Words: Gavin Chow
Five things people don’t tell you about bike racing
So, race day #2 of the weekend dawned, well, early. And not so bright, seeing as my alarm woke me rather rudely at 4AM. On a Sunday. Of course, natural reaction was to roll-over and stick my head under the pillow, but that didn’t work, so then I decided it can’t be an imaginary alarm but a real one. Yep. Next step: open eyes. It seems to be the same open or closed – dark. Hmm… either I’ve lost my vision overnight, or, yegads, it’s still dark outside. Which leads us neatly to bike racing thing #1. It’s called “be glad you didn’t go out last night, because that 4AM alarm call is one hell of a rude awakening”.
Now, I think we covered the “how-to-dress-for-a-race” dilemma in a previous posting, and by now, I’ve gotten into a decent routine. Check the weather the night before, look carefully at the hour-by-hour forecast, decide on what to wear, rummage round the house (and, if necessary, in the laundry basket) to find everything needed, lay it all out neatly, and just for good measure, throw in an extra layer under the ‘you never know’ rule, and all set, right? Well, no. Because we all should all remember bike racing thing #2: “The weather at your appointed roll-out hour will be precisely ten degrees lower than whatever the forecasters tell you”. So yeah, next week I think I’ll do two extra layers, and maybe a warmer pair of gloves just in case…
It’s still dark of course, but it’s time to roll. Lights on, head to race, avoid man-eating potholes on the way whilst sucking some Cat 1 wheels (thanks, Weather Channel team. And do you guys get better weather forecasts then we do?), hope to hell that they’re going the same way as me, and all of a sudden I find myself signing in whilst stood on some muddy patch of grass in complete darkness that has the solidity somewhere between “swamp” and “quicksand”. No matter, I’m a pro at cleaning my cleats via the stomping method. Oh, and guy who couldn’t be bothered to find somewhere to lean his bike and dragged it to sign-in just so he could beat me to the front of the line – yeah – stomping method doesn’t work on bikes, nor does it help you find your racing licence on your extra-large-need-two-hands-to-operate-it-but-one-is stuck-holding-your-bike-up smartphone. You just burnt one match right there my friend, and you still finished sign-in behind me. Ha!
Race number in hand, it’s now time to learn thing #3 – “light is your friend, especially when pinning on numbers”. Picture this – it’s still dark, it’s not gotten any warmer, and it’s pinning time. I could have stayed by sign-in, which, in case you hadn’t noticed, is always held in complete darkness, or I could re-mount that bike of mine and roll fifty yards back to those warmly-lit streets I just left. Kudos to you, Foundation, NYCC/BGC and GFNY Racing Teams (including yours truly) for being the smart cookies who made the extra fifty yard effort. Our work paid off handsomely. And commiserations to everyone else who fumbled in the mud to find out that they’d just pinned their numbers on backwards. Or in some cases, barely at all. You know who you are, Mr. Kissena, because a number held on with one pin does not enable it to be read at all. Especially when it’s folded over onto itself in the wind.
Now, eagle-eyed readers will note that we haven’t turned a pedal in anger at this point. And you’d be right, because yeah, there’s still a few minutes to go before call-up, so we made the most of it. Did a quick recon lap, got the legs moving again, ate something. Remember those extra layers earlier? Yep… didn’t need those anymore. Call-up, took a quick selfie with my team, scouted the field for wheels to hide in, and all of a sudden the whistle blows and we’re off. For today’s race, it was a gentle 5-lap of Prospect Park affair. There’s one climb, which really wasn’t that tough in the recon lap, the field is staying together, and we’re happily hiding in the pack. The hill that we climbed at 15mph during recon is now being attacked at 19mph, but I’m feeling good, and now is not a time to lose the wheels in front. Except… well, I find myself boxed in by those big guys who looked like good wheels to hide on earlier, but clearly weren’t quite expecting the hill to be attacked at 19mph. Well, here’s thing #4: “pick your wheels to follow wisely”. Fortunately, gaps opened up and I shot through them to jump back into the pack before the descent back onto the start/finish straight. Phew. Crisis averted. Of course heart rate at this point is in zone 5, but hey, I’ve been doing my threshold-to-attack work for moments like these, and there’s a downhill coming up after so plenty of time to recover.
Gap closed, surfing down the hill at a healthy 28mph, heart rate is returning to normal (actually sub-normal, but bonus points for some nice Z2 recovery minutes!), and, oh yeah, it’s still cold out. So as the field heads into the bottom turn, I find myself behind a couple of people who don’t quite know which line they want to take. “I’m going left. No. Right. No, left again. Wait. there’s a tiny gap that I might be able to squeeze through, which, oh wait, isn’t there anymore. Maybe I should try…”. Cue some comedy braking from those stuck behind the crazies, resulting in the sound of squealing carbon every 45 seconds. This would be the pattern for the next couple of laps. And here’s where we get to our final thing of the day… you can try braking with cold fingers, or you could try thing #5: “why brake for the dangerous guys when you can yell at them instead?”. Because, yes, amateur racers, communication with your fellow racers is key, and way less dangerous and way more energy-efficient than ripple-effect braking. So, a couple of gentle admonishments to “hold your line” and all of a sudden I’ve not had to hit the brakes or do be forced to surge again to close a gap. And, hopefully they’ll remember next time they try weaving.
So, there you go. Five things that no one told me about for my first races, but hopefully they’ll help you. Whether you’re doing short races or GFNY, hopefully they’ll help you be ready.
(Oh, and for those of you wondering how the race finished – it was a bunch sprint, and yours truly decided that I wasn’t going to make it from mid-pack to 1st, so happily took a pack finish at the same time as the winner. Huge congratulations to Ethan in his first race, who stayed up front all day even through some fairly sketchy moments. All-in-all, a great day’s racing!)