It was a dark and stormy night… Or, at least, I’m told it was, because I went to bed at 9:30, and slept pretty darned soundly till my alarm rudely woke me up at 3:45AM on Sunday morning. But all for a good cause, because Sunday was race day! And this week’s race was the snappily named CRCA Hincapie Grand Prix in Honor of Fred Mengoni. After a week of searing temperatures in the high 90s, with humidity to match, the overnight storm was quite welcome, as Sunday dawned a little cooler. Well, I say “dawned”, but really it was still dark when my alarm clock went off, and would be for another two hours. Still, off to Central Park I trotted at a lovely 4:15 in the morning, Now, unlike those winter rides, there’s generally no need to check the weather five times before heading out in the summer, but I did anyway. Habit, more than anything. And my selection of weather apps all told me the same thing: “no rain”. Excellent.
Of course, they were lying, because the moment I got downstairs, my phone flashed up “rain expected at 4:17AM”.
Thanks, Weather Channel…
Still, at least that forecast was reasonably accurate. Because the rain did indeed start, right on cue, at 4:17AM. Precisely 150 yards into my race day. At least, on the plus side, the rain was pretty light and warm.
Get all of your bad luck out of the way before the race starts*
Alas, my six mile journey to the park was rudely interrupted at mile four by that dreaded noise as I was cruising across 52nd Street. Pop… psssst… crap. And this wasn’t one I could ride out. Nope… Fortunately, I flatted right next to a brightly lit bodega on 9th avenue, and with a lovely awning to hide out from the rain whilst I changed my tube. Bonus! A quick inspection revealed a half-centimetre wide gash in my tire, enough to warrant insertion of a tire boot, which, of course, I didn’t have with me. Still, gel packets do great double-duty as tire boots, so I took my pre-race gel just a little earlier than normal, stuck it in the tire, popped a new tube in, and still had time to chat with a bunch of happy drunk bros who were somewhat surprised by people doing things other than drinking at 4:30AM.
You’re never alone**
After a quick sign-in and pinning session, we hit the start line a little after 5:30AM and then spent the best part of twenty minutes chatting whilst waiting for some missing marshals for the day (and if you were one of those, well, please turn up next time!) Unlike all of my previous races, this one would be a solo affair for me, with the rest of the Cat 5 team sitting this one out for various reasons. So I surveyed the field to check for friendly faces, and found a few. Which would be a good thing, because the moment that we rolled out, someone decided to try to make it insanely hard in the first five pedal strokes. Before we knew it, he had a lead of fifty yards or so, whilst the rest of us were considering how our heart rates had gone from resting to threshold in the blink of an eye. Unlike our last race two weeks ago, there was no team with numbers to control the race, so I deployed tactic number two – find my new friends, and use the strategic racing brain to exert some control. Realising that our lone leader was on a futile bid for glory, I chatted to my new-found friends and we collectively agreed that he was going nowhere fast. So we let him hang out there for two-thirds of a lap, as well as the Rapha guy who went to hunt him down but never quite made it. This would be the pattern for the next four laps, with no-one strong enough to go for a solo break, and a general lack of organization for a sizable break to form and work together.
There’s nothing wrong with a little grit
With the light rain still falling, and somewhat wet roads, today’s race was guaranteed to be a little mucky. And the light rain was just the perfect amount of rain to make all the grit fly up and stick, but not enough to wash anything off, so forward visibility became just a little challenging. By the end of the first lap I could barely see anything. And, to add insult to injury, every time I opened my mouth to breathe, I’d inhale a lungful of road spray and grit. Mmm… tasty. Still, no matter, because we were averaging 25mph, and my heart spent most of its time working at threshold just to stay in position, so breathing through my nose wasn’t really an option. On the plus side, that really did cut down on the amount I needed to drink. And my bike, in a moment of great intelligence, sensed that I was adding more weight from water and grit then I was losing through sweating and burning energy, so it decided to eject a bottle over the bumps on the west side… fortunately, it flew straight to the kerb where it obediently stayed, unlike a few other bottles that littered the circuit.
As we hit the penultimate lap, it occurred to me that I hadn’t really done much all race apart from sit-in the pack, so coming over Cat’s Paw I took second wheel and then my one and only pull of the race. Which was really more than enough, as I was already at my limit, and didn’t want to get spit out of the back before the race was over. As I pulled off, I took the chance to check on my companions, and realised that everyone was pretty much in the same state as I was – breathing hard, mostly blind, and thinking about a sprint finish at Engineer’s Gate. With the damp roads, and my decidedly un-sprinty legs, I decided that I wasn’t going to get involved in a messy sprint, so as we crested Cat’s Paw for the last time, I moved forwards into the first few wheels, and contemplated a last-ditch attack. And just as I thought those thoughts, well, someone else tried the same thing, and all of a sudden the pace ratcheted up two notches, diminishing my chances of a successful getaway. So, sprint finish it was going to be, and with about fifteen people ahead of me contesting the sprint, I wisely decided to let them have their fun and watch from the back. All in all, a great, if somewhat mucky race! And another race done, with a nice pack finish, and my bike and body covered in grit… happy days!
- Race distance: 24.9 miles
- Race time: 1 hour, 0 minutes, 59 seconds
- Average heart rate: 165bpm
- Max heart rate: 186bpm (that’s a new PB for me!)
- Weight gained: at least 2 lbs of grit and spray
- Post-race clean-up time: 1 hour, 34 minutes, 23 seconds.
* Well, that’s the theory, anyway! Chris forgot his helmet, had to go back home to get it, then flatted on lap 5 of the Cat 4 race.
** Unless you get dropped, in which case, yeah, sorry, you’re on your own back there. But keep on training, and one day you’ll be up in the pack!