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Sunday, February 27, 2005

Bike race report 

So, I did my first bicycle race of the season, a nice jaunt scheduled at 80 km. For training purposes, and to properly test my skills, I rode with the "B" group. Even on the line, it was obviously a huge group. It may have been close to a hundred riders in the B group alone, with substantial A and C races, too. It may have been the largest race I have ever been in.

Oh dear. After 15 minutes, I couldn't believe I'd be able to stay in the race. But I told myself that if I was suffering, so was everybody else.

That turned out to be not as true as I hoped. At one point, it seemed like we were averaging one crash per lap, all in the same corner. I was hoping to push near the front of the pack and stay there, where you can actually work in the race, and where the riding is, counterintuitively, a lot easier. I got there exactly once in the whole race, and couldn't stay. On this dead-flat course, the sprints out of the corners were routinely in excess of 50 km/h. My max speed on my computer was over 57 km/h, which is almost beyond my experience. The sheer size of the pack was one of the biggest issues with moving up in the race.

I made one rookie error: the organizers (my own club) announced they were strictly enforcing the yellow-line rule (no going over the centreline of the road; a common issue in amateur races, which often are only able to close half of the road to traffic). What I didn't understand is that it wouldn't be the case on the corners, and my cornering performance probably suffered accordingly: I was safe but slow, and I was cornering against experienced racers, which meant they did it well.

I made another error that was even more foolish: I didn't make sure my handlebars were tight enough. They were tight enough for my commute on Friday, and they were tight enough for the first part of the race, but the combination of a course with several very rough patches of road and some bar-wrenching out-of-the-corner sprints loosened my bars.

After an hour and 40 kilometres, I was tired and fighting loose bars. Each problem complemented the other, and I have serious bike-control issues that crop up when I get tired. The bars only made that more troubling. The wrong kind of leveraging synergy.

After one or two sprints where I had to drive to my limit to catch back on to the back of the pack, I surrendered to the inevitable and pulled up to fix my bar problem. Since this was a training race, I then slipped back into the back of the pack, which lasted another half lap before I was dropped again.

Ouch. Average race pace was not extraordinarily high, but the surges and distance killed me.

Lessons learned: I'm not as fast as I hoped. Equipment preparation will catch you out. I think that not pushing beyond the limits of sanity was a good choice. I'm optimistic that I may still be fast enough: I won't have to beat most of these racers (largely Cat 3, not my own Cat 4) in my regular races. I need more work.

But the glory of cycling remains supreme. The merciless test of rider skill and strength, the sweet, focused suffering, and the simple joy of going out and riding your bike on a warm late-winter Sunday morning is wonderful.

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