposed to be piping the drier in our basement to it's new home snuggled against the washer that I'd moved earlier in the week. The rain out of Race like a girl on Thursday night and a thoughtful wife changed my Saturday plans so I could keep my legs sharpened up for my goal race of the summer this coming weekend- 24 hours of 7 oaks.

I was more nervous heading out to this race than I had been pretty much all summer. This would be my first chance mixing it up in a road race, the cat 4's and 5's were to be combined, and I really wanted to avoid meeting the pavement up close and personally. I swallowed my nerves, dropped the money on the table, and grabbed a race number. Only 8 were signed up when I put my name on the list. Maybe this wouldn't be so bad after all. I went about my pre-race activities and got a short warm up in. I hadn't ridden the course, so I really didn't know if there were any hills to speak of, but a few others informed me it was pretty flat overall. I wasn't sure if that would be a boon or burden to me as the call was made to line up.

Waiting for the start:

Wow, there were a ton of guys lined up. Surely there can't be this many in the 4/5 race. I was wrong. I've heard counts that there were some 50ish of us lined up to take the start of the race. 46 miles in 8 laps with a huge pack and a bunch of nervous bike handlers. Maybe I should drop out the back and ride my own race. That thought repeated several times during the race as we went round and round. We shot off on the first lap and I was sitting somewhere in the middle of a giant swarm. I could see the pack of riders stringing out towards the front and knew I wanted to be somewhere closer to them. However, the first lap wasn't going to be the place to get there.

As we wound our way back through the chip seal park road nearing the end of our first lap, it happened. I think we all knew it would, but were just wondering when and who. Just in front and a couple feet to the right of me, I heard some shouting, some locked up brakes, and the sounds of aluminum and carbon attempting to integrate themselves into new shapes and splinters. Luckily the crash was just far enough right that I flew by uncollected as the pile up gathered a number of guys. I caught a glimpse out of my peripheral vision of the bikes piling up and thought quietly that I hoped everyone was fine. The pack soldiered on and we finished out our lap.

I quickly decided that I needed to be a bit further towards the pointy end of the field and starting picking my way through as best I could. Slowly, I worked into the top 20 or so riders as we started putting on more laps. Though I don't remember seeing it, apparently there was an attack on lap 3 that melted back into the pack pretty quickly, but succeeded in raising our pace to near 26 MPH for that lap as we accelerated to counter. That succeeded in throwing off roughly half the pack and put us closer to 30 riders now in the main group.

Somewhere in the middle laps, I had a few things I noted. At one point, I looked back to see how many were left in the pack only to realized I was tail end charlie so I hightailed it up a few spots lest I be dropped for being an idiot. I also realized that the game of keeping your wheel clear of the other guy was both tiring and not all that much fun. Accelerate, brake, coast, pedal, swerve and repeat. I still was thinking of whether it would be better to drop myself off the back and ride alone or stay in the pack as long as I could.

I honestly never thought much about competing for the win. I wanted to finish the race and be road rash free. However, I'm still a competitive guy and I thought that I might be able to at least sneak a good finish in or possible help out in some small way if any of our team wanted to try to make a move. I stayed with the pack and decided to ride it out.

The last lap was the most fun for me. Having ridden a few Tuesday nights through to the point where some attacks are occurring, I was pretty ready for the biting of the bars that occurs as the pack accelerates out of the corners. On the right hander into the tailwind section, the pack had blasted up to 30+ on every lap as we rounded the corners. I'm in no way, shape, or form a sprinter, so I really have to wind it up and keep the hammer down to not be dropped in these accelerations. As we hit the corner for the last lap, I dug down and prepped for the hard push that I expected to come and to possibly shake a few guys off. The next thing I know, I'm wound up and blowing past the pack and off the front. I hesitated for a second or two wondering what I should do next.

I was pretty sure I didn't have the legs to stay away and didn't have anyone looking like they were going to bridge the gap. I was 50-100 yards out front by this point and still cranking away. I knew I'd be gone if I tried to hold on as the pack would eat me up and spit me out like a piece of gristle as they passed. I engaged my brain at this point, dialed my pace back enough to let my heart rate drop back a bit, and waited. About 10 seconds later, the pack had me, but I had recovered enough to hop right back in and go.

With roughly 1/2 mile to the finish, the pack seemed to solidly into one solid mass. As we tried to adhere to the center line rule, the pack spread from ditch to centerline with no real place to move forward. A line or two moved up on the outside and I grabbed wheels where I could to make my way up. As we came down to the final sprint, we went full road width (is that the way it should be?) and wound it up. I had more or less boxed myself in for the sprint and with my slow wind up, I was still spinning it up as we hit the line. Another 100 yards or so and I think I might have moved up a few more places as I still was accelerating pretty good when we hit the finish. Looking at the photo I stole from Chad (thanks), it appears I'm sitting in 12th across the line which is definitely fine by me. Congrats to team mate Reed on taking the win and Chad on coming in 6th.
Still winding it up (I'm the rider on the left side entering the picture):

I did get some flack for my gut reaction I posted to facebook after the race, so here are a few of my post race thoughts. I was really looking forward to trying my hand at road racing. My fitness is the best it's been, I'm getting good at riding with a pack and knowing where the jumps will be, and I thought maybe we'd get a few team mates into some type of break. The reality was that while I was working hard, I never really redlined it, the biggest excitement was trying not to hit someone or be hit, and my single foolish attack should/could have been a good move if I'd thought to put it together with a couple team mates. I also had enough sense to figure out my foolishness quickly enough that I didn't get dropped, so my tactics are completely lacking. All in all, I ended up a bit on the bored side as I was looking/hoping there would be more excitement and pegging it as we took turns beating on each other. Sure, I'd have most likely been off the back, but that experience also makes you better/stronger in the long run. I guess I had built up road racing to possibly be the end all, be all of racing on the pavement and felt a bit deflated at the end. I'll definitely try it again though and maybe my experience and expectations will help me change my perspective on it.


Courtney said...

Good race though the mountain training just preps you for those crashes and people cutting you off is just like a surprise tree (a tree that you miss) lol. After reading you account of saturday I think I choose the wrong race.

dave said...

Hey Bucky - you got a big version of that finish pic??? Shumway thinks he got 4th... and he may be right... if only i could tell! send it to zoom - box 354 boston mass ohhh twooo onnneee thrreee foouuurrrrr! SEND IT TO ZOOM! (don't send it to zoom, send it to me - but i couldn't resist. 'sides, always good to give jw, jj and zippy a free plug.)