29 May, 2012

A Road Untravelled

Last winter, I bought a road bike.  The reason was two fold.  First, the CX bike that I was using was a touch too large, so it had to go.  Second was I was planing on upping my basement training hours, and a new bike is good motivation for that.

So, after some time on the bike, I began to consider partaking in the local Tuesday Night Ride.  I had heard about this group a year or two before.  In fact, I attended their Thursday TT spinoff a couple of times in 2010.  That was a good introduction to how fast these guys are, without the fear of being dropped.  I had been warned that TNR is a hammer fest.

I went to a  few Tuesdays this spring, and this whole new aspect of riding added some much needed variation to my riding.  I found I was able to hang with the group (most days) and even mix it up on the sprints once or twice (without winning).  It is a great group, and taught me a lot about riding on the road.

So, after some successful outings on Tuesday, I considered trying out a road race.  I had my Cat.5 license for just such an occasion.  My first road race ever was chosen to be Das Tour de Frankemuth.  It is a relatively flat jaunt around the countryside.  Plus there was chicken dinner, and some shopping for the wife.

We headed up on Friday, as the race started at 8 am Saturday.  Friday night I picked up my registration, we looked for a place to eat (Tiffany's was packed!) and then watched the balloon glow.  I was disappointed there were no "elephant ear" vendors down there.

I had a decent week of training leading in, but stayed of the MTB.  Saturday morning came, and I wandered down to breakfast.  At 6 am on a random Saturday, there people at breakfast were all there to race.  The weather outside was cool (~60 F) and wet.  It had been raining on and off.  I wasn't excited to have my first road race on slick roads, but oh well.

After a warm-up, and a bit of course preview with the CTF crew, I left the hotel parking area, my back in the room wife still warm in bed, and headed to the starting area as the rain began anew.  I queued up amongst the other Cat.5 Men under 36, and looked around.  There were quite a few shivering, defeated riders before the race even started.

Finally at the line, I lined up in the second row.  I knew I didn't want to be at the front, but not too far back in case there is some commotion clipping in.  We took off down the road at a casual pace, heading into the first turn of off main street.  At the point, one rider began his surge for a solo break away.  He got up the road a little ways, but the group followed intently, not to let him get too far. 

Unfortunately, in the commotion, the whole pack of 50 went straight through the right turn by the golf course.   Nobody realized it until the chase vehicle pulled in front and told us to turn around.  Breakaway nullified.  As we got back to the (now) left turn, the next group (Cat.5 37+) approached the intersection from the correct direction.  We made the turn in front, but the 2 groups essentially merged into one.  This was unfortunate, as the was to be "No mixing of fields".

The group plodded along, and to follow the rules, the back group tried to come around ours.  Of course as one group tried to surge ahead and create a gap, the next group would chase, closing back up.  There was no way, without official intervention, that these groups would separate.  No rider is going to slow down to allow a gap to form.

So not this pack of Cat.5 riders is 70+ and surging down the road like a giant rubber band.  Pedal pedal pedal, brake, pedal, pedal...  At every intersection, we would slow for no apparent reason.  I tried to remain near the front, and rotated through to pull for a bit.

The pace wasn't bad at all, it was kind of like riding in the most frustrating group ride ever.  We came around for lap one, and I had slipped towards the back of the group as we headed back down Main St. towards the line.  There was a decent crowd lining the street considering the weather.

I am at the far side, underneath the American flag.

Back out for lap 2, and I managed my way back towards the front.  While some riders were fanning out a bit in a vain attempt to stay dry, I hugged that wheel in front of me.  I was conserving energy, and could dry off later.  This lap had a couple more attempts from riders trying to go off the front, but gaps never formed.  The average speed was up a bit, but still the group was surging.  There were some slower riders getting caught, and it seemed each time the pack would approach one of them, pull along side and slow.

Once back to Block Rd, we were on the final stretch to the finish.  This road was probably in the worst shape of any on the route.  It was narrow, and unpainted.  The group spread to cover nearly the entire width, with riders shooing up the left.  I moved to the right side, it was a bit rougher but more open.  I was pretty far back in the pack, and trying again to move up.

Once we hit the smooth pavement on the final approach, everything went to hell.  The pack was in a frenzy, riders passing across the yellow line to go to the front, rapid braking before the slight downhill, and I was caught in the middle.  This was my first race, and I was not looking to make and risky moves in oder to move up.

As we approached the final left turn back onto Main St, the section inf front of the silos, the entire group moved over to the left to hug the line.  This left the entire right side open, and I had a expressway to the front.  I accelerated up the side and took the final turn on the outside.  Dropped into my 11T and accelerated down the hill.  Now there were only 2 riders ahead of me, and just a straight away with some brick crosswalks between me and the finish.

Are we there yet?

I learned my lesson at Barry-Roubaix about going too soon and just sat in.  The lead rider popped way early and got passed.  As we hit the final stretch I stood and kicked several strokes and overtook the new lead rider.  I was pushing with all I had.  This is the point where every Tuesday, I would be passed by a pack of riders.  Not this time as I stood again, not knowing what kind of gap I had.  Where in the hell is that finish line?

Finally across, your winner, number 548, from Einstein Racing, Jon Whatchamacallit.  I didn't hear the last part, and couldn't really remember what my number was, so as I decelerated across the bridge I got congratulated by a couple of riders.  I cooled down a bit and regrouped with 3 of the CTS riders in our pack (2 from the chase group).  One of the riders (sorry, I don't recall your name) was the second to finish behind me, 1st place in the 37+ group, but later got relegated off of the podium due to the mixing of the groups.  That was unfortunate, but I am not familiar enough with road cycling to know how common that is.

Photo courtesy of The Timing Guys, Inc.

At the award ceremony, I received the standard medal, and a growler of beer from Midland Brewing Company.  I think that, along with a celebratory chicken dinner was a good reward.  No I just need to figure out where I should race next...

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