words: Gavin Chow
Well, that about sums things up. But let’s rewind for a few hours. Because this day starts at 2:43 AM, when I roll over thinking “have I missed my alarm call? Did I sleep through it”?
“Nope. You have another two hours and two minutes to go before that goes off and you need to drag yourself out of bed. So go back to sleep”, said left-brain. At this point, right-brain had a fundamental disagreement, curtailing any chances of sleep. But, oh well, it’s race day, race #1 of the season for me, my first CRCA club race, a 5-lap affair of Central Park, and my first foray into the real world of bike racing. It’s going to be fun.
Now, we can skip the bit about getting up, dressing, re-dressing, re-dressing once more after re-checking the weather for the fifteenth time that morning, then riding to the race with a brief interlude to help a friend and fellow racer change a tube. Arrive just in time, sign-in, and all of a sudden I’m on the start line. 6:43AM. Of course, the ride up has helped me confirm the weather reports. It’s cold (maybe 34 degrees), it’s been raining overnight, the roads are wet and slippy, and there’s a vicious headwind from the northwest, which will make things interesting on the east side of the park. Still, I have teammates Alex and Rich in my field, everyone is in good spirits, and I make friends with some of the bigger guys hoping that I might be with them when that wind kicks in. This would turn out to be semi-wise, and semi-comical.
We watch the A-field roll-out, then the B-field, and before we know it, it’s our turn. The race officials announce we’re on a four-lap race (“woohoo! That’s one less lap of suffering!”), and we’re off! First mile and a half are relatively calm, my heart rate is nice and controlled coming into Harlem Meer, and then, well, all hell broke lose. I got pushed off my line by someone committing two egregious sins – that of weaving around, and, more importantly, that of wearing non-matching clothing. And then as I contemplate this, I get battered by the crosswinds coming out of the turn. I look up and see the front group of 15-20 riders just ten yards in front, so time to burn that first match before they disappear up Harlem Hill. Alas, having caught back on, the front group proceeds to push 450W+ up the hill, and I quickly find myself distanced once more, coming over the top of the hill still in the front third, but firmly on my own. Not good. But there’s a solitary figure within reach just 20 yards in front, and I know there are at least 30-40 people behind me. So all-in-all, half way into lap 1 and it’s not all bad. Yeah, the front group has disappeared up the road, but it’s still early days and I’m not last… time to put my head down and catch the lone figure in front, and two minutes later some big guys behind catch on. Our little group swells from three to four to five in short order, but strangely there’s no cooperation in the group. One of them seems insistent on attacking, two of them are happy to sit-in, and no-one is working together. Taking a cue from one of the many videos shared by teammate Justin, I talk to my compatriots… “let’s work together”. Most of them get it, except the kid in the red – his MO seems to be “why am I racing with a pack of old men? I’m going to attack then die, then attack again, then die again”. This would continue for another lap and a half, then we wouldn’t see him again as he went out the back. Oh the impetuousness of youth.
So all-in-all, half way into lap 1 and it’s not all bad.
Yeah, the front group has disappeared up the road, but it’s still early days and I’m not last… time to put my head down and catch the lone figure in front, and two minutes later some big guys behind catch on. Our little group swells from three to four to five in short order, but strangely there’s no cooperation in the group. One of them seems insistent on attacking, two of them are happy to sit-in, and no-one is working together. Taking a cue from one of the many videos shared by teammate Justin, I talk to my compatriots… “let’s work together”. Most of them get it, except the kid in the red – his MO seems to be “why am I racing with a pack of old men? I’m going to attack then die, then attack again, then die again”. This would continue for another lap and a half, then we wouldn’t see him again as he went out the back. Oh the impetuousness of youth.
As we make the turn back on to the east side, that headwind kicks in once more, and I’m grateful for my earlier efforts to scout the field and make friends with some of the big guys, because, lo and behold, one of them is in my little pack. Now, for a bike racer I’m probably overweight at five foot nine and one hundred and forty-four pounds. But most of my companions have at least two inches on me, and this one has at least six, and a few more pounds to tame that headwind with. So my plan is “time to tuck in”. Except that didn’t work, because coming into the headwind everyone decides to get behind me. SERIOUSLY PEOPLE, IN A HEADWIND, DON’T SIT ON THE WHEEL OF THE LITTLE GUY. Still, I graciously take a huge pull up to Cat’s Paw, finishing lap one feeling pretty OK. As long as you define “OK” to mean “my legs are burning, I can barely catch my breath, I haven’t been able to see through the dirt on my sunglasses for the last four miles, and there’s another three laps to go”.
Fortunately, what I thought was three turned out to be two… because in their infinite wisdom, the race referees had shortened our race to just three laps. Hallelujah! Figuring I could push this pace for two more laps, I return to the front once more as we enter Museum Mile. We catch a couple of dropped guys from the B-field, and they slip out of the way knowing that their packs are minutes up the road. I try to look at my Garmin to see how my heart rate is doing, but all I see is a dirt-covered blur. Oh well. Time to start ignoring numbers and just race this thing. And before long, we’ve swept up another three or four C-field stragglers, we fly past the bell, and there’s just a lap to go. Then it’s the last romp up Harlem Hill, our little group is still together and working well, and we have just four miles to go. Woohoo!
Knowing that my companions were feeling about as good as me, I tell them we should work together up the hill and then we’ll push over the top. I’m comfortable in second wheel as we crest, turn around, and realise that our group of six has become two. So that worked well then…
Still, no time to think about that… might as well keep pushing, as there’s, erm, nineteenth place to go for. Maybe? I tell my compatriot that we’re on our own, and he gives me a look that says “well you get in front and pull”. So, being the gentleman that I am, I slide back behind him to try to catch my breath. The bigger guys eventually get back on, and before I know it we’re making the final turn for home. I find myself third wheel heading up Cat’s Paw one final time, finally hiding from the headwind. That last ascent felt like an eternity as the big guys summoned the energy to drop 800+ watts, and I’m turning a gear that’s perhaps a mite too big… and then “F!*& Y@#£”. First race done. Finished. Woohoo!
51 minutes and one second of racing, 18.2 miles, an average speed of 21.4mph, an average power of 210W, and didn’t finish last. All in all, a good first race.
No. A great first race.